Monday, October 31, 2011

Ghosts, Goblins & Things That Will Actually Kill You

I love Halloween, which is why I'm sitting at home alone, wearing my festive ghost-print pajama pants, tea in hand, writing this blog entry. As I sit here, eating my unfestive leftovers and unexciting salad, I'm laughing to myself. NPR is posting ghost stories, Buzzfeed posted "10 creepy photos from Halloweens Past", and articles like "13 Real Animals Lifted Directly Out of Your Nightmares" [] are actively being read.

So, I'm giggling to myself, pushing my food around in the bowl thinking, "how can I write a blog entry about things that are already halloween-esque?" This is a challenge for me, because I am not a fan of horror films. I know, you'd think someone who dedicates their life to viruses, parasites, and other creepy crawlies would be excited by the thought of paying $12 to go watch two hours of ghouls and scantily-clad ladies screaming... but I'm not.

Then I found this list of the 10 Scariest Horror Movie Characters (also on Buzzfeed, which is oddly addicting if you avoid all the celebrity gossip and pseudo health advice). While I have only seen one of these movies, I think I can match all of these horror movie characters with real horror. So here we go...

1. Exorcist Girl? Ebola

Sure, I haven't seen this movie, but I can recognize all the references from pea soup to spinning heads. There are parasites that take over their hosts' brain functions, but that's mostly seen in smaller animal models or with prion diseases (which are not parasites). Want to read about Ebola? Check out one of my past entry here.

2. Leatherface?  Leprosy.

 Leprosy is a really unfortunate infection that is fortunately curable when discovered early. Read up on it here.

3. Creepy Girl from Quarantine?  Hookworms.

Nothing says sexy like gnashing teeth.

4. Jason Vorheese?  Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis

Both Jason and Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis are found lurking in lakes and pools of water, and both will make you crazy. 

5. Old Man from The Unborn? Hobo Spiders.

My partner called my attention to these baby hand-sized wonders. Apparently, he used to wake up to them crawling on his chest, and the males also are very territorial and will charge at you and chase you around a room.

6. Pennywise from It the Clown? Tapeworm.

Both Pennywise the Clown and tapeworms lives amongst poop and eat your insides. The similarities are uncanny! Read about fun tapeworms here!

7. Freddy Kruger?  Bedbugs.

 ...because they get you in your sleep! Here's an older post about bedbugs that will make you want to sleep with one eye open.

8. The Girl from the Ring? Onchocerciasis.

 Onchocerciasis is the clinical term for "River Blindness", which is a disease caused by an infectious roundworm. This one is a bit of a stretch, I know, but that girl has creepy eyes.

9. Michael Meyers?  MRSA.

One of the latest things in medical news is drug resistance. Much like Michael Meyers, MRSA just wont die!

10. Old lady from Legion? 

Three Words: Ellen Albertini Dow

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Plague of Inaccurate Articles

I have to admit, I am partially in love and partially disgusted with the internet. On one hand, it's rad to have answers to almost any question right at your fingertips at any moment in time. But how do you know that those answers are correct? Half of the time I spend reading articles, I find myself thinking "who wrote this stuff anyway?"

Everyone I know is constantly worried about where to get the most accurate source of news about politics, social justice issues, business matters, etc., and I commend them for that. But I also want you to know that such an idea completely pertains to science as well.

I'd like to provide you with an example based on an article that was published this evening by NPR. Ok, I admit, I'm an avid listener to NPR, and I follow them on twitter so I don't have to sort through all the repetitive and mundane articles that come up on google news. But sometimes they are wrong. Sometimes they are horribly wrong.

The article is called "Surprise in Your Sewage: Lots of Exotic Viruses", by Richard Knox. According to NPR's bio page, Richard Knox is totally adorable and has a wicked mustache. After reading the article in question, you'll also notice that he ironically won awards in 1995 for articles covering medical errors. Let's talk about your scientific errors, Richard.

The article starts out on an accurate note. Richard bluntly states that, well, being a scientist is harder than any job you've ever had. As someone who has worked a number of strange jobs (autopsy review assistant, event planner, health educator on a college campus, checker at whole foods,  bra slinger at victoria's secret... yea, I was 18, get over it), the time I've spent looking at human poop under a microscope, literally spending 24 hours straight in lab, or falling asleep while reading scientific paper after scientific paper only to wake up with highlighter ink all over my face has been truly hard. I think back to all the dangerous and toxic chemicals I've had to pour into tiny tubes, all the calculations that I had to check 6 times to make sure I didn't accidentally cause an explosion, or all the tubes of moisturizer I've had to purchase for my rough, over-ethanol'd hands, and I know that I love being a scientist.

