Get Your Fucking Flu Shot

Somehow, many people still don’t take the flu seriously. An estimated 80,000 people died from the flu last year in the United States, according to the CDC. For comparison, “In recent years, flu-related deaths have ranged from about 12,000 to 56,000.” The flu vaccine last year was not a fantastic match, but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t get the flu shot. It can still lessen the severity of symptoms. As a reminder, flu symptoms can and do lead to death.

My mom even emailed me with a link to this scary article telling me to get a fucking flu shot. Just kidding, she didn’t curse, but she might if I don’t get one soon. Confession: I haven’t gotten my own flu shot yet which is already feeling very reckless of me, but you can count on me getting my fucking flu shot very soon. Short version of the article: guy doesn’t get a flu shot because he mistakenly thinks the flu only affects people very old and very young (has never heard of the 1918 flu pandemic obviously), goes into a coma caused by the flu, is very into his flu shot this year.

Also this guy had never gotten a flu shot before? Totally and completely reckless. Don’t be this guy. You can spread the flu to other people who are much more at risk of serious complications, including death, even if you don’t get sick.

Check out my five part series from last year in which I mentioned that the flu was so bad the CDC postponed their much anticipated How to Prepare for Nuclear War training. I suppose it’s comforting the CDC considers the flu a more pressing threat than the potential for nuclear war, though the world is so dark these days maybe the flu shot isn’t the first thing on your mind. Get one anyway.

Beware the Flu

Beware the Flu, Part Two

Beware the Flu, Part Three

Beware the Flu, Part Four

Beware the Flu, Part Five


Nothing Sexy About These “Kissing Bugs”

If you aren’t a fan of bugs, especially bugs that resemble tiny cockroaches, I wouldn’t google “triatomines,” or “Chagas disease,” or “kissing bugs.” Triatomine bugs are predictably gross, not to mention dangerous. They can carry Chagas disease in their feces. According to the CDC,

During the night, when the inhabitants are sleeping, the bugs emerge. Because they tend to feed on people’s faces, triatomine bugs are also known as “kissing bugs. ” After they bite and ingest blood, they defecate on the person. The person can become infected if T. cruzi parasites in the bug feces enter the body through mucous membranes or breaks in the skin. The unsuspecting, sleeping person may accidentally scratch or rub the feces into the bite wound, eyes, or mouth.

Yum, right? Another tip: don’t eat while reading about bug feces, unless you are on a diet.

Many people who contract Chagas disease don’t know they have it, and if untreated the “infection is lifelong and can be life threatening.” According to the CDC, “The most recognized marker of acute Chagas disease is called Romaña’s sign, which includes swelling of the eyelids on the side of the face near the bite wound…” Other symptoms may be minor and go mostly unnoticed or mistaken for other things: fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, and rash.

However, some people may develop cardiac or intestinal complications. These include alarming problems such as: cardiomyopathy, heart failure, altered heart rate or rhythm, and cardiac arrest. The American Heart Association says that “Though mostly found in Central and South America, Chagas disease has become more common worldwide, including an estimated 300,000 infected persons in the United States.” They emphasize that early detection is important. “If caught early, an infection can be cured with medications that have a 60 to 90 percent success rate.”

Friends Don’t Let Friends Bury Each Other in Hookworm Infested Sand

A teenager was spending a day at the beach in South Florida doing what many of us do at the beach – enjoying the sun, feeling the sand between our toes, and asking friends to bury us in the sand. The teen developed small red bumps on his skin soon after he returned home. The itchy spots spread to his feet, legs, and backside. It turns out the teen had a particularly nasty case of hookworms.

His mother, Kelli Dumas, describes the situation: “I can’t stress enough how traumatic it is for a teenage boy — and his mother — to know that there are worms living in his body.” Several of the teens friends also contracted hookworms, which makes the situation even more disgusting.

How does sand get contaminated with hookworms? Animals or humans infected with the super gross worms defecate into sand or soil, and “because their feces carry the parasite’s eggs, the ground then becomes contaminated.” They can penetrate the skin and meander into the bloodstream. The microscopic larvae “roam around in the person’s skin — causing those red, squiggly marks — trying, but unable, to mature or to reproduce.

Dumas goes so far as to recommend the following:

“Never walk barefoot on a beach again. Never be buried in the sand or allow someone else to…I can assure you, no one knows to wear shoes on the beach.”

Hookworms are gross but usually not serious. The most common symptoms are itchy skin and a rash, and can be treated with medication. The parasite may even die on its own, and most people do not usually feel it move inside their skin. So throw caution to the wind and continue walking barefoot on the beach! Let me know what happens.

Let’s Welcome the Bombali Virus to the Ebola Family

The Sierra Leone government has announced the discovery of a sixth Ebola species, the Bombali virus, named after bats found in the Bombali region. According to Amara Jambai, a senior ministry of health official, “At this time, it is not yet known if the Bombali Ebola virus has been transmitted to people or if it causes disease in people but it has the potential to infect human cells.”

Like any good scientist, Tracey Goldstein, of the One Health Institute at UC Davis, described the discovery as “exciting” but cautioned that “I think we have a lot of work to do to really understand if it is a pathogen and whether it does or doesn’t pose a threat.”

There are five other known Ebola viruses, four of which can cause the disease in people: Zaire ebolavirus, Sudan ebolavirus, Taï Forest ebolavirus, Bundibugyo ebolavirus, and Reston ebolavirus, “known to cause disease in nonhuman primates and pigs, but not in people.”

Reston ebolavirus, for those of you living in the U.S., is notable not only because an outbreak occurred in Reston, Virginia not far from D.C., but also because it was the inspiration for one of my favorite books: The Hot Zone. Highly recommended bedtime reading.

Ebola Contained in the Congo

Here is some good news: The WHO says the Ebola outbreak in the Congo is “largely contained” and likely over. So far 53 people have been infected and 29 have died. The last confirmed case was treated and released on June 12th. According to NBC News:

“More than 3,300 people had been given an experimental Ebola vaccine, using a technique called ring vaccination, in which cases of the disease are tracked down and all the people they have been in direct contact with are vaccinated. Then the contacts of those vaccinated people are tracked down and vaccinated. This method eradicated smallpox at the end of the 1970s.”

According to The New York Times, other methods used to fight the outbreak included deploying over 250 experts, three mobile laboratories, four treatment centers, equipment donations, and money.

“Donors provided four ambulances, numerous motorcycles and megaphones, and thousands of bleach tablets. Dozens of educational talks explaining the disease were organized…Donors gave $34 million toward stopping the outbreak. The W.H.O. initially spent $4 million from its emergency fund and asked for $26 million; as the outbreak expanded, the organization sought $57 million.”

The outbreak will not officially be declared over until one more 21-day incubation period has passed, but things are looking up, which is more than many of us can say for a lot of things in the world right now.