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This Podcast Will Kill You

This Podcast Will Kill You

This podcast might not actually kill you, but it covers so many things that can. Each episode tackles a different disease, from its history, to its biology, and finally, how scared you need to be. Ecologists and epidemiologists Erin Welsh and Erin Allmann Updyke make infectious diseases acceptable fodder for dinner party conversation and provide the perfect cocktail recipe to match


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Ep 84 West Nile virus: The Crow in the Coal Mine

It?s the summer of 1999 in New York City, and everyone's looking towards the future, towards millennium parties and potential Y2K catastrophes. But if they turned their eyes to the streets around and skies above, they might have seen something else on the horizon, something much more real and alarming than a Y2K glitch: the arrival of West Nile virus. In this episode, we take a close look at the virus whose recent emergence in the Western Hemisphere serves as a crucial reminder of how pathogens know no political boundaries and how working across disciplines is the only way to effectively control and prevent disease outbreaks. We are also so excited to be joined by Dr. Sarah Wheeler, Biologist at Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District, who talks us through the ecology of this mosquito-borne disease and shares the birds-eye view of the situation in North America. Last but certainly not least, we round out this episode with a delightful and informative song about West Nile virus: West Nile Story by MC Bugg-Z and the Fairfax County Health Department. Check out this action-packed episode wherever you get your podcasts! See for privacy information.
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Ep 83 Diabetes: Short & Sweet

Almost everyone is familiar with diabetes mellitus in some way. Whether we know family or friends that have been diagnosed with the condition or we?re directly impacted ourselves, diabetes mellitus has become a household name. And this is perhaps not surprising given its extremely high prevalence - nearly 9% of adults around the globe are estimated to live with the disease. But although we may know someone with diabetes, how much do we know about diabetes itself? How does it work? Why does it cause the acute symptoms and long-term complications it does? Where does an infamous scientific rivalry fit into the story of diabetes? How long have humans been dealing with this disease, and how far has treatment come since the early days of diabetes? And importantly, how has our perception and portrayal of diabetes changed over the course of its history? In this episode, we seek to answer all these questions and many more about the globally-prevalent diabetes mellitus. See for privacy information.
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Ep 82 Anthrax: The Hardcore Spore

Twenty years ago this month, letters containing Bacillus anthracis spores were mailed to various politicians and news media offices in the US, resulting in illness, death, and a widespread fear that transformed anthrax from an agricultural disease or occupational hazard into a potential weapon of bioterrorism. In this episode, we explore the many dimensions of anthrax, from the different ways B. anthracis can cause disease to the incredibly long and varied history of the pathogen, a history of which bioterrorism is only a very recent part. Adding to anthrax?s multifaceted nature is the fact that B. anthracis is an environmental pathogen, one that can greatly impact livestock and wild animals, which requires collaboration across fields to effectively identify and control anthrax outbreaks. To help us explore this pathogen from a One Health perspective, we were so thrilled to chat with Dr. Johanna Salzer, Veterinary Medical Officer in the Bacterial Special Pathogens Branch at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who filled us in on the veterinary side of anthrax, and Morgan Walker, spatial epidemiologist at the University of Florida, who talked us through the environmental factors that affect B. anthracis distribution and emergence. Tune in for a much more than surface-level look at this spore-forming pathogen. See for privacy information.
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Ep 81 Chagas disease: The Reverse Triple Discovery

A nighttime ?kiss? from a bug that casts a curse on its recipient in the form of a lifelong, and possibly fatal, illness. No, this isn?t some half-remembered fairy tale. It?s the true story of Chagas disease, caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi and transmitted by many species of triatomines (aka kissing bugs). In this episode, we take you through the utterly complicated biology of Chagas disease in its acute and chronic forms, the surprising evolutionary and historical background of this parasite and the scientist for whom it?s named, and finally the grim reality that is the global status of Chagas disease today.  The dizzying ecological complexity and pathophysiological mystery of this disease makes it a challenge to study, and the lack of funding only compounds the issue; Chagas disease bears the dubious distinction of the most neglected of all the neglected tropical diseases. In spite of this, many people are dedicated to easing the global burden of Chagas disease, and we were delighted to interview two of these Chagas champions for this episode. Daisy Hernandez, Associate Professor at Miami University, joins us to discuss the inspiration for her recent book The Kissing Bug: A True Story of a Family, an Insect, and a Nation?s Neglect of a Deadly Disease, and Dr. Sarah Hamer, Associate Professor at Texas A&M University, delves into the ecological aspects of this disease and shares the incredible community science program that raises awareness about T. cruzi and the bugs that transmit it. To learn more, check out the links below: Daisy Hernandez: website, Twitter (@daisyhernandez), Instagram (@iamdazeher), Facebook  Dr. Sarah Hamer: lab website, lab Twitter (@hamer_lab), Community Science Program See for privacy information.
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Ep 80 Dysentery loves a disaster

While many of us know how deadly dysentery can be from playing countless hours of The Oregon Trail, there?s only so much that the classic game covered regarding this multifaceted disease. For instance, did you know that it can be caused by multiple pathogenic microbes? Or that it is and always has been closely associated with warfare and armies? Or that it remains one of the leading causes of death globally for children under five? In this episode all about dysentery, we pick up where The Oregon Trail left off. Tune in to hear facts about ancient toilets and a list of famous people killed by the disease and to learn how dysentery isn?t just about diarrhea and how the ?bloody flux? lives up to its (horrible) colorful name. See for privacy information.
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Ep 79 Hemophilia: A Hemorrhagic Disposition

Bumps and bruises. Cuts and scrapes. Gashes and gouges. Injuries small and large are familiar to all of us, but what happens when part of our body?s innate healing ability is disrupted? What happens, for instance, when the blood just won?t stop flowing? In this episode, we explore one of the most common of these disruptions: the clotting disorder known as hemophilia. From the physiological nitty gritty on how blood clotting actually works to the long history, at times both tragic and triumphant, of the ?royal disease?, we trace the story of hemophilia, ending with a hopeful look towards the future.  See for privacy information.
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Ep 78 Bartonella: Keep Calm and Carrión

?Let?s do Bartonella next,? we said. ?It?ll be straightforward and fun,? we promised ourselves. Turns out we were half right. In this fun but not quite straightforward episode, we tackle not one, not two, but three different species of Bartonella bacteria that can cause disease in humans: Bartonella bacilliformis (Carrión?s disease), B. quintana (trench fever), B. henselae (cat scratch disease). Essentially, we?re giving you three mini-turned-maxisodes for the price of one! For each pathogen, we review its surprisingly strange biology, take a brief tour of its history, and wrap up with a look at its current status across the globe, comparing and contrasting along the way. By the end of this ride, you?ll be bursting with Bartonella trivia, in awe of dental pulp, and scratching your head about the transmission of cat scratch fever. See for privacy information.
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Ep 77 Legionnaires' Disease: A Killer Mist

Celebration wasn?t the only thing in the air in Philadelphia in July of 1976. Over the course of several days during the 58th Annual Convention of the American Legion, a killer mist spewed out of the air conditioning units throughout the building and into the sidewalks nearby. The result was a large outbreak of unexplained febrile pneumonia, often fatal, that would acquire the name Legionnaires? Disease. What was causing this terrifying disease and how could it be stopped? In this episode, we walk through the massive investigation into this outbreak that would lead to the discovery of the causative agent, Legionella pneumophila, and explore the biology of this mysterious pathogen. We wrap up the episode with a look at the current status of Legionnaires? Disease and a potentially grim forecast for its prevalence as the world slowly gets back to normal. See for privacy information.
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Ep 76 Chickenpox: There's always a 'but'

