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.
After the virus had snuck into the United States, after it crept through one body to another and to another and to another, after slowly killing thousands with bizarre cancers and pneumonias, and after the pyrotechnical hysteria of the media and a panicked public, only then did HIV/AIDS became a metaphor.
The bold eye makeup in the ‘60s, best exemplified by Sophia Loren’s winged ‘cat eye’ liner and Twiggy’s spidery eyelashes, had nothing on the ancient Egyptians and their gods. Their eyelids were heavily smeared with black kohl eyeliner, thick lines rimming the eyes, and the fashion was sported by everyone from peasants to pharaohs to effigies of the worshiped gods Horus and Ra. Though it may seem nothing more than a cosmetic fancy nowadays, kohl was considered to have potent magical powers and it has since turned out to possess unique pharmaceutical and antimicrobial properties. In fact, this deceptively simple beauty product may actually be one of the most ancient ophthalmological preparations known to man.
Nobel Prizes! We all want one, don’t we? While fantasizing about heavy gold medallions and the Swedish Nobel Assembly, I wondered how many of the Nobel Laureate prizes in Physiology and/or Medicine have gone towards scientists studying infectious diseases, immunology and the tropical medicine field. Snooze button alert, am I right? This is the product of a one-track mind so you have my apologies. But! If it’s any consolation, there’s a story hidden in this article of a Nobel Laureate Nazi sympathizer that infected mental patients with malaria to cure them of their psychoses. Science!
I like wild plot twists in my novels, remixes of my favorite songs and food with unexpected, exotic flavors. Needless to say, I also love hearing of cases where an infectious disease takes an unpredictable turn, appearing where it traditionally does not. And we have quite the curve-ball with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a microbe with itinerant tendencies that materializes in some surprising anatomical locales.
I’ve hit a bit of a creative roadblock lately, hence the lack of recent articles. Rest assured, I’ve got many ideas but I’ve been debating with myself on their presentation, analysis and what not. In any case, I’ve stumbled upon some pretty neat stuff – pictures, videos and ideas – in the past few weeks that I felt I needed to share. Not all of it is enough for me to expand upon in one single post so I’ve smushed them all together into what I like to call a ‘Body Horrors’ Amuse-Bouche’ that should be enough to tide you over until I have a more substantial, analytical article next week or so. Behold!
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.
I was peering through back issues of Emerging Infectious Diseases as one typically does (amiright? right?) and found a real gem of a letter. A French physician wrote of a special patient that had recently visited his practice, an 83-year old Parisian gentleman complaining of fatigue and weight loss. Upon clinical examination, he discovered the man had hyper-eosinophilia (high numbers of granulocytes, a type of white blood cells) indicating that something might be a bit off – either an allergic reaction or some sort of infection (1). A series of tests were run, including a stool sample, but nothing definitive was detected.
In the early 20th century, the Rockefeller Foundation embarked upon a massive public-health campaign that radically changed the economic landscape of the Southeastern United States. A parasite, the hookworm Necator americanus, not only had been leeching Southerners of their blood and good health but also of their agricultural productivity and wealth.
This is more of a light-hearted post than usual. I have a few favorite songs and, of course, they’re about infectious diseases. I’m a microbiologist, what’re you gonna do? Case closed, moving on. I’ve been on the hunt for songs specifically about microbes and tracked down some real treasures.