Tag: infectious disease

Are ATMs as Filthy as Toilet Seats?

By Patrick Morgan | January 14, 2011 4:37 pm

Cue the “filthy money” jokes: The same germs that touch your bum in public potties also touch your fingers during ATM transactions.

In response to a survey of 3,000 British adults, a majority of which believe that public toilets out-filth everything else, the company BioCote–a producer of anti-bacterial coatings–decided to get to the bottom of the issue by comparing ATMs and toilets. Researchers scoured England, swabbing heavily-used ATM key pads as well as nearby public toilet seats. After letting the swabbed bacteria grow over night, they compared the cultures and discovered that both contained bacteria from the groups Bacillus and Pseudomonadaceae.

The Daily Mail quotes BioCote microbiologist Richard Hastings:

“We were surprised by our results because the ATM machines were shown to be heavily contaminated with bacteria; to the same level as nearby public toilets. In addition the bacteria we detected on ATMs were similar to those from the toilet, which are well known as causes of common human illnesses.”

But one should always consider the source: BioCote specializes in selling anti-bacterial products. How convenient, then, that they are able to find so much bacteria on ATMs. And the company’s finding has garnered at least one detractor. CBS News quotes William Shaffner, a preventative medicine specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center:

“Bacillus is trivial,” he tells CBS News. “It only causes infections in the most compromised people in hospitals. Pseudomonads is quite similar.” Schaffner says you could swab almost anything and find these two microscopic buggers. “We live in a microbial world,” he says. Whether found on telephones, ATMs, toilet seats, folded money, or  counters in department stores, these types of environmental bacteria have never been conclusively demonstrated to transmit illness.

Although the research gives new life to the term “filthy rich,” you probably won’t see the ATM-equivalent of plastic toilet seat covers in the near future. Most harmful bacteria transmissions, after all, still happen via airborne or human-to-human contact. But all the same, after your next stop at the money-mouth machine, you might feel better if you wash your hands.

Related Content:
80beats: Did Your Morning Shower Spray You With Bacteria?
Science Not Fiction: Dirty, Dirty Spaceships
Science Not Fiction: Dreaming of Carnivorous Plants and Life-Saving Bacteria
DISCOVER: 20 Things You Didn’t Know About Hygiene

Image: flickr / catatronic

Mathematicians Develop Strategy to Fight Zombies; Bruce Campbell Unimpressed

By Allison Bond | August 19, 2009 12:11 pm

zombiesIf the possibility of a zombie attack keeps you awake at night, rest assured you’re not the only one who’s pondered such an occurence. In fact, researchers have performed a new mathematical analysis that explores how we might best approach a battle with the un-dead.

The BBC reports:

If zombies actually existed, an attack by them would lead to the collapse of civilisation unless dealt with quickly and aggressively….

[The researchers] say only frequent counter-attacks with increasing force would eradicate the fictional creatures.

Although zombies may be a slightly-less-than-serious topic, there’s a serious side to the study, which was published in a book called Infectious Diseases Modelling Research Progress. A zombie attack could be similar to a plague of infectious disease, the researchers say.

Still, there’s one big difference: Once completely wiped out, diseases don’t come oozing and groaning back from the dead.

Related Content:
Gallery: Zombie Animals and the Parasite That Control Them
Discoblog: Parasitic Plants Steal RNA, Spy on Their Hosts
Discoblog: See It to Believe It: Animals Vomit, Spurt Blood to Thwart Predators

Image: flickr / thivierr

Prepare to Itch: Potential Malaria Vaccine Delivered by Mosquitoes

By Allison Bond | August 3, 2009 11:44 am

mosquitoIn case you haven’t heard, malaria is kind of a big deal. It’s the third-deadliest infectious disease in the world, kills about a million people a year, and has a frustratingly ingenious way of becoming resistant to anti-malarial treatments. Now scientists are trying out a rather counter-intuitive method of preventing malaria cases: Using malaria-infected mosquitoes to boost immunity.

It’s a crazy idea that just might work. That’s because people can become immune to malaria if they contract it multiple times, and because the drug chloroquine kills malaria parasites when they’re in the bloodstream.

The AP reports:

Scientists tried to take advantage of these two factors, by using chloroquine to protect people while gradually exposing them to malaria parasites and letting immunity develop.

They assigned 10 volunteers to a “vaccine” group and five others to a comparison group. All were given chloroquine for three months, and exposed once a month to about a dozen mosquitoes — malaria-infected ones in the vaccine group and non-infected mosquitoes in the comparison group.

That was to allow the “vaccine” effect to develop.

The next task, of course, was to see if the vaccine actually worked. When the study’s subjects stopped taking chloroquine and were bitten by mosquitoes carrying the malaria parasite, subjects in the control group developed malaria, while none in the vaccine group did.

Malaria’s increasing resistance to the strongest drugs may make a vaccine our only hope for fighting the parasite. So if a few itchy mosquito bites could put an end to this pervasive disease, we’ll gladly leave our bug spray at home.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Vaccine Production is Horribly Outdated. Here Are Three Ways to Fix It
80beats: Drug-Resistant Malaria in Cambodia Raises Fears of a Super Parasite
Discoblog: If You’re Looking for New Drugs, Follow the Bright Bugs

Image: flickr / James Jordan

“Tick Riders” Watch for Blood-Sucking Invaders at the Mexican Border

By Karen Rowan | April 22, 2008 10:15 am

fever tickIn a remote region in southern Texas, a horde of eight-legged creatures feasts on a flock of helpless prey. These tiny parasites are called fever ticks, and they’re threatening to invade the U.S. and decimate our cattle population. But not if the Tick Riders can stop them.

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