Ah, chickenpox, that pesky old childhood illness. And that?s all it is, right? Just a mild, routine infection that we all used to catch until the vaccine came around? Not quite. In this episode, we learn that, when it comes to the varicella-zoster virus, not everything is as it seems. We explore the complex nature of this virus, how it can make you kinda sick and then how it can make you really, really sick. After that, we dive into the evolutionary origins of this virus and the different infections it causes (spoiler alert: shingles as a viral survival strategy?!). And finally we trace its human history from discovery to vaccine to where we stand with chickenpox and shingles today. See for privacy information.
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Ep 75 Mercury: The cost of progress

When you think of mercury, what springs to mind? Is it the entrancing drop of shimmery liquid that flows from a broken thermometer, giving the metal the name quicksilver? Or is it the warnings of overconsumption of fish and bioaccumulation? Or perhaps it?s the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland? The story of mercury, in both its biology as well as its history, is vast and varied, and in this episode, we attempt to piece together a picture of this heavy metal. We first delve into the pathophysiological effects of the different forms of mercury exposure on the body, and then take a narrow tour of the metal?s history, focusing primarily on Minamata disease, before wrapping it all up with a look at just how widespread mercury contamination is today. Although the relationship between humans and mercury is as old as history itself, there are still so many lessons to be learned from it, especially ?what is the true cost of progress??. See for privacy information.
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COVID-19 Chapter 20: Looking forward by looking back

Over the past year and a half, we have learned so much about this virus, but there is still more to know. There always will be. We have seen the widespread impacts that the pandemic has had on all facets of society, but there is still more to see. There always will be. The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and its effects will continue to be felt for years to come. What can we expect in a post-pandemic future? Frankly, no one knows. But we can make some guesses based on what we have already seen. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, one of our best reference points for comparison has been, of course, the deadly and devastating 1918 influenza pandemic. What can that pandemic tell us about our own uncertain future, and where do comparisons simply fall short? Did the lessons learned from the 1918 pandemic change the course of COVID-19? Or were we doomed to repeat history? To help us look forward by looking back, we are so excited to be joined by John Barry, award-winning and New York Times best-selling author of books such as The Great Influenza: The story of the deadliest pandemic in history (interview recorded May 25, 2021). This marks the tentative final episode in our Anatomy of a Pandemic series on the COVID-19 pandemic. There is still more ground to cover (there always will be), and it?s entirely possible we?ll produce additional episodes in the future, but this is it for now. Thank you to everyone who has been interviewed, who has sent in their firsthand account, and who has listened. We appreciate all of you so very much. To wrap up this episode as we always do, we discuss the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we?ve listed the questions below:  Can you remind us of some of the similarities as well as some of the differences between the COVID-19 pandemic and the 1918 influenza pandemic? The COVID-19 pandemic has been highly politicized, both in the US and elsewhere. Did we see a similar intersection of politics and public health in 1918, and if so, how did that affect both the way that pandemic played out as well as the aftermath? You wrote that the single most important thing for our society and our governments to do in this pandemic was to tell the truth. How did countries fail to tell the truth in 1918? And how would you rate our honesty during this present pandemic? How do today?s methods of science communication differ from the ways the public got their public health information back in 1918? Was there a similar issue with rampant disinformation campaigns? How did the 1918 influenza affect the public health infrastructure in the US? Did it change the general perception of the role of public health? During the 1918 pandemic did we see countries working together to try and solve the influenza crisis, or did we see intense nationalism due to the ongoing war? After the 1918 pandemic came the Roaring Twenties, with its dramatic lifestyle change and economic growth. Could you talk about what this period looked like and how much of it came as a reaction to the end of the 1918 influenza pandemic and WWI?  How long did the 1918 pandemic live in our collective consciousness as a vivid reality? Given its scale and duration, do you think this pandemic will live in our collective consciousness more vividly? Can you talk about some of the limitations in applying lessons learned from the 1918 influenza pandemic to today?s reality? What are some things that you hope we keep from this pandemic, either personally or as a society? See for privacy information.
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Ep 74 Naegleria fowleri: The "brain-eating amoeba"

Every summer, when the warm weather rolls around and the local ponds and lakes heat up enough for a tempting dip, remember that there may be something else lurking in those waters besides the people looking to cool off. Naegleria fowleri, the topic of today?s episode, makes its home in warm, fresh waters, and that?s mostly where it stays, until a chance encounter between human and amoeba introduces it to a new locale: the brain. In this episode, we explore the brutal biology of the so-called ?brain-eating amoeba?, walk through its recent but global history, and discuss the possible future of this pathogen, both good (e.g. treatments, awareness) and bad (e.g. climate change, land-use change).  Even though this is a very rare disease, its deadly potential is deeply felt by those impacted by it. We are very grateful to Dr. Sandra Gompf, who shares her story of how her son Philip?s fatal encounter with Naegleria fowleri led her to create Amoeba Season, a Philip T Gompf Memorial Fund for Infectious Disease Research project. You can learn more about Dr. Gompf?s story on her website,, where you can also find many helpful links for raising awareness, fact sheets on amoebic meningitis, and a wonderful set of resources for healthcare professionals. As Dr. Gompf says, amoebic meningitis is 99% fatal but 100% preventable, and the best method of prevention is knowledge - Amoeba Season is a great place to start. See for privacy information.
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COVID-19 Chapter 19: Your Stories

From virology to vaccines, from education to economics, and from disparities to disease, our Anatomy of a Pandemic series has covered many different aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. With such a broad range of topics and an often birds-eye view of the situation, it can be easy to forget that this is a large-scale event happening to individual people. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are widespread but also deeply personal and absolutely unique. In this episode, we wanted to take this opportunity to recognize this aspect by featuring firsthand accounts that we have received from listeners over the last several months sharing their pandemic experiences. We have no expert to feature for this episode because, by this point, we are all experts in our own COVID-19 stories. Which stories resonate with you? Which ones surprise you? Let us know! And a huge thank you again to everyone who has shared their firsthand accounts with us - we feel so honored to hear them. See for privacy information.
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Ep 73 Puerperal Fever: Seriously, wash your hands

Our sign-off, ?wash your hands, ya filthy animals?, has never been more appropriate than with this episode on puerperal or childbed fever, now known as maternal peripartum infections. It took us over seventy episodes to get here, but today we finally tell the tragic story of Ignác Semmelweis, the ?father of hand hygiene? and ?savior of mothers?, whose keen observations and devotion to his patients earned him ridicule in his time and respect in ours. But the tragedy of this episode?s topic doesn?t reside solely in the past. Today maternal peripartum infections are still a major contributor to maternal morbidity and mortality worldwide, and, surprise surprise, the impact is not equally felt across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Join us as we dive into this historically rich, medically complicated, and still appallingly prevalent group of infections. See for privacy information.
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COVID-19 Chapter 18: Conservation & Pandemics