After that distinction, the article falls apart quickly.

Fault #1: Inaccurate terms coined for viruses.
This is one of my biggest pet-peeves. It's one thing to convert scientific research articles into layman's news articles, but don't use words like "bugs" or "germs". It's wrong.

Richard doesn't stop there, though. He brings in the famous "microbes" term, which is invalid for this article to begin with. Sure, "microbe" is short for microorganism, meaning an organism that is of microscopic size, but it's a term that's typically reserved for bacteria.

 Also, the term "microbe" suggests that the organism is living, whether single-celled or otherwise. No one has determined whether viruses are "living". To say so, one way or another, is inaccurate.

Fault #2: Know your diseases, buddy.

Firstly, what is a "monkey microbe"? Is it a bacterium with a prehensile tail? There is something disturbing about the insinuated phylogeny of that term.

Anyway, Ebola is one of my favorite viruses. I love it. It's deadly and gross, and the amount of information known about it is relatively minimal. So minimal, in fact, that scientists have yet to identify the model system for it. There has been a lot of research done to try to identify monkeys as the model system, yet they have been unsuccessful. While the disease is seen in monkeys, its not necessarily the origin. Another target species is bats. So, to say that Ebola is a "monkey microbe" is wrong.

Once again, I understand the need to dilute such scientific language, but challenge your readers. Say its a "zoonotic virus" instead of "that jumps to humans when given the opportunity". I mean, come on. This isn't FOX news, now.

I have a hard time crediting articles that make such basic mistakes. I'm glad that Richard links to credible websites for further information, but we know that most people are going to stick to whatever is on the page right in front of them.

If you follow me on twitter, you may remember reading about a similar issue I had with an article for DemocracyNOW! that said that someone had been "cured of AIDS". This is wrong, and it just goes to show that the little details can have profound effects on the rest of your article's efficacy.

Want to get accurate information about science news? Here are some sites that I highly recommend:
Science News

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I'd love to marry you right now but I cantaloupe, because I just shit myself

Ah, word play. My partner and I laughed for a good hour last night about possible listeria-themed titles for my next blog update. You should have been there, it was pun-tastic.

So, I have to admit, I have been avoiding writing a new update because I just couldn't choose a topic to write about. There is so much going on right now in terms of fun diseases and outbreaks, and I don't want anybody to feel left out.

...which is why I've decided to do a quick round-up!

Listeria monocytogenes - Listeriosis
I feel like I'm the only one that actually cares about this. I've caught my parents eating cantaloupe on multiple occasions since the major listeria outbreaks hit the news. Maybe I just like to play it safe? Maybe I don't really like cantaloupe all that much to begin with? Maybe my parents are risk takers?

Either way, if you haven't heard by now, one of the "most dangerous" food-borne illness outbreaks is happening RIGHT NOW. Colorado-grown cantaloupes that were shipped to 25 states and various international countries are contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, a very deadly, gram positive bacteria. Last year, there was a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak in celery.

You might be thinking, "why is this so dangerous? We hear about food-borne illness outbreaks all the time", but this is an interesting microbe with an interesting motive. Not only is this the first case of Listeria monocytogenes in cantaloupe that we've ever seen, but there have been almost 80 infection cases reported, and 13 people have died since the initial reports of the outbreak.

This is awesome! Original posting by Katalini here.

According to the CDC, Listeriosis can take up to one week to 2 months before you start showing signs of infection after being exposed to the bacteria. It could be in you right now! Funnnn! What's even more fun is that Listeria monocytogenes can continue to flourish in cold environments, meaning storing your cantaloupe in the fridge will not stop colonies from expanding.

Listeriosis has very diverse symptoms and can depend on how advanced your infection actually is. It can present itself as an upset stomach, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, dizziness, loss of balance, sore neck and muscles, convulsions, miscarriage, stillbirth and death.

If you think you may have Listeriosis, contact your local clinic or medical provider and request a test. The earlier the diagnosis, the better. Listeria monocytogenes is responsive to antibiotic treatment.

UPDATE: Listeria monocytogenes has just been traced to lettuce as well.

