Requisitioned from farmers, blitzed with anthrax-laden bombs in the 1940s, and made inhospitable to human and animal life for decades, the tiny Scottish island of Gruinard now serves as home to a flock of healthy sheep and a disreputable monument to the birth of biological warfare. The research conducted at Gruinard during the second World War was the very first of its kind, providing proof of concept of a natural microorganism that could be massively weaponized to inflict environmental damage and human fatalities.
Laissez les bons temps rouler! Tomorrow is the final and momentous hurrah of the Carnival season, which culminates with Mardi Gras, otherwise known as Fat Tuesday. In New Orleans, the city I call home, Carnival is a season of festivities, decadence, and tradition, one that is celebrated amongst neighbours and visitors alike. Our revelry is an egalitarian one – everyone is welcome to come witness and participate in Carnival. But for over a century, just a couple of hours away from the Crescent City, there lived a community of exiles, quarantined and barred from society, who were forced to forge their own Mardi Gras traditions. In honor of the biggest party of the year, I’m republishing my article on the celebration of Mardi Gras at one of America’s last leper colonies, just a few hours up the Mississippi river in Carville, Louisiana.
Puerto Rico has a problem: a population of rabies-infected mongooses. The small American territory reports that 40% of its mongoose population has been exposed to the deadly rabies virus, and just last month the CDC published the first known case of rabies transmission by mongoose bite.
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.