Emerging Infectious Horrors

In the Henry room at the Hilton, fascinating guests drop by the Science Track. Friday, August 29th at 7PM, Dr. John Cmar extolled the nasties of the latest infectious diseases wreaking havoc in our lives. Dr. Cmar is a physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.

At the start of the panel, Dr. Cmar reminded the audience that one of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is situated right here in Atlanta, and that perhaps this information should make us all a little anxious. When he checked with the CDC to learn what the current exciting infectious disease stories might be, Dr. Cmar found “nothing.” The old standards, though, continue to plague our planet.

First on his short list was the Influenza virus. Types A and B are seasonal, hence the reason that usually two “A” and one “B” strain appear in the annual flu vaccine. Unfortunately, the choice of which strains to include is like predicting the weather, and so the flu shot won’t always protect you from this year’s most popular circulating flu. Dr. Cmar also revealed that antiviral medications are less effective, as some influenzas have already become 100% resistant to these drugs.

Why are some influenza viruses scary? What made the 1918 flu dangerous (it killed 20 million people worldwide), was its spread through the young to middle-aged healthy segment of the population.  In this demographic, the victim’s healthy immune system goes into overdrive to fight the virus. This over-reaction, called a cytokine storm, produces the symptoms that often lead to death.

Dr. Cmar also discussed Adenovirus (version 14 of which is also known as “killer con crud”). Numerous species can produce all the fun symptoms including cough, gastroenteritis, cystitis, and skin rash. Military outbreaks of Adenovirus 4 and 7 led the military to regularly vaccinate its personnel from 1971 to 1996.

The Salmonella Saint Paul virus, also known as the don’t-take-my-tomatoes-away virus, was recently responsible for 1442 infections in 43 states, DC, and Canada. After comprehensive investigations into the source of the outbreak, the CDC came to the conclusion that if a person has diarrhea, they probably shouldn’t be packing your produce for distribution.

Another nasty virus, MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) has been around forever. What makes it evil is (a) its resistance to antibiotics, particularly those deigned to kill it, and (b) its more virulent strain that can quickly produce massive amounts of toxins and pus that overwhelm the victim.

The last infectious pathogen discussed was the well-known scourge known commonly as the Measles. Dr. Cmar noted the overwhelming importance of the vaccine, and vehemently pointed out that vaccinations do NOT cause autism. So if you haven’t had your MMR shot, go out and get it, silly!

To conclude his discussion, he cited Lafferty’s Rules, an easy reference to help you to reduce your exposure to infections diseases:

  1. Wash your hands
  2. Stop having sex with prostitutes
  3. Don’t eat in restaurants

For more information, consult the following references: The American Society of Microbiology’s world podcast site (www.microbeworld.org), Skeptical Evaluations of Alternative Medicine (www.quackcast.com), and Discover Magazine’s podcast site (www.discovermagazine.com/podcasts).

For answers to your infectious disease questions, you can reach Dr. Cmar at (doc.operon@gmail.com) doc.operon (at) gmail (dot) com or read his blog at www.saintnickanuck.com.

Author of the article

When Suzanne Church isn't chasing characters through other realms, she's hanging with her two children. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, On Spec, and Cicada and in several anthologies including Urban Green Man and When the Hero Comes Home 2. Her collection Elements: A Collection of Speculative Fiction is due out in spring 2014 from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing. She is a three time finalist and 2012 winner of the Prix Aurora Award in the Short Fiction category.