Two Heads are Better than One
Also, this happened:

I know the woman is saying "Frank AND Louie", but I really like the idea of her naming the cat "Frankenlouie".

Science Justifies Your Vices, Sometimes
Some idiot scientist decided to test the effects of caffeine and coffee consumption on women's moods and magically discovered that consuming 4 or more cups a day will improve your mood.

...I'm sorry, what? This is news?

Let's just get something straight before we jump into this. Caffeine is a stimulant drug. Yes, you heard me. While sometimes it is naturally produced, it can also be synthetically produced. Caffeine affects your central nervous system. Additionally, it takes about 12 hours for caffeine to completely leave your system. If you're drinking 4 or more cups of coffee a day, I can almost guarantee that your brain wont have a moment to rest.

Just think about it.

RIG-1 Protein Identified to Fight Viral Infections
RIG-1 is a cytoplasmic pathogen recognition receptor that identifies viral RNA from cellular RNA, which is a huge breakthrough for possible drug treatments for viral infections, such as Hepatitis C, Measles, Rabies, West Nile Virus and Influenza. Researchers discovered that some viral RNA is typically double-stranded, whereas cellular (or self) RNA is single stranded.

Hollywood Exploits Nationwide Paranoia: Contagion

For weeks, everyone has been telling me that they think of me when they see ads for "Contagion". I kept thinking it was a new public health effort to reduce cold and flu cases this year through early education. Silly me!

There are some big names in this feature! Unfortunately, I think I'm the only person on the face of the planet that would actually enjoy seeing this. So, I'm going to take myself on a date. "One ticket for Contagion, please! ...yes, it's only me. Yes, I'm lonely."

EDIT: Listen to an interview with the real virologist who consulted on the film! 

I've decided to review this movie. If you've seen it already, feel free to email me with your comments!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Tales of the WebMD's Symptom Checker (and it's blatant inaccuracies)

After a fun weekend spent at the Monterey Bay Aquarium with my family, I woke up this morning feeling terribly ill. I generally consider myself to be in good health; I rarely get sick, and when I do, my symptomatic stage only lasts briefly before recovery. 

With that being said, I am a total hypochondriac. I know far too much about diseases, and I'm constantly driving my friends, coworkers and family members crazy with my static state of worry. Headache? Must be a brain aneurism. Back pain? Herniated disc. Tired? Must be cancer. Botulism. Sun stroke. Gangrene.

This kid is the best part of the movie "The Switch".

So, let's back up a bit. On Thursday or Friday, a lady at my place of employment returned from being sick with "a cold". She still sounded awful, but we've all experienced that residual upper respiratory gunk at the end of a sickness. I'm mentioning her because I'm pretty sure she was my introduction, my infector of sorts. Yet, it could have been anyone (...but it was probably her).

Friday, nothing. I felt fine. I finished out a stupid week at work, and went home for date night.

Saturday, great. Went to the aquarium, touched a lot of things. Washed my hands a lot.

Sunday, I woke up feeling a bit off. I had a sore throat, but was it because I had slept with my mouth open? Did my nasal cavities drain into my throat? Eh, I'll walk it off. Went to lunch got my hair done (I know, so glamorous), and felt tired whilst doing so (maybe I was relaxed? I don't know), but no trace of a sore throat. By the time I made it home (eh, 5ish?), I was beat, my throat was sore, and I was developing a headache.

So, I did what any normal person would do. I made some soup. Ate 4 cloves of raw garlic. Made some ginger tea, squeezed an entire lemon into it. Gargled with salt water, repeatedly. Took my vitamins. Stayed hydrated. Peed a billion times. Went to bed (relatively) early.

Usually that regimen works, but this morning, I woke up SICK. Symptoms: mild fever (which is pretty odd for me, as i usually run a bit cooler than the typical body temp), terribly sore throat, and weepy, crusty eye. One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong.

Yea, what? Weepy, crusty eye?

I called out sick to work because I'm not willing to infect anyone else (because that's just rude!), and went back to sleep to try to "sleep it off". If you know me at all, you'll already know that me going back to sleep is quite a feat in itself. I'm a "up at 6" type of person, but I managed to knock myself out until 9:30 AM. Then, I called my partner to drum up some sympathy. This is exactly what he said to me:

"Weepy, gross eye? Uh oh, you know what that sounds like? Pink eye. Do you know how you get pink eye? From going to aquariums, touching all the railings that all the gross little kids touched with their little, fecal contaminated hands and then rubbing your gross hands all over your eyes."
I've never had pink eye... but I am a chronic eye-rubber...and I did touch a lot of railings that day.