The COVID-19 pandemic has touched all of our lives in incredibly varied ways, with no two experiences exactly alike. Despite this, we all probably share the same thought: how can we stop this from happening again? In this episode of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series, we ask that question in the context of wildlife conservation. Why is protecting biodiversity synonymous with protecting our own health? If spillover events themselves are inevitable, how can we limit the likelihood that they will become epidemics or pandemics? Where do commercial wildlife markets and subsistence hunting fit into the equation? To help us answer these questions and more, we are thrilled to be joined by Dr. Chris Walzer, Executive Director of Health at the Wildlife Conservation Society (interview recorded April 6, 2021). And for more information on the topics discussed, check out the WCS?s COVID-19 News and Information page and read a recent Op-Ed piece by Dr. Susan Lieberman and Dr. Christian Walzer about why biodiversity is crucial for preventing pandemics.  As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we?ve listed the questions below: Now that we are over a year into this pandemic, what do we know about the sequence of events that led to this pandemic?  People have been studying spillovers and the emergence of novel viruses for a long time and have been saying that a pandemic like this was inevitable. So what did we do wrong on a national or international level? What things did we do right, or what things did we adequately prepare for during this pandemic?  What are the ways in which we?ve made scientific progress or the ways in which the world has fundamentally changed that have allowed this pandemic to play out differently than it could have 20 years ago?  Can you talk us through some of the nuance in the interactions between commercial wildlife markets, spillover events, and wildlife hunting for subsistence purposes? How predictable are spillover events themselves? Or perhaps, how predictable are the scenarios that would increase risks for spillover and how predictable are the events that follow? Since another spillover event could happen at almost any time, what measures do we have in place to prevent these events from turning into another pandemic? Where does wildlife and forest conservation fit into this equation?  Pandemic preparedness and pandemic response are two different things. How do these two aspects of dealing with a pandemic differ and who is involved in each of these efforts? What are people who study this the most concerned about when it comes to the next pandemic? What are the areas in which we still have big improvements to make in how we prepare for or predict or try to prevent pandemics based on what we?ve learned during this one? What do you hope we keep or learn from this pandemic, either personally or as a society? See for privacy information.
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Ep 72 White-Nose Syndrome: How deep is your torpor?

A fluffy white fungus and a little brown bat. A deafening silence and an uncertain future. In this episode, we explore one of the most devastating wildlife diseases in recent times, white-nose syndrome. Since its debut in North America in 2006, this fungal pathogen has spread across much of the continent, leaving millions of dead bats in its wake. Why is it so deadly? Which bats are at risk? Where did it come from? And most importantly, what can we do about it? We attempt to answer these questions and more about this pernicious pathogen, and we are so delighted to be joined by Dr. Winifred Frick, Chief Scientist at Bat Conservation International and Associate Research Professor at UC Santa Cruz, who helps us take a closer look at the ecology and impact of this disease on North American bat populations. See for privacy information.
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COVID-19 Chapter 17: Frontline Mental Health

This pandemic has certainly taken its toll on all of us, but one group that has been particularly hard hit are those who have been on the front lines, continuing to take care of patients even when PPE was running low or nonexistent, even when there were no more ICU beds available. During both non-pandemic and pandemic times, physicians and other healthcare workers experience a tremendous deal of stress and pressure that can lead to depression, isolation, anxiety, moral injury, and other mental health issues. In this episode of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series, we seek to understand the factors contributing to the prevalence of these mental health issues among healthcare workers, the stigma that often prevents the seeking of treatment, the role that the COVID-19 pandemic has played in exacerbating these issues, and the ways in which the medical system has done or can do better. We are very excited to be joined by Michael Myers, MD (interview recorded March 29, 2021), psychiatrist and Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at SUNY-Downstate Health Sciences University in Brooklyn, NY and author of several books, including his latest, Becoming a Doctors? Doctor: A Memoir. As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we?ve listed the questions below: How did you become interested in the field of physician mental health, and what made you choose to pursue it? Can you talk us through some of the challenges healthcare workers face and what impact they have on their mental health? Does this field experience things such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide at higher rates than the general public? What does the stigma surrounding mental illness look like in the medical field and how does it contribute to the high rate of mental health issues in healthcare workers? Can you talk a bit about where these mental health issues among healthcare workers originate and how each step of medical training and beyond contributes to the problem? How much of this is a problem unique to the US and how much of it is universal? What are some of those changes you have seen throughout your thirty-five year career as a psychiatrist primarily treating other physicians? How have we gotten better, and what are the areas in which we have failed to make improvements? How do these public health crises, especially COVID-19, amplify the issues that physicians are already facing in terms of mental health? Can you talk a bit about the ?healthcare heroes? narrative and how damaging it can be? What is some of the fallout you think we can expect to see in the long-term from the COVID-19 pandemic? As family members or friends or partners of healthcare workers, what are worrying signs that we can look out for? How do we recognize these signs in ourselves as well? For those who maybe have friends or partners or family members who are frontline health workers, what are some of the ways in which we can help and provide meaningful support during these times as well as in non pandemic times? What do you feel are the biggest failings of the medical system in terms of emotional and mental health support for those in medicine? How can we begin to change things? What role should medical school play? Hospitals? Other physicians? See for privacy information.
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Ep 71 Onchocerciasis/River Blindness: So many mysteries

In this classic TPWKY episode we travel down rivers and into worm-laden nodes as we take a look at the complex world of Onchocerca volvulus, the vector-borne parasite that causes river blindness. Join us as we learn why the name ?river blindness? captures only one dimension of the devastation caused by this parasite, how the short evolutionary history of this worm is at once surprising and enlightening, and why grasping the disease ecology of this system has been crucial in successful control efforts. As a bonus, if you tune in, you?ll get to hear how on earth The J. Geils Band fits into this story and the integral role that dog digestion has played in the history of this parasite. See for privacy information.
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COVID-19 Chapter 16: Disparities, Take 2

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted racial and ethnic minorities, especially here in the United States. Higher infection, hospitalization, and death rates due to COVID-19 have been observed for historically marginalized groups, and the harmful effects stem beyond those relating to health, with higher unemployment and food and housing insecurity also reported. Yet these disparities did not emerge anew from this current pandemic; rather, this pandemic has served to amplify existing structural inequalities in the healthcare, educational, legal, and housing systems, among others. In this episode of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series, we explore the deeply entrenched roots of racial disparities in the US, how our narrow focus on outcomes often fails to capture the complex causes of inequalities, and ways in which we can begin to work towards health equity in this country. We are so thrilled to be joined by Harriet Washington (@haw95) (interview recorded March 10, 2021), writer and medical ethicist, whose groundbreaking work on this subject through books such as Medical Apartheid, A Terrible Thing to Waste, Carte Blanche, and others has led to much-deserved critical acclaim. As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we?ve listed the questions below: Can you tell us a bit about your new book, Carte Blanche: The Erosion of Medical Consent, and what inspired you to write it? Although health disparities have been around forever, it was only within the last few decades that the term itself was coined, and it?s often only vaguely defined. Would you mind describing what we mean when we talk about health disparities? Can you talk a bit about how it?s not just being able to go to a doctor or afford a doctor, but how things like access to education, chronic stress, and environmental justice interact with and compound each other when it comes to health disparities? What are some of the different ways that we measure health disparities?  Can you talk about why it is important to understand the context of these disparate outcomes?  Can you talk about the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on communities that were already facing significant barriers to healthcare? How has the narrative of ?race-based medicine? shown up in discussions of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on certain groups of people? How can we increase health equity in this country? What can we do at an individual level to help, and what are some policies at the state or national level that could help narrow this gap? How can the medical establishment work to earn back the trust of these communities that we have historically disenfranchised (and in many ways continue to disenfranchise) when it comes to health? See for privacy information.
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Ep 70 Henrietta Lacks: HeLa, There, & Everywhere

Of the many topics our podcast has covered in the past, from smallpox to scurvy, vaccines to birth control and beyond, one factor has linked nearly all of them: HeLa cells. These cells and the woman from whom they were taken have often remained behind the scenes in the coverage of these topics, but they have nevertheless been absolutely fundamental in the development of technologies, the advancement of knowledge, and the discussions of ethics, ownership, and informed consent. In this week?s episode, we want to do more than acknowledge the contribution of Henrietta Lacks and her cells to the field of biomedical science. We want to explore what it is about HeLa cells and other cell lines that makes them ?immortal?. We want to learn what Henrietta was like as a person. We want to ask how it was possible for her cells to be taken from her without her consent or knowledge. And we want to share the tremendous impact Henrietta and her cells have made and continue to make on our world in so many ways. For more information about the Henrietta Lacks Foundation, check out the website. See for privacy information.
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COVID-19 Chapter 15: Disease, Take 2

