logo

infectious disease

  • chytrid fungus spore

    How “Useless” Science Unraveled an Amphibian Apocalypse

    One spring day in 1984, Joyce Longcore got a phone call from Joan Brooks, a biologist at the University of Maine. Brooks had received a National Science Foundation grant to study the interactions of fungi and bacteria in peat bogs. She needed a hand, and she heard through the grapevine that Longcore knew a bit […]

  • Foday Sahr

    How Slow Responses Made the Ebola Outbreak So Deadly

    As a rule, huge organizations move sluggishly, bogged down in democratic decision-making processes and bureaucratic policies. Ebola, on the other hand, moves fast. People become desperately sick and contagious within a few weeks of infection. By the time international agencies effectively responded to the ongoing Ebola outbreak, it had spiraled out of control in West […]

  • ebola treatment

    3 Graphs That Help Show Why Ebola Goes Viral or Dies Out

    Fighting Ebola requires lots of equipment and personnel.Morgana Wingard, USAID     In September 1854, 600 residents of London’s Golden Square died from an infamous outbreak of cholera. It was no coincidence that this occurred in one of London’s poorest neighborhoods. We now know that markers of poverty—higher population densities, decreased nutrition, lack of medical care, […]

  • placeholder

    How We Can Finally Start Outsmarting Single-Cell Attackers

    Imagine you are a bacterium, roughly 1/1,700,000 of your current size, residing in your own human body’s gut. You live in a diverse community, the “microbiome,” teeming with other bacteria: friendly neighbors who live next door, some ne’erdowells who occasionally vandalize the town, and your neighborhood cops who try to keep everything in check. The […]

  • placeholder

    The Pretty Bacterial Dance That May Help Prevent Infections

    Imagine looking down through a microscope and seeing a big mass of bacterial cells, writhing in sync, churning in circles. You can almost hear a buzz of activity. The micron-sized organisms migrate across a plate of agar, gobbling up the nutrient-rich media, recalling the frenetic activity of bees in a hive. What you see through […]

  • placeholder

    Using Sharks’ Tricks to Prevent Lethal and Costly Infections

    Staph bacteria (red) forming a biofilmNational Science Foundation A common enemy befouls surgeons, plumbers, and sailors alike: slime. In each of their professions, they wage ceaseless war against biofouling—layers of living organisms that stick around exactly where we don’t want them.  Removing these various scum layers is a billion-dollar endeavor. Boats were among the first […]

  • mosquito hero

    If You Can’t Beat Diseases, Domesticate Them

    A tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) sucking blood from human skinMarco Uliana via Shutterstock For most of our history, wolves have been a menace to humanity. Sharp teeth, raw speed, and pack coordination put us at serious risk. Their howls still send chills down our spines for good reason. But some thousands of years ago, some […]

  • Triumph of Death

    Bring Out Your (Very Infrequent) Dead!

    If you imagine the bubonic plague, based on what you learned as a kid, you probably imagine something similar to Pieter Bruegel’s 1562 painting, The Triumph of Death. Dead bodies in piles. Helpless civilians sprawled on the ground in anguish. Panicked crowds trying to flee as the village burns and falls into disarray. Total mayhem. […]

  • Salmonella enteritidis

    The Near-Mythical Beast That Spread an All-Too-Real Disease

    January 1996 was, in most respects, a month like any other in Jefferson County, Colorado, the “Gateway to the Rocky Mountains.”* But one thing distinguished that particular month in that particular county in Colorado: an outbreak of salmonellosis among children, most of whom were under 13 years of age. The Colorado Department of Public Health and […]