Remember when I tweeted about not allowing pants in my bed? Yea...

Long story short, it's not pink eye. That conversation happened 5 hours ago, and everything is already feeling better (because my immune system is AWESOME).

But, for fun, I decided to check WebMD's symptom checker. I did this a few months ago when I had an odd kidney pain (which ended up being just muscle soreness, but thanks for asking), and my results were either a bruise...or kidney failure.

So, of course, conjunctivitis (or pink eye) was on the list of possible illnesses, but so was blindness. It's best to be thorough?

But then I thought, why aren't there any parasites on that list? So I checked all the symptoms. I said my eyes were bleeding, yellow, pink, red, itchy, droopy, etc. For all they know, my eyes were falling out of their sockets. Even after I checked some severe symptoms, the website didn't tell me to contact a doctor or to call emergency medical services. What a horrible website!

There are many parasites that can affect your eye tissues and sight. Some are caused by nematodes, others are caused by single-cell parasites. The range of symptoms these parasites can cause are incredible! Best of all, we do have (most of) them in the United States!

get it out, get it out, get it out! (Parasitic roundworm)

The parasite in the following video is called Acanthamoeba keratitis.

Cases of this particular parasitic infection are often seen in people who wear contact lenses and mix their own contact solution. A. keratitis has to be introduced directly to your cornea for infection to occur, which is easy to do if you are mixing your own contact solution with tap water that contains the trophozoite phase of A. keratitis.

Of course, since its relatively easy to become infected with A. keratitis, it's relatively difficult to treat. Medical treatment with medicated eye drops and antiparasitic medications usually fail, which leaves surgical treatment. So, maybe just go head and spend that extra $4 to buy packaged contact solution?

Moral of this story? My local UPS guy could probably diagnose anyone better than the WebMD Symptom Checker.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What a fluke.

It's embarrassing to think that I haven't written in over two months! While I could write about everything that's been keeping me from detailing the grossest of the gross on here, that isn't the intent of this blog. So we'll skip all that and jump right into the realities of life...

Sometimes, people make choices that they probably shouldn't. Maybe its wearing a particularly ugly sweater (story of my life), or getting a bit-too-risky haircut that you immediately regret (story of my life up until I found my current hair stylist who is my personal deity). Maybe its agreeing to go on a date with someone with whom you know you aren't compatible (story of my college life). Maybe its deciding to eat that fourth (or sixth?) piece of cake. Maybe its eating that raw crab.


First of all, ew! Secondly, let's get on to the point, shall we?

In the late 1800s, two tigers housed in the same European zoo died mysteriously. Weird... tigers are supposed to live forever, right? Well, researchers were baffled. What could kill a tiger, let alone two?? Upon performing autopsies on the majestic beings, researchers discovered a mass in the tigers' lungs. Was it cancer? Was it a booger? (I can just see the headlines: TIGER KILLED BY GIANT BOOGER). A few years later, people in Taiwan started to show similar lung booger infections, and that's when things started to get weird.

Paragonimus westermani, a lung fluke, is still rampantly infecting humans and animals alike to this day. These infections primarily occur in Asia, also recently in the United States, and are often linked to humans consuming raw seafood (particularly crustaceans).

Ok, so I exaggerated a little bit. P. westermani adults are typically the size of a jelly bean or a coffee bean, but they are hermaphroditic in the adult stage of the life cycle. Typically, you become infected with multiple metacerciaria (I like to call this the "teen" stage) which means you could develop a few ounces of jelly beans in your lungs! Fun!

Why is this a big deal? Well, these living boogers can kill you. P. westermani is a selfish parasite, that is basically just using your natural immune response to "spread it's seeds", so to speak. Once you've consumed that raw crab delicacy (say, Chinese Drunken Crab? or Eriocheir?), the intermediate stage of the lifecycle, or the metacerciaria penetrate through your diaphragm and into your lung tissue.

This is your lung with a friend.

There have been documented cases of P. westermani "getting lost" in the sea of your organs, and taking a wrong turn. Patients have been paralyzed by the flukes accidentally burrowing into their spinal cord. Other cases show that flukes can overshoot their target, and burrow their way into your heart, creating a decent sized fissure which can lead to heart failure or sudden death.