We?re over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and our understanding of this virus and the disease it causes has grown immensely. And while we?ve learned so much about the spectrum of disease severity, the wide array of symptoms, and the effectiveness of various treatments, there is still so much we are discovering about this illness. In this installment of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series covering the COVID-19 pandemic, we review what we currently know about the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as emerging questions such as what exactly is long COVID or how well do vaccines work against the new variants? To take us through this massive topic, we enlisted the help of two experts, Dr. Krutika Kuppalli (@KrutikaKuppalli), infectious diseases physician and assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina (also featured in Ch. 3: Control of this series), and Dr. Jason Kindrachuk (@KindrachukJason), assistant professor and Canada research chair in molecular pathogenesis and emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba (interview recorded March 16, 2021). As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our experts. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we?ve listed the questions below: How much does the infectious dose, or the amount of virus a person is exposed to, play a role in whether they will get the disease and/or how severe the disease might be? How soon after being exposed does someone become infectious and how does that infectivity change over the course of infection? How much does infectiousness or viral shedding vary across disease severity? Are people who are severely infected more contagious than those who are asymptomatic? Could you walk us through the spectrum of COVID-19 in terms of symptoms or clinical observations, touching on first asymptomatic, then mild, then moderate or severe cases? What proportion of cases are severe vs mild vs asymptomatic? How much do symptoms or the general course of disease vary from person to person? How predictable is this virus? Can you talk about some of the lingering effects of infection and how frequently long COVID seems to occur? How has our estimate of the case fatality rate changed over this pandemic? Can you talk about some of the risk factors that seem to be associated with severe infections? Is there any link between blood type and risk of infection? What do we know about pregnancy and infection with COVID-19? Do risks regarding pregnancy vary depending on when during pregnancy someone may be exposed or infected?  What do we know about the duration or nature of immunity and the risk of reinfection? How has treatment for COVID-19 cases changed throughout this pandemic? Are we any better at treating patients with severe cases now than we were eight or so months ago? What do we know at this point about the vaccine candidates in terms of their effectiveness against new variants that have emerged? What does it mean if these vaccines are slightly less effective against some variants than others? What do the latest studies show about vaccines preventing asymptomatic as well as symptomatic infection? What is something you hope to take away from this pandemic, either on a personal level or as a society? See for privacy information.
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Ep 69 Huntington?s disease: Let?s talk frankly

Despite being one of the earliest recognized genetic diseases, many aspects of Huntington?s disease remain shrouded in mystery. This stems in part from our limited grasp on how our own minds work but also from the dark history of Huntington?s disease and the shame and silence that accompanied it for so long. In this episode, we attempt to bring what we know about Huntington?s disease into the light, to talk frankly about the characteristics and progression of this hereditary disease, the role of eugenics in creating and promoting the stigma surrounding it, the ethical considerations surrounding genetic testing, and the medical and scientific advancements that give us reason to hope. And we are so grateful to the provider of our firsthand account for sharing their perspective on what it?s like to be diagnosed with this disease. Tune in for all this and more. See for privacy information.
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Ep 68 Coccidioidomycosis: It?s never a spider bite

Don?t be daunted by the length of this disease name or just how difficult it looks to pronounce. By the end of the episode, you?ll be saying it right along with us, and bonus, you?ll also be armed with a whole bunch of excellent trivia about this fascinating fungal disease. In this episode, we dive right into all things coccidioidomycosis, also known as Valley fever, which also happens to be the first human fungal pathogen we?ve covered. We?ll walk you through its unusual dual natured lifecycle, its somewhat recent but surprisingly rich history, and the present threat it poses, especially in light of climate change and the United States prison system. This fungus is much more amongus than you may have suspected. We are also so lucky to be joined by Tori, who shared with us her firsthand account of contracting this fierce fungus. See for privacy information.
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Ep 67 HPV: My wart be with you

The world of human papillomaviruses is vast and varied, and causing cervical cancer is just one of the many roles these viruses can take on. From their carcinogenic tendencies to their more benign wart-forming ways, this episode explores what these tiny viruses have taught us about how our bodies prevent cancer, how imaginative old timey cures for warts can be, how slow acceptance of the facts and a failure in marketing led to a delayed and impaired vaccine uptake, and so much more. You could say we?re covering all aspects of this highly-requested topic, warts and all. The historical stigma of cancer as a ?woman?s disease?? Check. What?s actually inside a wart? Check. The possible origins of a mythical creature? Check. The massive disparity in vaccine access between high- and low-income countries? Check. Tune in to hear it all. See for privacy information.
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Ep 66 The Outs and Ins of Organ Transplantation

From the first skin grafts to the future of 3D printed organs, the science of organ transplantation has always seemed like something out of a sci-fi novel. How on earth can an organ from one person be removed and successfully placed into another person? Who first attempted such a monumental feat, and how long did it take for trial and error to become trial and success? Our episode this week seeks to answer these questions and so many more as we tackle the massive topic of organ transplantation. We begin by examining the immunological nitty gritty of transplant science and follow that up with the long and storied history of transplants. We round things out with a look at the numbers, which show the unfortunate reality that demand far outpaces availability, a reality that may soon be improved with innovative approaches towards bioengineering. And we are so excited to be joined by two fantastic guests, Carol Offen and Dr. Elizabeth (Betsy) Crais, who share their stories of what it?s like to donate or receive a kidney.  Carol, who is a NKF Kidney Advocacy Committee member, has a great website that includes many resources where you can learn more about kidney donation as well as keep an eye out for Carol and Betsy?s book, The Greatest Gift: The Insider?s Guide to Living Kidney Donation. You can also follow Carol on Twitter (@CarolOffen) and through her advocacy page on Facebook. We will also post additional links for where to learn more about organ donation and advocacy work on our website. See for privacy information.
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Ep 65 Sweating Sickness: Ready, Sweat, Go!

Here?s a pop quiz for all of you: what disease makes you sweat profusely, run a slight fever, develop body aches and a pounding head and then makes you drop dead within hours of symptom onset? If you answered ?I have no idea?, you passed! Because we haven?t a clue either. In this episode, we attempt to tease apart the mysterious sweating sickness, which struck only five times in the 1400s and 1500s in England, leaving in its wake terror, confusion, and a trail of bodies. Although the sweating sickness has not been seen since (or has it?), scientists and scholars continue to investigate this mysterious illness and propose various pathogens as the likely causative agent. Tune in to hear us go through the most popular explanations to see if we can form our own consensus on ?the sweat?. See for privacy information.
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Ep 64 Rubella: Timing is Everything

For many of us, rubella has simply come to mean the R in MMR, the routine childhood measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. But that hasn?t always been the case. There was once a time when the rubella virus routinely made front page news and was at the center of countless legal discussions. This week, we explore everything you?ve ever wanted to know about this virus. We start off by asking what this virus does to your body and how it can cross the placenta, leading to congenital rubella syndrome. Then we journey through the short but impactful history of this disease, from the discovery of the effects the virus can have on a developing fetus to the widespread epidemics that spurred on the development of a vaccine. Finally we wrap up with some much-needed good news about the global decline of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome. See for privacy information.
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COVID-19 Chapter 14: Virology, Take 2

