So What’s Bugging You?

This map shows the resurgence of measles, mumps, rubella, polio, and whooping cough caused by the anti-vaccination movement. Red triangles indicate health care workers who have been affected by the outbreaks.

This map shows the global resurgence of measles, mumps, rubella, polio, and whooping cough caused by the anti-vaccination movement. Red triangles indicate health care workers who have been affected by the outbreaks.

Viruses, viruses, viruses—they’re everywhere! Whether the kids are coming home from school* with fevers, or coworkers are too busy with workloads to keep their upper respiratory infections out of the office, or we’re barraged with the latest news stories everywhere we go, nasty bugs seem to be the order of the day. Just as new cases of Ebola had begun to rapidly decline in even the worst hit countries (whew!), suddenly, a measles outbreak in California this month has reminded us once again that bugs can be real threats. Measles is one of the most highly infectious diseases there is, and it can be deadly. This year is setting up to be the worst year for measles in the United States since 1994. Read more here: The New Measles.

But wait! There’s good news abloom in the microscopic world. In fact, there’s a lot of good news. The truth is, we are more hosts to more microorganisms—yeasts, bacteria, viruses, etc.—than to our own human cells. We have thrived on this symbiosis, and we’d do well to get to know our teeny tiny friends, frenemies, and outright enemies a little better. So, go on, do yourself a favor and watch this charming representation of our microbiome. It keeps us healthy and happy.

That animation tells the story of the good guys, but what of the pathogens that wreak havoc on us? There’s good news on that front, too! Because, guess what? The 5-second rule has been reinstated! It turns out that food dropped on the floor can still be relatively safe for consumption, depending on length of time it spends there and on its own physical properties (e.g., moisture content, consistency, etc.). Or perhaps a better way to say it is, floor food might pick up fewer pathogens in under 5 seconds than it would take to make someone really sick. Read the dirt here: UK Study Shows Five Second Rule Exists. And note that this rule certainly can’t apply to highly trafficked public places. Ewwwww!

Kinda grossed out? Well maybe this story is more to your liking. A new study just published today in Science Daily has found the key to decipher the complex language of the linemen of our immune systems, the T and B lymphocytes, which are our first lines of defense against potentially harmful pathogens like many viruses and even tumors.

Combining methods of Next Generation Sequencing with in vitro stimulation and analysis of specific T cells, the researchers were able for the first time to establish a complete catalogue of the immune response to pathogens and vaccines. In particular, they have catalogued all the clones that respond to a particular microorganism, determining their specificity and their functional properties, for example their ability to produce inflammatory mediators (cytokines) or to migrate to different tissues.

It’s like having the opposing team’s exhaustive playbook—we could potentially have an answering play ready for every viral/bacterial/neoplastic offensive move. The therapeutic possibilities are dizzying. Read more here: The language of T lymphocytes deciphered, the “Rosetta Stone” of the immune system.

For now, though, the little guys are proving more effective at survival than we are, so they deserve some respect. We should above all strive to keep the good ones happy, which ironically, may help stave off the not-so-good ones. Eating right, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising are just what the doctor ordered.

*Note that The New Century School‘s policy mandates that students with infectious illnesses be kept out of school until the danger of contagion has passed (at least 24 hours without symptoms). Please consult the Parent Handbook for more details regarding TNCS’s communicable disease policy.

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