Radio silence…please stand by…

I know I have many promised posts, and I’ll get to them one day. Alas, the family and day job come before blogging, and I’ve been swamped with ongoing projects, grant applications, and manuscripts. I’ve been so busy, in fact, that revere over at Effect Measure beat me to the punch on my own upcoming paper, looking at antibodies to Streptococcus suis in Iowa swine workers. The paper is scheduled for the December issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, but the unedited draft is already up in their ahead of print section. As revere already has a good overview of the paper, I’ll just point you there rather than re-hash everything. (For a bit of a review of Strep suis, I have an overview post here.)

I’ll likely have little time to do any updates here until January, but you can always find out what’s going on with emerging diseases here in Iowa by checking out our redesigned center homepage, or signing up for our Facebook group. We take new interns 3 times a year, so if you know students who’d want to gain some experience, drop us a line…

How much does a flood cost a city?

How about over a billion dollars in Cedar Rapids (where flooding affected 9.2 square miles–roughly 1/7th of the city) alone?

City officials last night estimated the cost to clean up and repair or replace flood-damaged city buildings and other infrastructure at $504 million.

In addition, the officials estimated that it would cost another $810 million to protect the city against future floods through an assortment of mitigation efforts like levees, floodwalls, a possible reservoir and property buyouts.

City Manager Jim Prosser called the numbers “staggering.”

He spoke in billions: half a billion dollars for cleanup, repair and replacement; $1.3 billion in total including future flood protection.

Here in Iowa City, damage to the University was recently estimated at almost a quarter of a billion dollars, and it will likely reach close to that figure by the time the final tallies are finished. Damage to the city properties isn’t included in that total. Damage to agriculture in the midwest has been estimated at 8 billion dollars–half of that in Iowa. And in some areas, clean-up haven’t even begun; the river just officially dropped below flood stage only a few days ago. Many roads remain closed due to either flood waters or the damage said waters inflicted, and in areas where cleanup has begun, the landscape is awash with dumpsters and buildings stripped down to the studs. And some of the flooded houses likely won’t ever be repaired:

Increasingly clear, though, Bell said, is that the city is apt to see many houses sitting empty because they have sustained too much damage and are too costly to repair.

She reported that 51 percent of those who have registered here for flood relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are over the age of 60. Some of those people owned their houses outright, didn’t have flood insurance and live on fixed incomes.

And as I mentioned previously, infections and injuries associated with flooding have been reported, and unfortunately few people seem to be heeding (or remembering) flood safety instructions.

The specter of the Great Flood of ’08 will cast a pall over this area for a long time to come…

As the waters recede…what now?

Here in the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids corridor, the waters have been going down for several days, and people are being allowed back into their homes and businesses to begin assessing the damage and cleaning up what remains. However, while the dangers from the initial flooding are receding along with the waters, the clean-up and aftermath bring about a new set of misery.

Flooding is a potential nightmare when it comes to infectious diseases. The water can bring people returning to their flooded residences into contact with sewage, animal carcasses, and other sources of pathogens–and warm waters in June can mean the rapid replication of these organisms. Flooded waters can bring individuals into contact with a variety of diarrheal pathogens, including E. coli, Giardia, and Cryptosporidia. Individuals who have wells should also have their well water tested ( the University Hygienic lab offers testing kits), and individuals are being warned to avoid food from flooded gardens as well.

Eyes and skin are also vulnerable to post-flood pathogens, especially when coupled with another main cause of post-flood morbidity: injuries. These can exacerbate infection (by creating breaks in the skin, for example).

Another problem that will only increase in the coming days: mold. Again, the health department has a short instruction sheet on post-flood mold cleanup, and individuals are already removing carpet, drywall, and other soaked materials in an effort to start drying out.

Finally, another problem in the coming weeks could occur from the residual standing water, providing additional breeding grounds for mosquitoes–and therefore a greater chance of transmission of arboviral diseases (including West Nile and other viral encephalitides).

Update: MSNBC has a bit more detailed article describing the risks I list above as well as a few others.

Image from Iowa City Press-Citizen.

Iowa’s flooded…and it’s raining

Two years ago Iowa City was hit by a tornado. Last year my hometown back in Ohio was underwater. This year, Iowa’s already been hit by an EF5 tornado, and now 49 out of our 99 counties are disaster areas because of flooding. And it’s raining now, and more is predicted for the next few days. All this is after an incredibly soggy spring where the rivers started out high due to one of the snowiest winters on record. Many farmers only in the past few weeks finally were able to get out in the field to plant crops–crops which are now underwater. So far I’ve not seen reports of any human fatalities, but flooding like this has the potential to take not only human life but also to put livestock in danger–and Iowa has on the order of 10 times more animals than humans. 2008 isn’t looking like a banner year for the state…

Image from

Guillermo Gonzalez tenure review goes to the Board of Regents today: updated

It’s not certain there will be a decision immediately, though:

From the Iowa State Daily:

The Iowa Board of Regents will meet Thursday to discuss the tenure denial appeal of Guillermo Gonzalez, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Iowa State, at its regional meeting on the ISU campus.

