The Special Brand of Horror that is the New World Screwworm

By Rebecca Kreston | July 22, 2013 1:20 pm

“During her hospital stay, a total of 142 larvae were manually extracted, aided by the application of raw bacon which served as an attractant and petroleum jelly occlusion.”

You might be surprised to know that finding interesting articles on infections and infestations is a thankless and occasionally banal job. It is rare, as you find yourself trawling through the dusty and dense annals of Pubmed and Jstor, that you stumble upon a really good paper, the true gold twinkling among the pyrite of multisyllabic articles on viral proteomics, immunology and dull epidemiological trends in diseases. When you discover a treasure that renders you mute, like the one I recently discovered on a screwworm infestation that was wrangled by physicians with processed pork products, it’s like chancing upon a chupacabra in your backyard. The sight is both rare and awful, but also mesmerizing to behold. Also, you need to tell everyone about the chupacabra that you found.

An illustration of the dorsal view of the New World screwworm fly, Cochliomyia hominivorax.

A dorsal view of the New World screwworm fly, Cochliomyia hominivorax, a member of the family Calliphoridae. Adult flies are the size of a housefly with a greenish-blue metallic body color and an orange face. The larvae are obligate parasites of living flesh in warm-blooded animals  including humans, and can cause a parasitic illnes known as myaisis. Image: CDC.

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Asymmetric (Gender) Warfare & Japan’s Rubella Virus Outbreak

By Rebecca Kreston | July 15, 2013 6:08 pm

Japan is in the midst of a rubella outbreak that has already infected over 5,000 people in just the first four months of this year. Since the early 2000s, the country has undergone cyclical five-year rubella epidemics, with community-wide outbreaks cresting in the spring and summer. But in the past two years the number of infections has surged dramatically from a hundred-odd cases every year into the thousands, and a weird epidemiological pattern has emerged thanks to a quirk in Japan’s vaccination policy in the 1970s: 77% of cases in the rubella outbreak have occurred in men over the age of 20 (1).

Black and white image of rubella viruses

A transmission electron micrograph (TEM) showing an assemblage of rubella virions. Image: Dr. Erskine Palmer, CDC.

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The Bestial Virus: The Infectious Origins of Werewolves, Zombies & Vampires

By Rebecca Kreston | July 11, 2013 12:45 pm

Rabies is one of mankind’s long-feared diseases. And rightfully so: for centuries, a bite from a crazed, slavering animal was almost always a guarantee of a slow warping of the mind and a pained, gruesome demise. A death sentence.

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Body Horrors Talks Disease & Society on Skeptically Speaking

By Rebecca Kreston | July 8, 2013 10:05 am

This past May I had the pleasure to chat with Desiree Schell of the radio and podcast show Skeptically Speaking about how infectious diseases and parasites can shape society for an episode examining the impact of science and medicine on specific communities. Over at their website, you can download the hour-long episode “Community Specific Science” featuring myself, Danielle Lee and Dr. Joe Henrich and hear more about how science journalism and the social sciences are investigating the ways in which the livelihoods and health of certain groups - delineated by ethnicity, culture or religion  - are affected by scientific research and medicine. Lee speaks for the first third of the episode on the state of science coverage in media that serves minority audiences, while Henrich finishes the show with his research on cultural outliers, those societies not generally considered Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, or Democratic – what Dr. Henrich refers to as WEIRD – and the state of behavioral research.

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A Formula for Hate: Captain Planet & the Planeteer’s HIV Episode

By Rebecca Kreston | June 28, 2013 1:45 pm

Earth! Fire! Wind! Water! Heart! “Captain Planet and Planeteers” is a classic of 1990s television and may soon appear on the big screen as a live-action movie. The animated television series featured five earnest teenagers equipped with magical powers fighting eco-villains intent on destroying the ozone, rainforest and the wetlands and guided by the sage wisdom of Gaia, the spirit of Earth, and Captain Planet. Today, the program is recognized for its environmental “edutainment” pitch and the emerald-mulleted, square-jawed appearance of its titular superhero.

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Purdah? I Hardly Know Ya!: Social Influences On Middle East Respiratory Syndrome

By Rebecca Kreston | June 20, 2013 5:20 pm

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.

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Alchemists Gone Bad: What You Should Know About Biological Warfare

By Rebecca Kreston | June 11, 2013 6:45 pm

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.

A 1942 American propaganda poster derived from President Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech following the Pearl Harbor attacks. The poster, and other forms of PSAs that followed, are exemplary of the domestic sacrifices asked of Americans in the face of war – even with the possibility of nuclear and biological warfare after WWII. Image: Library of Congress. Click for source.

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Coming to America: Neglected Tropical Diseases Are Here (To Stay?)

By Rebecca Kreston | June 1, 2013 6:11 pm

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.

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Today’s Google Doodle Honors the Petri Dish

By Rebecca Kreston | May 31, 2013 1:05 pm

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.

The Google Doodle for May 31, 2013 in honor of Julius Richard Petri. Image: Google.

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Microbial Misadventures: Exploits in Botulism & Pruno In Our Prison Population

By Rebecca Kreston | May 23, 2013 12:59 pm

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.

A Gram stain of Clostridium botulinum type A. The spore-forming, soil-dwelling bacterium produces a nerve toxin, causing the rare, paralytic illness known as botulism. There are seven types of botulism toxin, classified alphabetically A through G; only types A, B, E and F cause illness in humans. Image: CDC/ Dr. George Lombard.

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Body Horrors looks at the history, anthropology and geography of infectious diseases and parasites.

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