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.
Does anyone else have an inordinate fear of canning jams or pickling veggies? Every time I read an article espousing the brine-laden wonders of canning your own home-grown vegetables, I think, “how hard could this really be? I can do this!”. And then I hear the niggling voice in the back of my head that whispers, “but what if you get botulism?” And then I mutter in response, “maybe I’ll just buy my own autoclave.” Or not.
A parasite that infects the human brain, subtly changing its personality and social behavior, and capable of passing from mother to infect an infant in utero? That is the essence of a body horror, but this little rascal isn’t fiction. And it gets better: this parasite is considered to be one of the most successful parasites in the world due to its widespread, global distribution as well as its capacity to infect nearly every type of body tissue in all warm-blooded vertebrates (a). Schedule a phone conference with Spielberg and Cruise ASAP, guys, we’ve got the next sci-fi-action blockbuster on our hands (brains?). We’re looking at the ubiquitous protozoa Toxoplasma gondii and research on its capacity to modulate human personality and behavior.