The Month In Plagues: A Deadly Fungus, Genetically-Engineered Mosquitoes, And More

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Tom Bech

Here are some links on infestations, contagions, and controls from around the web this past month. Have more? Add them in the comments.

In outbreak news

The Guinea Ebola epidemic got a lot of press this month. Doctor's Without Boarders reportedly said the scale of the outbreak is "unprecedented." LiveScience reported that the situation is the most challenging of its kind. Meanwhile, David Quammen put things into perspective at the New York Times, as did Maryn Mckenna on the Superbug blog at Wired.

The NYT has an incredibly sad story about a deadly fungal outbreak in a New Orleans hospital, which killed several children.

The cholera outbreak in Haiti is still a major problem. Since 2010, 8,562 people have died of it, which is crazy.

Foodborne illness in the US is not getting any better, according to a new CDC report.

Reuters reports on Japan's first bird flu case since 2011.

Remember those scientists who stirred controversy over engineering a scary superflu in the lab? They have another study out that describes just how to make the superflu.

The Guardian has a good piece reminding all of us that yes, we are in fact contagious when we're sick. Just because we think we won't get other people ill doesn't make it so.

And Mark Strauss at io9 writes about the CDC's debunking of common Hollywood pandemic myths.

In antibiotic/antimicrobial news

NPR has an interview with microbiologist Martin Blaser on how antibiotics might be hurting our microbiomes. Blaser has a new book out on the topic (which coincidentally has "our modern plagues" in the subtitle, although Blaser seems to use a different definition than I do at this blog). And if you want to read even more about Blaser, Carl Zimmer has a Q&A at Wired.

Quartz discusses research on the antimicrobial triclosan, which might make you more susceptible to certain infections.

MRSA is typically associated with hospitals and nursing homes, but recent work suggests the antibiotic-resistant bacteria are also showing up in homes.

In vaccine news

Seth Mnookin and collaborators at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences released a new report on public trust in vaccines. Read more on io9. And here is a related story at NPR, which describes how public health providers try to get their message across to vaccine skeptics.

The Conversation has a good explainer on whether adults need to be vaccinated (answer: yes, for certain diseases).

Chili's Grill & Bar made the embarrassing decision to promote an anti-vaccine autism awareness group early in April. Emily Willingham describes the controversy at her Forbes blog. Chili's eventually canceled the event.

Infamous anti-vax crusader Jenny McCarthy wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times claiming that she isn't actually anti-vaccine. The Internet had a little something to say about that.

And in new vaccine technology news, Jesse Hirsch at Modern Farmer has an interesting story about making flu vaccine with tobacco plants.

In agriculture and plant science news

Carl Zimmer has a great piece from his Matter NYT column about vastly different plant species that swap genes, which undermines the argument that genetic engineering is totally unnatural.

Amanda Little has a New Yorker Elements post about a recent cordial GMO debate between Michael Pollan and Pam Ronald. Definitely worth a read—gives me hope that the GMO conversation may some day move on from its current frustrating state.

Kat McGowan has a piece at Slate about plant communication, which I found entirely delightful.

And there is a cool story at Discover about how GMO trees could help clean up the paper industry.

In creepy crawly news

Researchers at Yale have sequenced the genome of the tsetse fly, a vector for sleeping sickness. Read more at the NYT and Discover.

The Conversation takes a look at the bugs and bacteria that live on our bodies. The hookworm photo is especially haunting.

Brazil has approved a genetically-engineered mosquito that is intended to help fight dengue fever.

I love this story by Rebecca Kreston at Body Horrors about an unusual case of a hospital needle spreading malaria.

Here's a scary tale of how benign bacteria evolved into flesh-eating pathogens.

And finally, here is a great Radiolab segment exploring what might happen if we rid the world of mosquitoes.