The fourteenth installment of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series on COVID-19 dives into what we?ve learned about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Curious about the new strains or variants making headlines lately? Or how exactly tests for COVID-19 actually work? Or perhaps you?ve been wondering about the different routes of transmission that this virus uses. Whatever your virology question, we?ve (hopefully) got you covered. We were fortunate enough to interview virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen, affiliate at the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security, and whom you may remember from our earlier episode on the virology of SARS-CoV-2, which we released all the way back in March 2020. Dr. Rasmussen was kind enough to sit back down with us to answer all of our many burning virology questions (interview recorded December 30, 2020). As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. If you would like to read Dr. Rasmussen's article in The Guardian about the new SARS-CoV-2 variants, follow this link. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we?ve listed the questions below: Can you tell us a bit about SARS-CoV-2? What kind of virus it is, other viruses it?s related to, and what that tells us about the virus and the disease it causes? Could you tell us a bit more about the B117 strain, like whether this appears to be a new strain and how it is different? Do we have any evidence of any strains that seem to cause more severe disease or affect different populations? Where do these new strains come from? What does this new strain (or multiple new strains) mean for the effectiveness of the vaccines that have been developed? Will these vaccines work against these new strains?  What additional things have we learned about the structure or surface proteins of SARS-CoV-2 that give us more insight into how it causes disease or the widespread effects it has on the body? Is there any indication that the virus can be airborne? Does fecal-oral transmission seem to be playing a role? What are the various ways to test for SARS-CoV-2? Can you walk us through what each experience is like? How do the rapid vs PCR tests work? And can you compare their accuracy? Why does the rapid test have a higher rate of false negatives than the PCR test? What has this pandemic taught us about virology? See for privacy information.
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Ep 63 Poison Ivy: It's Just Us

Our first crossover episode this season with Dr. Matt Candeias of In Defense of Plants stars everyone?s favorite irritating plant-originated substance: urushiol! Join us for a light-hearted deep dive into urushiol, aka the stuff in poison ivy that makes you soooo itchy/burny/scratchy. Have you ever wondered why popping a benadryl doesn?t relieve those oozing, raised welts all over your gardening arms? Or whether a poison ivy rash has ever been used as evidence in a murder case? Or why poison ivy and other plants produce this substance in the first place? Don?t worry, just like a poison ivy rash after a summer gardening sesh, we?ve got you covered. See for privacy information.
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COVID-19 Chapter 13: Vaccines, Take 2

We?re back with another episode in our Anatomy of a Pandemic series on COVID-19. This time, our subject matter is the one everyone has been waiting for: vaccines. In this episode, with the help of two amazing guests, we attempt to answer all of your burning questions about the new vaccines for the virus that causes COVID-19. We walk you through the ins and outs of the technology behind these vaccines, the safety and regulation steps required for their approval, and some of the logistical challenges involved in their distribution. For this info-packed episode, we were so fortunate to be joined by Dr. Maria Sundaram (interview recorded Dec 14, 2020), postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto Center for Vaccine Preventable Diseases and fellow at ICES and Dr. Orin Levine (interview recorded Nov 24, 2020), Director of Vaccine Delivery at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our experts. If at the end of this interview, your curiosity about vaccines is not quite satisfied, check out the COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker website, which is an incredible resource for pretty much anything you could ever want to know about these vaccines. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we?ve listed the questions below: Can you break down what the three potentially successful COVID-19 vaccines are and how each of them work? What are in these vaccines? What are the ingredients and what do they do? There has been some misunderstanding that these vaccines have the potential to give you COVID-19. Can you explain why that isn?t possible? Why are people being advised to wear a mask even after getting vaccinated? What does the timeline look like for these vaccines until we can go to the doctor or pharmacy and get one? Is it a valid concern that this vaccine was developed so rapidly? And could you walk us through some of the steps being taken to ensure safety and efficacy of a vaccine? Can you talk about what emergency use authorization means and whether we?ve seen this before and under what circumstances? Why should people be no more scared of this vaccine than the usual vaccines, like MMR and seasonal influenza? How likely is it that additional side effects we haven?t yet seen or long-term side effects will emerge later on? What do we know about the risk of vaccine-induced antibody-dependent enhancement with this vaccine? What do we know so far about the efficacy of these vaccines? Can you walk us through efficacy vs effectiveness in terms of vaccines? What do we know so far about how long immunity is expected to last from the various vaccines that are close to completion? What are some of the issues with clinical trials in vaccine development in terms of getting a representative subsection of the population and what does this mean for who may be able to get a vaccine once one is ready? Why do you still need to get vaccinated even if you?ve already had COVID-19? For our listeners who may know someone who is hesitant to receive the vaccine, what advice or reassurance can you give them that choosing to get one of these vaccines is a better option than taking your chances with COVID-19? What are the biggest hurdles to vaccine distribution here in the US? What are the biggest hurdles in terms of global distribution of the vaccine? And what is being done to address some of these challenges in vaccine access? We?ve heard about some countries pre-purchasing large stocks of vaccines, how may that affect the global availability especially in lower income countries? How might the availability of several different successful COVID-19 vaccines affect how different countries build their vaccine supply or distribution chain?  Could you talk about how skepticism surrounding vaccines plays into not only vaccine development but administration, and what can be done to rebuild trust in those communities? How do you think this pandemic will change the way that we view either emerging infectious diseases or vaccines in the future? See for privacy information.
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Ep 62 Leishmaniasis, Relationship Status: It's Complicated

The neglected tropical disease known as leishmaniasis is really more of a collection of diseases caused by a variety of parasites transmitted through the bite of a diversity of sandfly species. Sounds a bit complicated? You?re not wrong. But have no fear. Because in this episode, we walk you through the ins and outs of leishmaniasis. From the biology of visceral vs cutaneous vs mucocutaneous leishmaniasis to the archaeological and modern history of these parasites, we give you the basics on one of the most globally prevalent parasitic infections. See for privacy information.
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COVID-19 Chapter 12: Control, Take 2

That?s right, we are rebooting our Anatomy of a Pandemic series in which we cover various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic that has held the world in its grip since early 2020. Since our first episodes in the series dropped in March of this year, we have learned quite a lot about the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the disease it causes, patterns in its transmission, and of course, how we can best control it. In our first episode back, we focus on this last facet by exploring what we now know about policies and practices that work best to slow the spread of this virus and dive into some of the nuance surrounding masks, infection hot spots, and traveling. For this episode, we were so delighted to chat with Dr. Saskia Popescu, infectious disease epidemiologist and infection preventionist and Assistant Professor of Biodefense at George Mason University (interview recorded December 4, 2020) (Twitter: @SaskiaPopescu). As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we?ve listed the questions below: What have we seen so far in terms of regional or statewide control policies or practices that seem to best work for infection control? How might something like a nationwide mask mandate or even just fact-based, rational messaging have changed the course of this pandemic in the US? Can you highlight some of the patterns in the policies or practices of the countries where COVID-19 has been pretty well managed, in your opinion? Basically, what are other countries doing better than we are? Which individual behaviors or practices have been shown to be the most effective for virus control? Can you break down some of the different types of masks and explain which types of masks seem to be doing a pretty great job of slowing transmission and which ones may not be as effective? Our knowledge of where transmission is most likely to occur has become more nuanced as the pandemic has continued. How do things like grocery store visits and outdoor runs compare to indoor dining or working out in a gym? What are we seeing as hot spots of infection and what are safer than we previously thought? Although we know much more now than we did at the beginning of this pandemic, the fundamentals of the virus?s transmission and the ways we can control it haven?t really changed. So where is this surge of cases coming from? Do you think the lockdowns or increased restrictions being put into place in some high prevalence locations will have the same effect in flattening this third wave as they seemed to earlier in this pandemic? Do you think we?ll see a reduction in seasonal respiratory infections overall due to the  mask wearing, increased handwashing, and social distancing people are practicing? What are the steps people can take to be as safe as possible if they are committed to traveling during this holiday season? What would you say to those experiencing COVID fatigue? See for privacy information.
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Ep 61 Typhoid: There's Something About Mary