Once in your lungs, your body reacts. It says "I'd rather not breathe living boogers", and proceeds to try and flush out the invader with the initial immune response. Your lungs start to fill with fluids, and in severe cases of infection, this reaction can cause the lungs to collapse. Meanwhile, the P. westermani have been getting busy, creating eggs that irritate your lung tissues even further, causing you to cough severely. One of the first symptoms that people usually experience is violently coughing up blood.

While you are coughing up these eggs, you swallow to regain your composure...and now the eggs have traveled up your airway, and down into your GI tract. Here, they will be passed out with the rest of your waste, and move on to infect others (specifically if sanitation and plumbing are not state-of-the-art). Once the eggs hit a water source, they implant themselves in their vector, aquatic snails. After maturing, they then travel to inhabit crustaceans, and the cycle continues.

If you're a visual learner, here is an Animal Planet video from "Monsters Inside Me" that shows exactly what I just explained, but with poor computer graphics and a mildly attractive, yet nondescript  "biologist":

The onset of symptoms occurs approximately 30 days after ingesting the infected meat. If you think you are infected with a colony of lung flukes, the smart thing to do would be to see a doctor...or ask the internet (OMG am I dying!?!?). If not treated, P. westermani can live inside your lungs for up to 20 years! So, if you're having trouble finding a significant other to fill that void in your heart, maybe you should settle for a long term parasitic fluke infection.

I desperately wanted to show my true geek roots and call this post "Fluke, I am your father", but was advised against it. This is me, kicking a proverbial can down an empty street.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Leprosy: So hot right now.

It always fascinates me when outbreaks of infamous, yet rarely discussed diseases occur in localized areas. It's always the same reaction: a few people experience symptoms, scientists and medical professionals search to find the causative agent while news sources tell you "it must be in the air" or something else absurd. People freak out. They find the causative agent, everyone says "I knew it was that all along!" and then everyone forgets about it for another 100 years.

So, let's talk about this sudden burst of leprosy in the South.

Leprosy is a disease caused by a bacterial pathogen, Mycobacterium leprae. M. leprae is well known in the lab scene for being a pain in the labcoat to work with. It thrives at temperatures just under human body temperature, and has a doubling time of almost 2 weeks, where most other species double in a matter of hours.

The history of leprosy is really interesting. While art from 600 B.C. illustrate what appears to be the symptoms of leprosy, the actual bacterium itself wasn't isolated until 1873. Dr. Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen (say that 3 times and beetlejuice will appear) decided to name the disease after himself (Hansen's Disease), because his name wasn't sexy enough. But really, Dr. G. H. A. Hansen proved that science is the answer, because he dispelled the beliefs that leprosy was a curse from the heavens.

In the 1960s, the primary animal model was identified, and was found to be the only other reservoir, other than humans, for leprosy. Usually, animal models are mice, monkeys, and pigs, depending on the symptoms and effected tissues targeted by the suspect disease, but leprosy took a different turn. The only other reservoir for leprosy is armadillos.

Oh, hey!

Naturally occuring infection has been seen in some primate species, such as chimpanzees, mangabeys and macaques, but it is relatively rare compared to armadillos. It's estimated that 5% of armadillos in Louisiana have clinical leprosy.

Let me just backtrack a moment with a little anecdote:
When I told one of my best friends that I was going to write this entry, he was curious. Not only does he not have a biology background (he's a physicist, and I enjoy lovingly reminding him that he's not a real scientist (obviously joking)), but you don't really hear about leprosy every day. He's one of my favorite people because he genuinely shows a fascinated interest in the biological topics I bring up.

So, we got to talking about leprosy, and I was talking about how ridiculous it is that this study is just now being released, since scientists have openly known about armadillos being directly associated with leprosy since the 1960s. Sure, it's not within a doctor's scope of practice to know the historical information for every disease they encounter, but epidemiologists should have been able to trace the studies back to armadillos more efficiently. 

As we were discussing this, I was getting more and more riled up, as I do when I get excited about science (naturally). As I'm ranting about this, I pull up pictures of armadillos and suddenly announce:

"I mean, come on! How did they not know it was armadillos? The lepromatous leprosy lesions look just like the skin of an armadillo!"

