Christmas is an occasion for celebration, a private moment of inclusivity at the end of the year to celebrate the birth of Christ with food, family, and festivity. It would be a real shame to ruin the event with, say, a community-wide outbreak of a parasitic pork worm. In 1995, a small Christian community in the south of Lebanon encountered the curious little worm Trichinella when 200 people fell ill with trichinosis during the Christmas holidays. It would be one of the largest outbreaks of trichinosis ever reported and a Christmas tale for the ages.
Halloween is my favorite event of the year and, as many of my loyal readers know, my obsession with the strange and seemingly supernatural wonders of the microscopic world – namely horrifying parasites and bizarro infections – forms the very backbone of the Body Horrors blog.
So in celebration of All Hallows’ Eve, a night of masquerade and devilry, I present a small selection – no easy task, trust me! – of the more sinister and spine-tingling articles from the Body Horrors archives, a reminder that the spooky and scary is not relegated to just one day in October. Enjoy the tricks and treats! Read More
Bloodletting and leech therapy has a long and storied past. For thousands of years, physicians and healers have employed the bloodsucking leech to treat myriad conditions that assail the human body, the original panacea that would treat anything from “farts to fevers.”(1) The ectoparasite was the ancient physician’s most versatile treatment and so essential that its very name, derived from the Anglo-Saxon word “loece,” refers to a physician or healer and indicates the degree to which worm and doc have long been deeply entwined.(2)
There’s nothing quite like syphilis. The sexually transmitted bug that sullied Christopher Columbus’ journey either to the New World or his return back to the Old – we’re still debating this grand chicken-or-egg epidemiological mystery – has deranged the minds of dictators and kings, was once a leading cause of committed hospitalizations to the psych ward, and even sparked fashion trends among members of the European royal courts who sought to cloak its debilitating, tell-tale symptoms (1).
One of the most iconic works in American art – the painting “Christina’s World” – currently hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as a prized piece of Americana and one of the museum’s most popular exhibits. In his artwork, Andrew Wyeth, a master of American realism, honors a dear friend, a woman who is today both an icon and a true medical mystery.
Conjunctivitis, that infamous, sticky-itchy-oozy infection of the eye, can strike anywhere and anyone. For the most part, however, pink eye sticks to its preferred domain, afflicting youthful targets in schoolyard haunts where the infection spreads from dirty little hand to once-clean little eye with the tenacity and enthusiasm of wildfire. Though wholly reliant on direct inoculation to the eyeball, it is easily transmitted, whether by the sticky digits of children unfamiliar with good hygiene or via errant eye gunk inadvertently smeared on a communal surface.
This past spring, a street dog and her puppy were captured in Cairo, Egypt. Her vaccination certificates were forged, and she was shipped to the United States by an animal rescue organization in a shipment that included seven other dogs and 27 cats. Days later, following her placement in a Virginian foster home housing several other dogs, this rescue developed the frank signs and symptoms of rabies, and she was quickly euthanized.
Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous characters in English literature, revered by fans of mystery from Victorian London to the present day, where he is still celebrated for his keen eye, wealth of knowledge, and aptitude for deductive reasoning. Indeed, Holmes has grown in status from a protagonist in a magazine serial to a genuine pop culture icon; his adventures with Dr. Watson have been featured in fifty-odd short stories and four novels and over 220 films and television shows since his creation by the Scottish physician, ship’s surgeon, and author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1).
Three scientists that developed treatments for debilitating parasitic infections were awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine today for their ground-breaking advancements in tropical medicine.
Infectious diseases have long been the companions of war and natural disaster. For those that barely escaped death in the calamities of antiquity, walking away with what appeared to be a light injury, the agony of a gangrenous wound or convulsive, back-breaking muscle spasms would deal an impending final blow. For centuries, a dreaded complication from an innocent blister or a bullet wound was the untreatable and catastrophic tetanus, caused by Clostridium tetani.