Thar’s bacteria in that there snow!

I really need more time to fill in a gap in my microbiology education: environmental microbiology. I run across papers all the time that are absolutely fascinating, and wish I had a free year to just take some additional coursework in this area. For instance, a paper in today’s Science magazine discusses how atmospheric bacteria result in the formation of snow; more after the jump.
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A note of thanks

Just wanted to say how appreciative I am to those of you who took the time to read and/or comment on this week’s guest posts from my students. Though a few of them did take part in the comments section (something I didn’t require), I know that they were all following along and appreciated the input and questions from y’all. I hope you’ll come back for the next installment in April!

Behaviors, Human Papilloma Virus and Sex Act Cancers

This is the sixth of 6 guest posts on infectious causes of chronic disease.

By Ousmane Diallo

I was dumbfounded when I read this news article relating HPV to the increase of lip and oral cancers because of oral sex.

It reminded me my younger years, as a med student, debating with my professor of psychology the fundamentals of Freudian psychoanalysis, the Id, the Ego and the Super-ego. It was a rather philosophical debate more than anything else, a combination of religious and cultural reciprocal statements of beliefs. At that time, we were exposed to the new French “sexual education” magazine called Union, borderline Playboy and X-rated. Even though we were colonized for one hundred years, sang the Marseillaise at elementary school, believed like the Koran that we were the descendants of the Gallic people, Fellation and Cunulingus amounted to blasphemy; even French kisses were of an oddity. As a true disciple of Freud, my professor believed that our Islamic beliefs system enmeshed with the weight of African ancestral traditions were at the cornerstone of the decadence of African societies, the social disconnect with the desire of every individual to be free from the yoke of group. No wonder why, he said, we were seeing more and more drug addiction (mostly Marijuana), schizophrenics, histrionics and all the ills of proto-modern, transitional, societies. The main thing was that humans needed to free themselves from society, break the ego free from the super-ego or at least limit its nefarious effects on the development of man’s personality. Only by using the old Marxist exercise of criticism on Taboos could we, as humans, attain Nirvana, Felicity, Bliss or Paradise, “here on Earth and not over there in Heaven” (Karl Marx, 1883). The only thing I could utter was that if he really believed that man should only follow his desires, mate as he wished and how he wanted to, and behave like animals, then let him be aware of God’s wrath; “He will strike humanity with unknown diseases”, quoting the religious text. Instead of good grades, I earned a nickname “Ayatollah”.

(More after the jump…)
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Crohn’s disease: exploring the causes

This is the fifth of 6 guest posts on infectious causes of chronic disease.

By Rachel Kirby

There are about 500,000 (or approx 1 in 544 people) in the United States who suffer from Crohn’s disease, and is most prevalent in both men and women between the ages of 20-30. Crohn’s Disease is an autoimmune disease which causes a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. It can affect the entire digestive tract but is most prevalent in the lower small intestine and in the ileum. It will cause swelling, causing pain and diarrhea.

More after the jump…
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Morgellon’s disease: Is it “Madness” or “Malade”?

This is the fourth of 6 guest posts on infectious causes of chronic disease.

By David Massaquoi

Working in public health is an interesting and satisfying job. Adding infectious disease investigation to such task makes the job not only difficult but the challenges of encountering numerous disease conditions; including learning about the Morgellon’s disease. In recent years, doctors have been faced with an unexplained skin disease condition, dubbed “Morgellons Disease”. I will not go into details with all the debates on merits and demerits of this “New” or “Emerging”? condition. However, as an infectious disease epi student and a public health practitioner, I found it interesting to discuss this issue with fellow students, the public and our infectious disease researchers and professors.

A few things I would hope to discuss with fellow readers and bloggers are: What is this “disease”? Is it a disease anyway? Is it just a “Madness” or a “Malade” – French word for illness? Or, will this be another emerging, non contagious, condition? Will this be a new non infectious/infectious skin disease of the 21st century? There is very little data on this condition as it has just recently caught the attention ( well interest I could say) of public health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
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The “Skinny Shot” and Media Accountability

This is the third of 6 guest posts on infectious causes of chronic disease.