Your long wait is finally over - the season four premiere of This Podcast Will Kill You has arrived! And to mark the special occasion, we?re taking on a topic that is both classic TPWKY material as well as enormously relevant to current discussions in public health. Typhoid fever has been the cause of untold death and devastation throughout human history, and despite our advancements in both treatment and prevention of the disease, it continues to wreak havoc on millions of people around the world every year. This week, we take a trip through the terror of typhoid, starting by tracing the journey this bacterium makes through your body before taking a look at the long history of typhoid in human populations. And what story of typhoid would be complete without Typhoid Mary? We examine the plight of Mary Mallon in the context of today?s COVID-19 pandemic and discuss the tension that often arises between individual and community rights in matters of public health. Finally, we wrap things up with a look at the current status of typhoid fever around the world (spoilers: it?s pretty terrible) as well as some promising developments on the horizon (spoilers: okay, it might not all be bad!). We are so excited to be back with you this season, coming through your headphones with some casual chat about diseases throughout human history! As always, we are happy to hear from you about what you?d like us to cover, so send any suggestions through our website contact form. For your TPWKY merch needs, check out the sweet offerings on our shop's page. And for extra reading, you can find references for each episode on the episode page or check out our affiliate page or our Goodreads list. See for privacy information.
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Ep 60 Giving birth to "The Pill"

Well, TPWKY listeners, it has been a heck of a year, and it?s not even over yet! But one thing has come to an end: our third season. Given the profound implications these next couple of months will have on the future of health and security in the United States, for our season finale we chose to cover a topic that?s near and dear to our hearts and minds: birth control. Have you ever thought to yourself, ?I know this IUD/patch/pill prevents pregnancy, but how exactly does it do that?? or ?How on earth did someone come up with this pill and then get it legalized?? If so, you?re in luck. In this episode, we walk through the basics of how the most common hormonal contraceptives work and then journey through the history of the various birth control movements in the United States. Finally, we wrap up with some of the latest developments in birth control technology (male hormonal contraceptives, anyone?) as well as the major legal decisions impacting access to birth control. We want to thank all of you fantastic listeners who have been with us through this wild year. You have made it all worth it! And fear not - we?ll be back with season 4 before you know it. Make sure to subscribe so you don?t miss the first episode drop of the next season! See for privacy information.
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Ep 59 Thalidomide: Justice Delayed, Justice Denied

The story of thalidomide is often employed as a cautionary tale - why testing a drug?s safety during pregnancy is crucial or why it?s important to choose the right animal models. Or it?s framed as a success story for drug repurposing or regulation. But those tellings often gloss over the darker lesson of thalidomide: that for some companies, the bottom line is more important than human life. This week, we explore all elements of this infamous drug. We start by examining what we know about how thalidomide causes the severe congenital malformations it?s associated with, and then we dive into the deep, dark history of the drug, complete with a full cast of villains and heroes. Finally, we discuss thalidomide?s controversial comeback as a treatment for myeloma and complications of leprosy. Get out your angry hats for this one, people, because you?ll find yourself asking along with us, ?why are humans the way we are?? See for privacy information.
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Ep 58 Guinea worm: (Almost) Ancient History

You?ve heard about smallpox, and you?ve learned about rinderpest. Now it?s time to meet what may be the third disease to ever be eradicated: dracunculiasis, also known as Guinea worm disease. In this episode, we take you through the absolutely remarkable life cycle of this not-so-little worm and the nitty gritty of the havoc it wreaks on a person?s body throughout its journey. Then get out your TPWKY bingo cards, because the history of Guinea worm includes not only mummies and historic papyri but also ancient Rome and fun etymology. To bring us up to speed on the current status of Guinea worm today is Sarah Yerian, Senior Associate Director of the Guinea Worm Eradication Program at the Carter Center. Sara discusses not only how the reduction in prevalence of dracunculiasis has been achieved but also the challenges that remain to finally relegate this worm to the history books. To learn more about the Guinea Worm Eradication Program at the Carter Center, check out the website or follow them on social media: @CarterCenter. You can also find the link to our firsthand account here. See for privacy information.
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Ep 57 Herpes: Stop the STIgma

The harm caused by herpes simplex viruses (HSV) 1 & 2 often arises not from the pathology of the viruses themselves but rather from the stigma and shame associated with a positive diagnosis. In this episode, we attempt to lay a clear foundation for understanding not only how these viruses work but also what occurred to change the perception of them from ?innocuous infection? to ?dreaded disease?. Starting us off with his firsthand account is the incredible Courtney Brame, founder and host of Something Positive for Positive People, a non-profit organization and podcast that aims to provide community support, healing resources, and educational discussions around positive HSV and other STI diagnoses as well as larger issues in sexuality and physical and mental health. We then dive into the meat of the episode, tackling such questions as ?how do these viruses hide out in your body??, ?what kind of treatment is available??, ?where did these viruses even come from?? and ?why is there such a huge amount of stigma and what can we do about it??. To help us address this last question is our other fantastic guest, Dr. Ina Park, Associate Professor, University of California San Francisco School of Medicine and Medical Consultant, Division of STD Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We chat with Dr. Park about her new book, Strange Bedfellows, when to have ?the talk? with your kids, and how we as individuals can break down some of the shame surrounding a positive STI diagnosis. To learn more about Something Positive for Positive People, head to the website or check out the SPFPP podcast wherever you get your podcasts! You can also follow Courtney on Instagram: @honmychest. And don?t forget to pre-order Dr. Ina Park?s upcoming book Strange Bedfellows: Adventures in the Science, History, and Surprising Secrets of STDs, expected February 2021. You can find out more about Dr. Park and her work on her website or by following her on Twitter: @InaParkMD or Facebook: Ina Park. See for privacy information.
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Ep 56 Sickle Cell Disease: Invisible Illness, Enduring Strength

Neglected and ignored by the medical establishment throughout most of its history, sickle cell disease remains one of the most common (and commonly misunderstood) genetic conditions in the world. In this episode, we break down the myriad effects that one nucleotide substitution can have on the human body and discuss the basics of what it means when blood cells sickle. Continuing with the theme of the seen and unseen, we then turn to the history of sickle cell disease, a history of long-standing injustice and the unending fight to raise awareness and provide support for those impacted by the condition. And as always, we wrap up with a discussion on the current global status of sickle cell disease and some exciting new treatment options on the horizon.  We are so honored and thrilled to be joined this episode by not one, not two, but three incredible guests! You?ll hear first from Marsha Howe and Sharif Tusuubira, who share with us some of their firsthand experiences living with sickle cell disease. And then in our current status section, Dr. Megan Hochstrasser from the Innovative Genomics Institute walks us through the mind-blowing genome editing approaches being used to treat genetic conditions such as sickle cell disease. You can follow Marsha on her website for her non-profit organization and blog ?My Life With Sickle Cell? as well as through her social media channels: Twitter: @MarshaMLWSC,  Instagram: @marsha_h181, Facebook: Marsha Howe. And make sure to check out B Positive Choir too! Twitter: @bpositivechoir and Instagram: @bpositivechoir. Learn more about Sharif Tusuubira?s amazing advocacy efforts on his website and through his social media channels: Twitter: @tkksharif, Instagram: @tkksharif, Facebook: Sharif Kiragga Tusuubira. You can also watch his 2017 talk in Washington, DC as a Mandela Washington Fellow. And to learn more about the futuristic-sounding research being done at the Innovative Genomics Institute (including using CRISPR to develop a faster, cheaper coronavirus test!), you can follow Megan (@thecrispress) and IGI (@igisci) on Twitter, or head to their website. See for privacy information.
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Ep 55 Rocky Mountain spotted fever: The tick must be destroyed!

