Two recent studies that shed light on the inner workings of our bacterial ecosystems, otherwise known as our microbiota, have me musing on the nature of disease and pathology, of harmony and balance.
The Wall Street Journal has a superb write-up of a Nepalese man infected with extremely drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) who is currently detained at the US border in South Texas. XDR-TB is resistant to four of the major types of antibiotics that are used to treat and control TB infections and this man is the first person with this particularly dangerous strain of TB to cross the border and be quarantined in this country (1).
My father-in-law David is a dentist and he recently emailed me an astonishing, must-watch video, “The Dentist of Jaipur.” A short documentary by Falk Peplinski that made the rounds of film festivals in 2006 and 2007, the four-minute film shows two men in this famed city in Rajasthan, India practicing dentistry on the streets.
Fat Tuesday is only a few days away and the residents of New Orleans are convulsing with anticipatory excitement and glee at the weekend parades, balls and crawfish boils leading to the grand finale. Mardi Gras is one of the finest celebrations in the world and what makes it particularly unique is the egalitarian nature that lies at its very heart – everyone is welcome to come witness and participate in Carnival. And for those very few who are not, Mardi Gras comes to them.
This year, Super Bowl XLVII is held in my hometown of New Orleans sandwiched between two Mardi Gras weekends! Residents of my darling city are calling the resulting three-week party extravaganza “Super Gras” which will certainly have public health implications in the many weeks to come. The city’s residents tend to collectively fall ill with respiratory bugs and sinus infections – otherwise known as the “Mardi Gras bug” – following a traditional two-week celebration so it will be interesting to see how Super Gras will treat us this year. Let’s hope that the “chunder from Down Under” norovirus will not join us in our festivities!
What is the best way to persuade parents to get their kids vaccinated against preventable diseases? Tug sentimentally at the heartstrings? Appeal to common sense and logic? Shame and blame?
Or how about going the pop culture route and using characters from one of the most popular movies in history as the CDC and the Department of Health, Education, & Welfare did in April 1978?
That insistent buzzing drone you hear? It’s the sound of our burgeoning mosquito problem and the nasty diseases that they carry wreaking havoc throughout the world. 2012 was a prodigious year for mosquito-borne arboviral diseases, with West Nile virus, Japanese encephalitis, malaria, dengue and yellow fever outbreaks and epidemics raging in the United States, the Sudan, Puerto Rico, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Peru, Brazil and many other nations besides.
The Pump Handle, an online “water cooler for the public health crowd”, have been publishing a series of articles on Public Health Classics, “exploring some of the classic studies and reports that have shaped the field of public health.” From lead poisoning to the Surgeon General’s 1964 report on the implications of cigarette smoking, the series makes for engrossing material about how our health and standards of living have radically changed due to pivotal research and medical findings.
For something that grows so carelessly and freely on our fruits and breads, mass producing the white mold and its hidden wonder drug penicillin was devilishly difficult. After Alexander Fleming’s accidental discovery of a bacteria-killing mold contaminating his cultures of Staphylococcus aureus, it languished as a laboratory parlor trick until World War II and the desperate need for treatments to fight bacterial infections became quickly apparent (1).
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.