It’s one of the easiest ways to care for your health, a ritual we participate in daily: brushing those osseous outcroppings, our teeth. For those of us who heed the pleas of our dentists, flossing is a part of our routines, too. But the state of affairs of our glistening maws – the density of plaque, the presence of gingivitis, a full set of chompers – is important beyond mere aesthetics. Good oral fitness, particularly steps taken to limit the bacterial status quo, plays an important role in the goings-on of our body as a whole; a dirty mouth – and not the kind prone to sailor-like profanity – can provide important clues as to how susceptible you are to heart attacks and strokes.
This past May I had the pleasure to chat with Desiree Schell of the radio and podcast show Skeptically Speaking about how infectious diseases and parasites can shape society for an episode examining the impact of science and medicine on specific communities. Over at their website, you can download the hour-long episode “Community Specific Science” featuring myself, Danielle Lee and Dr. Joe Henrich and hear more about how science journalism and the social sciences are investigating the ways in which the livelihoods and health of certain groups - delineated by ethnicity, culture or religion - are affected by scientific research and medicine. Lee speaks for the first third of the episode on the state of science coverage in media that serves minority audiences, while Henrich finishes the show with his research on cultural outliers, those societies not generally considered Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, or Democratic – what Dr. Henrich refers to as WEIRD – and the state of behavioral research.
Microbial Misadventures is a recurring series on Body Horrors looking at instances and incidents where human meets microbe in novel and unusual circumstances that challenge our assumptions about how infections are spread.
I am partial to the odd tipple and, as a resident of the licentious, enabling city that is New Orleans, I’m fortunate to be adequately supported in my booze-seeking ways by the high number of bars and restaurants within stumbling distance of my front porch. But what to do for those of us prohibited from indulging in one of the world’s greatest mood modulators, for those of us, say, incarcerated in America’s prison-industrial complex? In that case, American ingenuity and tenacity wins, always: become a smalltime craft brewer and make your own.
Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been bedeviled by viral hemorrhagic fever outbreaks this year. Since the summer, Ebola and Marburg have appeared throughout the two verdant countries killing dozens of people.
At this very moment, I’m holding a copy of the “The Best American Science Writing Online 2012″ that includes my article on Alaskan Natives, botulism and fermenting practices on page 173! The article “This Ain’t Yo Momma’s Muktuk: Fermented Seal Flipper, Botulism, Being Cold & Other Joys of Arctic Living” was selected among 721 other submissions and is published alongside 51 other knock-out articles in the sixth annual anthology of the best science writing online. Not bad odds, eh? I’ve been writing this blog for just over a year and a half now and I consider it be a privilege to be included in the ranks of some truly accomplished science journalists and bloggers. A big thank you is owed to the editors of the anthology, Bora Zivkovic and Jennifer Ouellette, for selecting me.
At the very beginning of the year 1981, the United States saw an unusually large boost in Salmonella infections across the country. Incidences of the food-borne illness had risen by nearly 20% from the previous year, surprising health officials not only with the unexpectedly high number of cases but its odd timing during the winter season.
A few months back, Carl Zimmer published a short article on the startling widespread prevalence of neurocysticercosis; the larval infective form of the pig tapeworm Taenia solium that just so happens to infect the human brain. Check it out, but beware!, you will be learning about a parasite that gives unwelcome deep tissue massages in your gray matter and you will see photographic evidence of it.
Amongst its many epicurean, architectural and otherwise louche charms, New Orleans has another infamous, uncelebrated one: a problematically vibrant cockroach population. Every summer (oh, let’s be honest here: they’re here spring, summer and fall), the German brown cockroach can be seen snatching its way around your house, flitting on sidewalks at dusk, and intimidating the locals.
Every profession seems to have its own tailor-made occupational hazard. Veterinarians suffer bites and scratches, office workers struggle with carpal tunnel syndrome, anxiety torments professional graduate students and so on. A few years ago, I was stunned to hear that butchers, fish-mongers and those intimately involved in the meat-handling trade (please don’t read into that any more than is necessary) are more likely to be infected with a certain strain of Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Odd, huh? And kind of gross.
You’re complaining of having nightmares about your teeth falling out? I dream of intestinal colonization with a 30 foot tapeworm. Everyone’s got their own hang-ups and quite frankly the largest parasite of man, the freak of nature Diphyllobothrium latum, unnerves me. What’s not to dislike? The longest lifespan of any human parasite and the jaw-dropping lengths it can reach are just a few of its charms.