Hundreds of millions of people suffer from parasitic infections, like hookworm. And how do doctors diagnose these infections? Stool samples.
An accurate diagnosis is key for doctors to better understand and treat parasitic worms. The current diagnosing method relies on counting worm eggs in stool samples, but doctors often miss infections if they are mild or unevenly distributed throughout a sample.
Scientists in Côte d’Ivoire set out to see how they could improve the diagnosing process. The researchers necessarily have a sense of humor about their study, which they titled “An In-Depth Analysis of a Piece of Shit,” published in PLoS Neglected Tropial Diseases last week.
The researchers found that homogenizing the stool samples made for more accurate egg counts with particular infections, and that storing stool samples on ice or covered with a wet tissue prevented the decay of certain worm eggs. Their findings may help doctors better identify, treat and control the spread of these serious infections. Their turd-dissection diagrams are pretty entertaining as well.
Image courtesy of Stefanie J. Krauth et al.
Archaeoentomology is a strange little corner of archaeology. Its practitioners search for signs of ancient bug life—fossilized eggs, old fly pupae, the like—in dig sites to tell, for instance, whether a body lay exposed before burial. One area they’d really like to know more about is what moves into coffins with bodies once they’ve, ah, started to go to earth. The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout, to be sure, but which worms?
Doctors tested the recovered pen by writing “HELLO”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Long, long ago—well, in the 1980s—a middle-aged British woman noticed a spot on her tonsil. To get a better look, she grabbed a mirror, opened wide, and started poking around with a plastic felt-tipped pen—which is where she ran into trouble. The woman claimed that she slipped and fell, swallowing the pen in the process. But between the implausibility of consuming a pen and the fact that X-ray scans failed to reveal the writing implement, everyone assumed she had made up the story…
What big plaque deposits you have!
A dentist will tell you to floss everyday, but an archeologist might, well, have different priorities. Turns out the nitrogen and carbon isotopes in dental plaque can give archeologists a look at 1,000-year-old diets.
The buildup of plaque on this set of teeth is, um, impressive. (Cut the skull some slack though, this was before we had dentists to chide us about daily flossing.) Without the benefit of modern dental hygiene, the plaque built up over a lifetime, layer upon layer like a stalagmite. In a paper recently published in the Journal of Archeological Science researchers exhumed 58 medieval Spanish skeletons and scraped off their dental plaque to test carbon and nitrogen isotopes. When they compared the isotope profiles of the Spaniards to that of plaque from an Alaskan Inuit, the scientists found the ratio of nitrogen-15 to be quite different. That makes sense, as the Intuit ate a predominantly marine diet, and there is more nitrogen-15 in the protein molecules of organisms living in sea than on land.
The things we do for science.
Researchers who study mosquitoes and other blood-sucking insects sometimes use themselves as skeeter chow. In some cases, it’s because certain species of mosquitoes seem to prefer human blood to animal blood. In others, though, it’s a cheap, convenient alternative to keeping animals around for the insects to feed on or buying blood. And as it turns out, once you’ve been bitten a certain number of times you develop a tolerance to mosquito saliva.
Entomologist Steve Schutz, seen above paging through a magazine while the bloodsuckers go to work on his arm, feeds his mosquito colony once a week. He has welts for about an hour, but after that the bites fade, occasionally leaving a few red spots. That’s good, because at 300 bites a week, he averages about 15,000 a year. That’s dedication.
Please don’t make me eat thallium.
If you’re an average normal person and your dog eats thallium-tainted agar plates from the trash, you’d probably take Rover to the vet. If you’re a vet and your dog eats thallium-tainted agar plates, you start taking notes—and blood and hair samples too.
That’s the backstory to a recent paper published in the Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation. A poor, overly curious one-year-old shepherd mix broke into the laboratory trash and gobbled up 15 agar plates containing thallium. The poisonous compound is used in labs to isolate Mycoplasma fungi because it pretty much kills everything else that could grow on agar. Known as “the poisoner’s poison,” thallium has also been implicated in a number of famous murders and was a favorite of Saddam Hussein. (So if you are a non-scientist with thallium in your trash, it is kind of suspect…)
The dog’s owner, a vet, knew immediately the thallium was bad news. At the onset, the dog refused to eat and lost weight. And then things only got worse over several weeks as she lost control of her muscles, seized, caught pneumonia twice, and lost a third of her fur. She had to be fed through a tube. It took 10 months for her to even bark again.
Our brains sometimes just refuse to believe the truth. No, we’re talking not deniers or conspiracy theorists today—just phantom limbs.
If you ask RN, a 57-year-old woman, she would agree that she does not have a right hand: it was amputated after a bad car crash when she was 18. She would also tell you that she has never had a right index finger: she was born with a congenital deformity that gave her only the rudiment of a thumb, immobile ring and middle fingers, and no index finger at at all. More than 35 years after the amputation, she feels pain in a phantom right hand, which has five—not four—fully mobile fingers.
It’s that time of year again: Everyone’s groggily getting themselves to work an hour earlier than normal and trying to join in the collective delusion of Daylight Saving Time (as for why we do this to ourselves, see the video above). But as a statistician can tell you, get enough people all tired and confused at the same time and you will start to see some population-wide effects. Some studies, though not all, have found that at this time every year the number of traffic accidents spikes and that there are higher numbers of heart attacks and suicides. People also appear to waste more time on the Internet on the Monday when the clocks spring forward—researchers call it “cyberloafing“—perhaps because we have less will power when we are tired, and the Net is a sea of temptations.
To all our Sleepy Monday cyberloafers coming to the site for the first time, welcome! We hope you’ll stick around even when your circadian rhythm has reestablished itself. And while you wait: here are some videos of kittens we found while we were supposed to be doing something else.
Bacon gets all the internet glory, but its more old-fashioned cousin salt pork may actually be good for you—for your nosebleeds, if not your waistline. Doctors recently used strips of cured salt pork to stop a life-threatening nosebleed. One of the doctors remembered the unconventional treatment from a field manual he saw in his military days, after exhausting all medical treatments short of risky surgeries.
The patient was a four-year-old girl with Glanzmann thrombasthenia, a rare blood disorder where her platelets are unable to do their normal job of blood clotting. Surgery and injection of blood coagulation proteins didn’t stop her bleeding after more than a week, so the doctors turned to something untested and low tech: “Cured salted pork crafted as a nasal tampon and packed within the nasal vaults successfully stopped nasal hemorrhage promptly, effectively, and without sequelae,” they wrote in a paper about the episode. While “nasal tampon” may sound distinctly undelicious as a pork product, it worked—not once, but twice, as a cure. When the girl re-injured herself four weeks later, the doctors stuffed salt pork up her nose again and she was home in less than 72 hours.
And reeeach for the shredded wheat…
Pregnancy suit, meet age suit. Just as scientists in Japan made a suit full of balloons, warm water, and accelerometers to give men a sense of what pregnancy feels like, scientists at MIT have put together a suit that simulates being in one’s mid-70s. But it’s a little easier to see the applications with this one. By 2030, 20% of the American population will be over the age of 65, and if you think these folks are going to willingly weather a world designed by and for hyperactive 26-year-old yoga enthusiasts, well, you’ve got another thing coming. By putting on this suit, architects, store designers, and other professionals preoccupied with how people interact with the physical world can get a sense of what old age is like, and design accordingly.