Despite what its name might suggest, the story of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) takes us far beyond the jagged, snow-capped peaks of the western range. From the Bitterroot Valley to southeastern Brazil, it is a story filled with equal parts tragedy and discovery, as the researchers desperate for answers fall victim to the very disease they seek to prevent. In this episode, we dive into the dark past of this deadly disease, first exploring the biology of the teeny tiny organism that wreaks such devastation. As always, we follow that up by tracing the history surrounding this much-feared infection and its role in the creation of one of the world?s leading infectious disease laboratories. Finally, we end with the current status of RMSF, which (spoilers) isn?t as bleak as you might think, thanks once again to antibiotics. Tune in to hear why we?ve been excited to research this episode since the very beginning of the podcast. See for privacy information.
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Ep 54 Wake Up and Smell the Caffeine

Are you one of the billions of people around the world who starts your day with a freshly brewed and deliciously aromatic cup of coffee or tea or maybe even hot chocolate? Or are you caffeine-avoidant, looking on at your coffee-addicted friends with confusion and maybe even pity? In either case, this episode is for you. We are joined by the one and only Matt Candeias of In Defense of Plants to tackle the world?s most consumed psychoactive drug: caffeine. First we get a taste of the massive history of the most popular caffeine-containing beverages, then we trace what exactly caffeine does in your body after that first scrumptious sip. And finally, we explore what role this compound has for those many, many plants that produce it. We hope you find this episode as stimulating as its subject! See for privacy information.
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Ep 53 Radiation: X-Ray Marks the Spot

?I have discovered something interesting, but I do not know whether or not my observations are correct.? With these words, Wilhelm Röntgen introduced the world to an invisible power, a power which would in turn be used to both harm and heal. This week, we take a tour of the wide world of radiation, starting with a primer on what radiation actually is and how it works, courtesy of Dr. Timothy Jorgensen, Associate Professor of Radiation Medicine and Director of the Health Physics and Radiation Protection Graduate Program, Georgetown University. Then we discuss the nitty gritty on what radiation does to you on a cellular level. We follow that up with a stroll through some of the major moments in the history of radiation - from X-rays to atomic bombs and from radioluminescent paint to cancer treatments. Finally we wrap things up by chatting about the many amazing medical applications of radiation therapy and how you can assess the risk/benefit of that X-ray or mammogram. To read Dr. Jorgensen?s incredible book Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation, check out his website or head to our website for our full list of sources. See for privacy information.
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Ep 52 Rinderpest: Moo Cows, Moo Problems

The second disease ever to be eradicated, rinderpest could be the most devastating and notorious infection you never knew existed. Though its name means ?cattle plague?, the deadly rinderpest virus infected hundreds of species of animals during its long reign, and outbreaks of rinderpest left nothing but famine and ruin in their wake. In this episode, we start by taking you through the biology of one of the biggest killers we?ve ever faced. We then trace the long history of this feared disease, from fire festival rituals in Russia to the imperialist exploitation of the Great African Rinderpest Panzootic of the 1890s that paved the way for European colonial rule over a large part of the continent. Fortunately, this story ends happily as only one other has done so far - with complete and total eradication. You may have started this episode not knowing about rinderpest, but when you?re done, you won?t be able to stop talking about it. Trust us. See for privacy information.
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Ep 51 The Path of Most (Antibiotic) Resistance

No story of antibiotics would be complete without the rise of resistance. As promised in our last episode, this week we dive into what the WHO calls ?one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today? - antibiotic resistance. In the decades since their development, misuse and overuse of antibiotics has led to many becoming all but useless, and our world seems on the verge of plunging into a post-antibiotic era. How does resistance work? Where did it come from? Why did it spread so far so rapidly? Is there any hope? In this episode, we answer all these questions and more. First, we explore the many ways bacteria evade the weaponry of antibiotic compounds. Then we trace the global spread of these resistant bugs by examining the major contributors to their misuse and overuse. And finally we assess the current global status of antibiotic resistant infections (spoiler: it?s very bad) and search for any good news (spoiler: there?s a lot!). To chat about one super cool and innovative alternative to antibiotics, we are joined by the amazing Dr. Steffanie Strathdee (Twitter: @chngin_the_wrld), Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences, Harold Simon Professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Co-Director at the Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics. Dr. Strathdee provides a firsthand account of helping her husband, Dr. Tom Patterson, fight off a deadly superbug infection by calling on a long-forgotten method of treating bacterial infections: phage therapy.   To read more about phage therapy and Dr. Strathdee?s incredible experiences, check out The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir.  See for privacy information.
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Ep 50 Antibiotics: We owe it all to chemistry!

Fifty episodes. That?s fifty (sometimes) deadly viruses, bacteria, protozoa, parasites, and poisons. And don?t forget the fifty quarantinis to accompany each! What better way to celebrate this momentous occasion than talking about something that may actually save you: antibiotics. In this, our golden anniversary episode, our ambition tempts us to tackle the massive world of these bacteria-fighting drugs. We explore the various ways that antibiotics duel with their bacterial enemies to deliver us from infection, and we trace their history, from the early years of Fleming and Florey to the drama-laden labs of some soil microbiologists. Finally, we end, as we always do, with discussing where we stand with antibiotics today. Dr. Jonathan Stokes (@ItsJonStokes), postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Jim Collins? lab at MIT, joins us to talk about some of his lab?s amazing research on using machine learning to discover new antibiotics, which prompts us to repeat ?that is SO COOL? and ?we are truly living in the future.? We think you?ll agree.   To read more about using machine learning to uncover antibiotic compounds, head to the Collins? lab website, the Audacious Project site, or check out Dr. Stokes? paper:  Stokes, Jonathan M., et al. "A deep learning approach to antibiotic discovery." Cell 180.4 (2020): 688-702. See for privacy information.
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COVID-19 Ch 11: Modeling

The eleventh episode of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series has arrived, and just in time. Have you found yourself trying to sift through headlines claiming ?this model predicts that? and ?that model predicts this?, but you?re not sure where the truth really lies? Then this episode is for you. With the help of Dr. Mike Famulare from the Institute for Disease Modeling (interview recorded April 29, 2020), we walk through the basics of mathematical modeling of infectious disease, explore some of the current projections for this pandemic, and discuss some guidelines for evaluating these headline-making models. As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we?ve listed the questions below: What is a math model and what are some of the goals of mathematical modeling? So talking specifically now about infectious disease models, can you walk us through what the basic components are of an infectious disease model, like an SIR model? Where do you get the data that you use to estimate the parameters in an SIR model - what is based on actual data and what has to be estimated? Infectious disease outbreaks often have a curve-like shape, with the number of infected individuals on the y-axis and time on the x-axis. Can you explain why infectious disease epidemics tend to follow a curve? Can you talk us through some of the assumptions that you have to make when you're constructing one of these models and how that kind of relates to the uncertainty inherent within models? How might that uncertainty affect interpretation? What are some examples of the various ways we use infectious disease models in public health policy? Can you talk about how models might be used at various stages of a pandemic to guide public health measures? How might our use of models early on in a pandemic be different from the middle of one? Speaking specifically about COVID-19 now, can you talk about what a basic model for this pandemic might look like?  Are models for COVID-19 using only lab-confirmed cases of the disease or clinical-confirmed cases as well? Looking back on these earlier models of COVID-19, what can we take away from the performance of these models? Is there any agreement among models as to what policies might be the best in terms of keeping cases and deaths as low as possible?  For those of us who have no background in mathematical or statistical modeling, are there guidelines that we should use to evaluate these models or compare them? What should we (as in the general public) be taking away from these models? Are there any positive changes you hope to see come out of this pandemic, either as a member of the community or as a math modeler? For a deeper dive into the wonderful world of infectious disease models, we recommend checking out this recent video from Robin Thompson, PhD of Oxford Mathematics titled ?How do mathematicians model infectious disease outbreaks?? The video was posted on April 8, 2020.   See for privacy information.
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Ep 49 Eastern Equine Encephalitis: Triple EEEk!