...I'll admit, this was not my finest moment, nor my most scientific, as this statement is far from factual. But I was hyper, and I couldn't stop myself from ranting. He stopped me immediately after that statement and said "Now, Elysse, that was probably the least scientifically progressive statement I've ever heard from you. Are you feeling ok?" 

Now you have proof that I can be silly sometimes too. This is why I never go on dates.

Anyway, back to real science. Leprosy is alive and well in the Southern United States. 

While transmission is thought to be through contact with nasal secretions, these secretions must have a gateway into the body, whether through the nasal cavity or through an open wound. I'm sure you can imagine that it's pretty hard to get leprosy from an armadillo, unless you're rubbing it against your face, or it happens to sneeze while you're face-to-face with it, and you just so happen to be breathing in at that very moment for maximum transmission. Yet, this study that was just released is convinced that armadillos are the source, as a majority of the cases are in individuals who have never left the United States in their lifetime. My first thought would be direct transmission from infection armadillos in the "craft" industry. I'm sure you've all seen armadillo shows, wallets and handbags. But who knows, its just a guess. 

Don't worry about getting too worked up just yet. There are multidrug treatments for leprosy, depending on the stage in which you're diagnosed. Obviously, the sooner the better. Symptoms usually start off with numbness and the ability to be physically unaware of drastic temperature change in your limbs. There are many different stages of legions that can occur, and sometimes, an individual can be infected for months or years without showing characteristic legions.

Extreme cases of leprosy, or if the disease is left untreated, can result in crippling lesions that usually result in amputation. This is why treatment is urged, if available, as soon as diagnosis is confirmed. Unfortunately, a majority of the cases of leprosy, today, are in developing countries that have limited access to multidrug treatments for leprosy, and related symptoms.

While all of this is scary, researchers estimate that leprosy is not highly contagious, and that 95% of exposures do not result in disease.

"I'm going to kill you...once I get out of this bucket."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Staph: A Favorite.

Recently, one study went viral throughout different internet avenues: major news sites, food blogs and of course, facebook. This study illustrated the magnitude of contamination within the meat industry, specifically with Staphylococcus aureus, a common Staphylococcus spp. that has been labeled as multi-drug resistant. Basically, people are freaking out because, according to this study, over 25% of all meat is contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus.

...but guess what?


That's right. Pretty much everyone who has stepped out of their home has been exposed to, and has S. aureus on their skin. Staphylococcus spp. are even known to inhabit our noses! In 2003-2004, approximately 29% (78.9 million persons) and 1.5% (4.1 million persons) of the U.S. population was colonized in the nose with S. aureus and MRSA respectively. But, its important to remember that not all strains are multi-drug resistant, or MRSA. (Yea, MRSA. You've heard that before. Remember when MRSA was considered a gay-bacteria a few years ago because the media spread premature and uninformed stories?)

S. aureus is a facultative anaerobic, gram positive bacteria that causes a wide range of infections in humans. It can be involved with food poisoning as an enterotoxin, or within the skin. Very rarely is S. aureus found in the throat and, although almost a third of the US population has it in their nose, it hardly ever is pathogenic in that particular locale. For skin infections, S. aureus can cause anything from pimples to abscesses, and if it goes untreated, it can quickly progress to  pneumonia, meningitis, osteomyelitis, endocarditis, toxic shock syndrome, and sepsis!

My friends make fun of me for washing my feet every day when I get home, but THIS IS WHY!

In 2005, almost 86% of initial S. aureus infections hospital acquired. Unfortunately, it's a rather common situation for individuals recovering from surgery or major wounds. Also, S. aureus is a common cause for styes in the eye, especially when transferred from the nasal cavity. A few months ago, a small study was performed to analyze the cleanliness of BART seats, and the results showed colonies of MRSA, among lots of other fun things, inhabiting the fabric seats! So guess what's all over your favorite pair of jeans and that cute hoodie! It's no wonder every BART car I've ever been in has smelled like a giant fart!

Inviting! (photo cred: n1ko via Flickr)

Now, please note that all this information is not my way of saying "don't worry!" in response to the meat contamination. What I'm trying to say is that, well, I'm not surprised

I'd like to give you tips on how to avoid such bacteria, but to be honest, your attempts would be relatively futile, considering how widespread S. aureus is, and how unsanitary our day-to-day habits are. I mean, when is the last time you sanitized your computer keyboard, or your cell phone? Do your jeans often touch the same surface as your head and face, such as a pillow or a couch? Are you touching your face right now?!

