This was a strange and uncertain year. Given the tumultuous nature of 2016, it is probably no surprise that I found myself asking some strange questions that my readers seemed only too grateful to have answered.
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.
Antibiotic resistance is one of the most pressing issues affecting public health today, and there is no other bacterial organism that better represents the urgency of this threat than MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. This ubiquitous bacteria plays two roles, both as a skin-dwelling commensal and disease-causing pathogen, and is one of the most prevalent and deadly disease-causing bacteria in our communities at large and in our hospitals in particular. An early chapter of its ongoing metamorphosis from skin floral bug to virulent antibiotic-resistant pathogen took place in an unlikely setting: among a population of injection drug users living in Detroit in the early 1980s who were partaking in an unusual practice of homegrown infection prevention.
This presidential election has been notable in many regards, but perhaps most conspicuously in the preoccupation of the media with the health of the Democratic and Republican candidates. At no other time has the American public scrutinized and debated the medical fitness and stamina of the two rival candidates. In celebration of today’s grand political tradition, Election Day, the health of the inaugural president will be discussed, the gentleman whose serene gaze graces both the quarter-dollar coin and one dollar bill, he of cherry tree and hippo teeth fame, survivor of more than a half a dozen deadly plagues: George Washington.
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)
In America, perhaps one to three people will die of the infection every year, and yet anywhere from 40,000 to 50,000 people will receive post-exposure vaccination to avoid the dreadful possibility of fatal infection with rabies.
A massive heat wave in the tundra of northern Siberia has ushered a twentieth century anthrax outbreak into the modern age. Over the past two months, the population of the isolated Yamal-Nenets region has been caught off guard by a pair of unprecedented emergencies, first in the form of a punishing heat wave with temperatures reaching 95F (35C), quickly followed by an anthrax outbreak as the 75-year-old corpses of infected reindeer have thawed from their permafrost biohazard coffins.
In September of 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, marking the beginning of World War II in Europe. By the war’s end in 1945, Poland had suffered the deaths of more than five and a half million citizens – a fifth of her pre-war population – with the majority of these the victims of war crimes at the hands of the Germans. A large community in southeastern Poland, however, escaped persecution and the horrors of deportation and death thanks to an ingenious ruse employed by two Polish physicians. With the help of a sham “vaccine,” Drs. Eugene Lazowski and Stanisław Matulewicz fabricated a fictional epidemic that would save the lives of thousands.
Flushing a vein with a liter of saline is standard protocol in clinics and hospitals. To receive fluids intravenously is an ubiquitous therapeutic, a common tool to alleviate many conditions, so standard that there are even businesses that offer an IV and a bag of saline as a cure for the common hangover.
Intravenous fluid resuscitation relies on the principle of replenishing our precious bodily fluids through delivery directly into the blood vessels, but where did this concept come from? How did a remedy that breaches the skin and veins, violating the sanctity of the human body to inject a liter of foreign substance enter the medical armamentarium? It has its origins in mankind’s quest to defeat a bacteria infamous for causing such prolific diarrhea that it causes fatal shock: cholera.