In 2019, eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, made headlines in much of the US as cases skyrocketed compared to previous years. But why is this disease so feared and even more importantly, why is it on the rise? Those are just a couple of the questions we seek to answer on this week?s episode. From the nitty gritty on what this virus does to your body to centuries-long forest dynamics in Massachusetts, we connect the disease ecology dots of EEE. We promise, the biology and history of eastern equine encephalitis is much more exciting than its etymology. See for privacy information.
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COVID-19 Chapter 10: Schools

In the tenth episode of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series on COVID-19, we continue our exploration of the diverse impacts of this pandemic by taking a look at how education and schooling has been affected, with a particular focus on the United States. Massive school closures and transition to distance learning has revealed vast inequities in access to basic educational needs and has highlighted the importance of public schools as more than just a place to learn. We are joined by journalist Jennifer Berkshire (Twitter: @BisforBerkshire) and education historian Dr. Jack Schneider (Twitter: @Edu_Historian), producers of Have You Heard, a podcast on educational policy and politics, to examine the current challenges in delivering educational content during this pandemic and some implications for the future of public schools (interview recorded April 17, 2020). As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we?ve listed the questions below: Have we seen anything like this before, like with the 1918 influenza pandemic and school closures due to polio epidemics? What are some of the services that public schools in the US provide? And how is this pandemic revealing that schools are more than just a place to learn?  Can you talk briefly about the inequalities in education and access and their historical roots? Are these inequalities unique to the United States or are there other countries where similar inequalities are seen or being revealed by this pandemic? Who is being left out in this switch to distance learning?   Can you discuss how well distance learning works across different age groups? Do you think that this epidemic will make policymakers and politicians see the economic value of schools? Or is it going to further decrease funding to schools and result in the dismantling of the public school system? How do you think our definition of school will change after this pandemic? What was the trajectory of funding for public schools before this pandemic? How well does distance learning seem to work?  When schools re-open, what kind of effects are we going to see on current students? Specifically, how do we recover when some kids will have continued to learn during this pandemic and others will likely have fallen further behind?  What positive changes do you hope to see come out of this? See for privacy information.
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COVID-19 Chapter 9: Economics

Episode 9 of our Anatomy of a Pandemic is here, and this week we?re stepping outside our public health sphere to examine COVID-19 from an entirely different perspective, that of an economist. Pandemics don?t happen in a vacuum, and the ripples of their impact extend far beyond those of public health, as nearly every person can attest to today. We?ve seen headlines about a global recession and high rates of unemployment, but what do those things actually mean? Have we seen something like this before or is this uncharted territory? And most importantly, what can we expect? We were curious to know the answers to these questions but we lack the expertise to take them on ourselves, so we asked economist Martha Gimbel, Manager of Economic Research at Schmidt Futures to join us on this episode about the economic impacts of COVID-19 (interview recorded April 14, 2020). A caveat: this episode focuses mostly on the economic impact of the pandemic in the US. As per usual, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we?ve listed the questions below: What are some of the indicators that we use to know how the economy is performing, and what were the trends we were seeing in the months before this pandemic hit? Could you take us through a timeline of the economic impact, starting with the first signs that the pandemic was having an impact on the global economy? What industries felt the pandemic first, and where do we stand now? Could you break down the impact that we?re seeing on the global economy, the US economy, large corporations, small businesses, and the average consumer? Was there a global recession after the 1918 influenza pandemic? If not, what makes these current circumstances unique? Which countries or industries are the most vulnerable and why? Are certain countries or industries proving to be more resilient in the face of this global recession? Can you talk about the gig economy here and how our reliance on low-paid workers with no protection from their employers has impacted our own economic resilience? Can you talk about the implications of the numbers of unemployment insurance filings that we?re seeing and just how staggering they are? Are the current benefits offered through the unemployment system going to be enough to keep people at home and not seeking work in situations that put them at higher risks of exposure? Are there any general trends or predictions in terms of how long this recession will continue and what it will take to recover? How will we know when we have ?recovered?? Are you seeing any innovative solutions that people are proposing or starting to implement in terms of a social safety net? What positive changes do you hope this pandemic will bring about? Where is the money for the stimulus checks coming from? Is that $1200 check going to be enough to keep people going for the next few months? See for privacy information.
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Ep 48 Botulism: Why are you the way you are?

You don?t look surprised to see this in your podcast feed - or is that just the botox? This week we?re taking a tour of the wonderful world of Clostridium botulinum and the toxin it produces, at once both poison and prescription. First, we delve into how botulinum toxin acts to paralyze your muscles and under what circumstances you might encounter it. Then we iron out the wrinkles of the why of botulinum toxin, an answer that involves migratory birds, maggots, and marshes. The story continues with blood sausages, an unfortunate funeral party, and a massive shift from toxin to treatment as the therapeutic potential of botulinum toxin is explored. And the best part of this episode? Georgia. Hardstark. You?ve heard the always amazing, ever hilarious, and one of our personal heroes Georgia Hardstark on My Favorite Murder, but now listen to her share her firsthand experience with getting botox facial injections. This episode ranks among our top favorites we've ever recorded, and we hope you love it as much as we do! See for privacy information.
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COVID-19 Chapter 8: Disparities

In the eighth episode in our Anatomy of a Pandemic series focusing on COVID-19, we discuss how this pandemic will likely lead to a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable populations around the globe. ?Wash your hands.? ?Stay at home.? ?Practice physical distancing.? These are the public health messages for how to slow this pandemic. But what happens when you can?t wash your hands because you lack clean water or soap? Or if you can?t stay at home because you?re fleeing a war zone? Dr. Jonathan Whittall, Director of Analysis at Medicines Sans Frontières (aka Doctors Without Borders) joins us to talk about the challenges faced by the most vulnerable populations during this crisis and how MSF is working to overcome those challenges while bracing for the pandemic?s impact (interview recorded April 3, 2020). We wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we have listed the questions below: What kind of projects are you currently working on? Can you talk about what you're seeing in terms of the differences between this COVID-19 pandemic and other public health emergency situations, such as cholera outbreaks in refugee camps or Ebola epidemics? What are some lessons that you think hospitals in other regions can learn from physicians or logistical coordinators that have worked in these situations previously? You wrote a great opinion piece about some of the challenges faced by the most vulnerable populations in trying to prevent infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. Can you talk a bit about those challenges and what the most vulnerable populations are? What are some of the ways that MSF has been trying to overcome those challenges?  What have we seen so far in terms of the impact of COVID-19 on these vulnerable populations? MSF has recently expanded their efforts throughout Europe - can you talk about what that expansion looks like and how different groups or activities are prioritized? As a part of a group that works internationally, can you talk about some of the challenges in coordinating this work internationally and why it's so crucial to communicate across borders? There's been a lot of discussion about how this pandemic may change the way we handle public health at national and, especially, international scales. What are some of the changes you hope to see?   Follow Dr. Jonathan Whittall (@offyourrecord) or check out the MSF-Analysis website ( And read his fantastic article here: See for privacy information.
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