By Whitney Baker

While working out at the gym last night, I was perusing the latest SHAPE magazine to help pass the time. In it, I read a small article about researchers finding an association between Adenovirus-36 and human obesity. Since I am in the infectious disease field, I was already aware of this proposed link- an infectious cause (or contributor) for obesity. But for the millions of health-conscious readers hearing of this for the first time, what would they make of it? Would they have visions of medicines or vaccines that make them skinny? Would they think that diet and exercise no longer matter? Luckily mainstream media hasn’t started a commotion over this. But it did get me to wondering, that if there really is a link, what accountability is then transferred to the media? Reports of a looming “skinny shot” could have a detrimental affect by spawning false impressions of health and fitness, especially for those most vulnerable to obesity.

(More after the jump…)
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Schizophrenia: is it really just “all in your head?”

This is the second of 6 guest posts on infectious causes of chronic disease.

By Courtney Cook

Scientists have been aware of a relationship between infections and mental illnesses for quite some time. For example, during the 1918 influenza pandemic, some patients were seen to exhibit a delirium unlike that which had typically been associated with a viral infection. In a 1926 report, Karl Menninger called it a “schizophrenic syndrome” and further observed that two-thirds of those diagnosed with schizophrenia after having influenza fully recovered from the mental illness within five years. Such a quick recovery – or even recovering at all – is unusual for such mental disorders, which might suggest a curable agent caused the disease in the first place.

Schizophrenia is one of several chronic diseases of the central nervous system. Affecting the brains of about 1% of the adult population in the United States and Europe, those affected typically hear voices, see things that aren’t there, and have other unusual thoughts and perceptions. Patients can also have difficulty with movement, speaking, expressing emotions, and memory. Schizophrenia was commonly thought to have origin in genetic predisposition for the disease, with environmental factors also playing a role.

(More after the jump…)
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Could the Cervical Cancer Vaccine Gardasil also Protect against Breast Cancer?

This is the first of 6 guest posts on infectious causes of chronic disease.

by Matthew Fitzgerald

Viruses cause cancer?

Cancer researchers have for decades known that viruses can cause cancer. It is now estimated that 15% of the world’s cancers are caused by infectious diseases including viruses. Some of these include: Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and cervical cancer; Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) and nasopharyngeal cancer & lymphoma; Hepatitis B and liver cancer. In fact cancer researchers use this knowledge of viruses causing cancer by utilizing EBV and SV40 and other viruses to “immortalize” cells in their labs to have better cancer models. These “immortalized” cells keep dividing and act like cancer cells so that researchers can continually propagate their experiments. It is believed these viruses interfere with oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes in the cells. These important genes act as the biological stop signs for cells to control their growth.

Can vaccines prevent cancer?

The simple answer is yes. It has been well documented that use of the Hepatitis B vaccine can significantly reduce the incidence of liver cancer. This success has lead other scientists to investigate whether new vaccines can prevent other forms of cancer. One of these other cancers is cervical cancer. Merck has introduced Gardasil that vaccinates women against 4 types of HPV types 6, 18, 16 and 11. These HPV types are believed to be responsible for 70% of all cervical cancers.
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Introducing…

…my grad students.

My spring semester course is on infectious causes of chronic disease, looking at the role various infections play in cancer, autoimmune disease, mental illness, and other chronic conditions. Since I’ve often discussed the importance of having scientists communicate with the public, I decided to assign each of them to write 2 blog posts for the course, discussing anything of relevance to the course. Their first round of assignments was due last week, and I’ll be posting them beginning on Monday. Constructive comments on their posts are appreciated, but keep in mind that they’re students doing this as an assignment and still learning. Finally, these posts are the students’ own; I’m formatting them for publication here, but beyond that their words (and opinions!) are their own.