A few weeks ago we posted a NCBI ROFL story about the transplantation of a set of lungs that caused the recipient to catch the donor’s peanut allergy. While this case isn’t new, its seemingly coincidental and ironic circumstances left us with some lingering questions–plus at least one of you accused us of posting an urban legend. So we went straight to the source, Imran Khalid, the doctor who treated the patient.
“This case was as surprising to us as to anyone else,” Khalid said. “The seriousness of the issue led us to write it up and send it to a medical journal to share it with other people.”
What happened was this: A 42-year-old woman received a lung transplant from a 12-year-old boy who fell into a coma and died after a severe allergic reaction to peanuts. Seven months after transplantation, the recipient herself had a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction to a peanut butter cookie that she ate at an organ transplant support group meeting. And no, the lungs weren’t haunted.
“She was lucky that this happened in the hospital,” Khalid said. “If she was at home or in a shopping mall, by the time help would have reached her I don’t know what would have happened.”
Cocaine and heroin are generally acknowledged to be fairly dangerous chemicals to put in your body. And that’s not even considering that cocaine could well be tainted with opossum de-worming medication and heroin may be laced with anthrax—that’s right, anthrax.
Yes, it’s been a week of dangerous and deadly adulterants showing up in recreational drugs. DISCOVER actually highlighted the story of the tainted cocaine back in September, when the Drug Enforcement Agency first announced that they had found cocaine tainted with levamisole. The drug is used to treat cancer in humans and as a de-worming agent in livestock, but can have dire effects on the immune system. Just how it got into cocaine nobody knows for sure, though scientists think it may spark a more intense high for users.
When female fruit flies mate, their immune system responds to the sperm the same way it does to germs. University of California, Santa Barbara evolutionary biologist Andrew Stewart sees the immune system as a battleground, a place where the sexes can compete—a female’s immune system will rev up so it can fight off the proteins in the ejaculate, so she can live longer and have more babies.
But the exact reason for this immune response is still up in the air. It’s possible the male knows that the female has mated with other male flies, and uses the pathogens in his sperm to beat the other males in fertilizing eggs. Regardless, females still pay a heavy price: Most females mate with several partners, even though if they mate just once, their life span is shortened significantly.
But the beetles have it worse, because their mating is so brutal: When a female decides to mate, she repeatedly gets jabbed by the male’s sexual organ, which looks more like a medieval weapon than pleasure tool. But the females put up with the roughness, apparently because they are so thirsty.
Here’s some medical advice kids will like and parents may be surprised to hear: “Children should be allowed to go barefoot in the dirt, play in the dirt, and not have to wash their hands when they come in to eat,” says Dr. Joel V. Weinstock of Tufts Medicial Center. (He also suggests having lots of cats and dogs around the house.)
And he’s not alone. Increasingly, medical researchers have come to believe that our current obsession with cleanliness is making us sicker. Eat a few worms, ingest some fecal bacteria, get a taste of dirt, they say.
Evidence supporting the hygiene hypothesis, which says that a lack of exposure to microorganisms at a young age prevents the development of a healthy immune system, is turning up in many forms. In one study, pampered dogs that had been fed only human food and bottled water developed eczema, but after they were given mud taken from a cowshed, the eczema disappeared. In another study, scientists were able to prevent Type I diabetes in mice by giving them an extract taken from tropical worms. In yet another study, Argentinian patients with multiple sclerosis who were infected with whipworm developed milder symptoms.