Today in The New York Times coverage of a report published yesterday on a Saudi hospital-borne outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome released by The New England Journal of Medicine, a potential epidemiological phenomenon was briefly addressed: men have made up the majority of infected cases and the low rates of infection among women may be due to an emphasis on the wearing of the face veil, known as the “niqab,” in Arab culture.
Spears. Bows and arrows. Swords. Guns. Bombs. Drones. Microbes. The evolution of weapons and forms of warfare shadows our technological advancements, from the field of metallurgy to that of microbiology.
Parasites and viruses once thought to make their homes exclusively in exotic locales beyond America’s borders are now gaining a foothold in the country and they are exacting significant economic tolls and placing heavy burdens on health care systems. Neglected tropical diseases such as cysticercosis, echinococcus, toxocariasis, dengue, West Nile virus and Chagas have found their way into the country due to a synergistic combination of factors, including globalization, migration, trade and climate change.
It is the 161th birthday of the German microbiologist Julius Richard Petri, whom we can thank for those low-tech but indispensable tools of the microbiology lab: the petri dish. Google honors Petri‘s birthday today with their lovely Google Doodle riffing on his invaluable discovery.
Microbial Misadventures is a recurring series on Body Horrors looking at instances and incidents where human meets microbe in novel and unusual circumstances that challenge our assumptions about how infections are spread.
I am partial to the odd tipple and, as a resident of the licentious, enabling city that is New Orleans, I’m fortunate to be adequately supported in my booze-seeking ways by the high number of bars and restaurants within stumbling distance of my front porch. But what to do for those of us prohibited from indulging in one of the world’s greatest mood modulators, for those of us, say, incarcerated in America’s prison-industrial complex? In that case, American ingenuity and tenacity wins, always: become a smalltime craft brewer and make your own.
This week, I was honored with a Best Life-In-Science Award from ScienceSeeker for my article on the earliest known cases of HIV/AIDS, “The Sea Has Neither Sense Nor Pity: the Earliest Known Cases of AIDS in the Pre-AIDS Era.” There were some serious heavyweight contenders in this inaugural contest and I am beyond delighted that this fascinating story was recognized. It’s nice to be acknowledged (and rewarded!) for work that is largely spent in loud cafes while drinking bitter espresso long gone cold and staring helplessly at my computer keyboard. Thank you to the judges - Fraser Cain, Maggie Koerth-Baker, and Maryn McKenna and to ScienceSeeker for this distinction and award.
The year 2018 has recently been declared our new target year for eliminating polio from the world by the World Health Organization, the Gates Foundation and Rotary International. It is clear that the next five years will pose no small challenge; we have spent over 60 years vaccinating millions of children and adults since Salk and Sabin’s discovery of viable polio vaccines, and we have long struggled in particular with three countries where the virus is endemic: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.
A recently published paper in Scientific Reports has found that climate variability in the form of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) has had a significant impact on the occurrence of disease outbreaks in Europe over the past fifty years. Researchers in France and the United Kingdom studied 2,058 outbreaks occurring in 36 countries from 114 infectious diseases from 1950 to 2009 and found that climatic variations and seasonal changes in air pressure across the continent attributed to the NAO influenced the outbreak occurrences of eleven diseases. Every conceivable route of transmission – by air, food, water and vector – was influenced by NAO conditions.
Everyone has their own collecting quirk. I myself collect animal skulls, inconveniently large earrings and unusual stories of infectious disease cases and outbreaks. To each their own, yes? I’ve decided that, instead of stockpiling these stories away in some recess of my brain, I’ll be sharing them online in a new recurring series on Body Horrors called Microbial Misadventures.
One of the hardest questions to answer in an infectious disease outbreak investigation is “Why?”
Why then? Why there? These questions can be almost impossible to answer – not only because of their heady metaphysical nature but also because of the difficulty of assessing the minute interactions between microbe, environment and human host. Public health officials are often left shrugging their shoulders, half-heartedly admitting to an unsatisfied public that they just don’t know and indeed may never know, later drowning their sorrows in dark and smoky bars with cup after cup of the metabolic waste products of unicellular fungi.