Remember when you only had to be worried about cooties?

Sidenote: I've been asked to occasionally submit some pieces to Vegansaurus, a bay area vegan blog. I highly suggest you check it out, and also, let me know if there's anything you'd be interested in seeing me write about for Vegansaurus.

Friday, March 25, 2011


I've just returned from the East Coast where spring seems to be arriving faster than on the West Coast. I was welcomed with 65-70 degree Fahrenheit weather for the beginning of my stay, while the Bay Area was being pummeled with rain, hail and thunder. I think it's appropriate if I take at least some of the credit for the sunny weather that followed me across the country, don't you?

I was staying in a house with a few animals, one of which was an adorable dog named Mable. Check this babe out:

Photo Credits: Mary Jane Photography // March, 2011

Mable and I instantly bonded over a shared experience: Ixodoidea (ticks of the hard variety). We've all had one attached to us at one point in our lives, unless you live in a bubble. Mine was in elementary school on a hiking trip. My mom found it attached to the back of my neck, just below my nape, and proceeded to freak out about lyme disease. I ended up fine, as always. Luck of the draw, I suppose. 

Tick on a Chick.

Since the weather is starting to warm up a bit in Pennsylvania, ticks are out on the prowl. Poor Mable has experienced a few in the last few weeks, specifically two on the day that I arrived. Now, I happen to have a talent for finding ticks and such on people and animals. Is it a talent? a gift? a ticks-sense? Whatever it is, I've mastered it, and was able to find two on Mable within 10 minutes of being in her house. What a way to meet someone! 

 Deer Ticks (Ixodes scapularis) shown fully engorged with blood on the right.

The next day, we relaxed together, enjoying the 70 degree Fahrenheit weather in shorts (, not Mable.), laying on the giant trampoline in the backyard and going on a few walks to pass the time. As I lay on the giant trampoline (so comfy! who would have thought?), I pondered the parasitic prey that varied from coast to coast. Are ticks worth an entry on the ol' blog, or are they old news? I mean, they're practically everywhere, varying with geographically specific species (over 900 species, to be exact!). Yet, I got really excited when I read about the recent coverage of ticks in China (Mable, we're not alone!).

Apparently, a new virus has been isolated, and is associated with tick bites.  The new virus, termed SFTSV, which stands for Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome bunyaVirus (a stupid name, in my opinion) was discovered via isolation after filtration of the infected patients' blood samples. Ticks are symbiotically  associated with bacteria that can cause many problems and illnesses with humans (example: Lyme Disease), so researchers naturally had their sights set on something much larger than their actual viral cause. 

The virus, isolated in over 170 patients in China, has shown relation to the viral family Bunyaviridae, which is a class V virus on the Baltimore Classification Scale. This classification indicates that the virus is a negative strand RNA virus, much like it's genus-brothers Hantavirus, Nairovirus, Orthobunyavirus, Phlebovirus, and Tospovirus. 

The fun thing about Bunyaviruses that infect humans (as they are usually found in rodents and arthropods, hence the cute little vector!) is that when they do, they are usually super deadly! SFTSV has been associated with a relatively high mortality rate, causing death in 30 percent of initial reports. Later, the percentage was lowered to only 12 percent ("oh, I guess this one isn't really dead!"). The reason for the high mortality rate is that humans usually experience major organ failure, extreme fevers and/or hemorrhagic fevers (meaning, your insides can start melting and leaking out of your orifices). SFTSV has caused major gastrointestinal problems and organ failure in many of the cases seen in China.

Scientists have stated that humans are a "dead end", as in, the SFTSV will only spread through tick-transmission, not through human-to-human contact or aerosolization. This makes sense, since they've only seen this in people that had confirmed tick bites, meaning the initial infection is assumed to be through a blood meal, but I'm sure they'll find that contact with infected fluids will also spread the virus.

So, get ready for those sunny days, and remember to check yourself thoroughly for ticks after being out in the wilderness. SFTSV has only been isolated in patients in China, but Lyme Disease has been found in many areas, so keep an eye out for symptoms of fatigue, fever and the characteristic rash:

Also, if you are interested, there are hundreds of videos on YouTube about how to remove a tick. One of the main things to remember is that you must remove the entire tick, including the head. If the head is left inside the wound, it could get infected.

 Mable wants you to think of all the people who are infected with SFTSV.