The meeting is at 8:30 a.m., with a one-hour closed session dedicated to discussing the appeal beginning at 8:35 a.m. The regents will emerge with either a decision on the case or a decision to postpone it.

“The board does not have to decide within the hour time slot given for the meeting, and discussion may take place over the following days,” said Iowa Board of Regents President David Miles.

Stay tuned…

Update: the Board affirmed the decision to deny tenure.

Also this morning, the regents upheld the decision of Iowa State University officials to deny tenure to Professor Guillermo Gonzalez, who had appealed ISU’s decision, arguing he was discriminated against during his tenure application process because he supports intelligent design.

The regents met in closed session for more than one hour before voting 7-1 to reaffirm ISU’s final decision in the case. Regent Craig Lang of Brooklyn voted no.

Gonzalez said he was disappointed in the decision, and also with the regents’ refusal to let him present his case during the closed session.

More here form the Ames Tribune.

Darwin Day 2008 in Iowa City

Darwin Day is fast approaching, and we’ll be celebrating with 2 and a half days’ worth of festivities here in Iowa next month.

We’ll kick off Thursday night, February 14th, with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci reading from his latest book at Live from Prairie Lights, with drinks and snacks following at a location TBA.

Friday February 15th will consist of academic talks by Dr. Pigliucci and Dr. Martha McClintock. Friday evening we’re hosting a dinner for the speakers and the general public at the Linn Street Cafe. Tickets are limited in number, and $40 a person (which includes an appetizer, salad, main course, dessert and soda or coffee, plus tax and tip–a bargain for those of you who are familiar with the Linn Street Cafe). Drop me an email if you’re interested in attending–this is the only part of the weekend that will need to be reserved in advance (and we expect tickets to go quickly!).

Saturday then will be a series of talks followed by an informal reception. University of Iowa paleontologist Dr. Christopher Brochu will kick off the afternoon, whose topic will be “The Dead Speak: What we learned from the Tyrannosaurus.” Dr. Brochu was the lead researcher on the analysis of “Sue” the tyrannosaurus at Chicago’s Field Museum.

Dr. McClintock will follow, discussing “Social Isolation and Breast Cancer: Psychosocial Regulation of Gene Expression”.

Dr. Pigliucci will be the last of the afternoon’s talks, speaking on “What’s science got to do with it? When scientists misspeak about religion”–a topic sure to bring about some interesting discussion. A panel discussion and Q&A session with all of the speakers will wrap up the afternoon, and a reception will follow.

Hope some of you can join us! It promises to be an exciting and stimulating few days–and we’re also looking for ideas (and manpower!) for Darwin Day 2009.

Discovery Institute bloviates. Again.

I mentioned that the Discovery Institute was in Iowa yesterday, accusing Iowa State University (and specifically, professors in the Department of Physics and Astronomy) of conspiring against assistant professor Guillermo Gonzalez, an intelligent design advocate and fellow of the Discovery Institute. I was unable to attend, but Evil Monkey headed to Des Moines to cover the event, and has his initial thoughts on the dog ‘n’ pony show up at Neurotopia.

The Discovery Institute’s a-comin’ to Iowa

Like the gift that never stops giving, the Discovery Institute is taking its dog and pony show on the road, and heading right here to Iowa in order to plead (via press conference) Discovery Institute fellow Guillermo Gonzalez‘s case for tenure. You may recall the Iowa State assistant professor of astronomy was denied tenure there this past May, and he and the DI have contended that this was due to his support for intelligent design, rather than any other issues with his performance or scholarship.

Not content to simply leave it at that, Gonzalez has appealed his tenure denial, and is continuing to do so all the way to the Board of Regents, which will visit the issue in February. However, as PZ and Wes highlight, the DI is kick-starting their “Gonzalez as martyr” case a bit early. More after the jump…
Continue reading “The Discovery Institute’s a-comin’ to Iowa”

Chikungunya–in India, Italy, and Iowa

I wrote about an emerging mosquito-borne virus with the strange name of chikungunya in a pair of posts last year. This is a virus that was first discovered more than 50 years ago, but as far as arthropod-borne viruses (“arboviruses”) go, it’s been a minor player for most of that time, as other arboviruses such as yellow fever, dengue, and West Nile caused more disease and death than chikungunya. However, the virus began to rapidly spread beginning in ~2004, causing around a quarter million infections on the island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean before moving on to cause smaller outbreaks in neighboring countries.

Where else has chikungunya landed? More after the jump…
Continue reading “Chikungunya–in India, Italy, and Iowa”