Lab Notes #6: On Super Pests and the Uncluttered Mind

Need a good answer? If the question has to do with two of the most lethal fungi and viral outbreaks in the past 30 years, your response should be, “Between 500 and 600. For now.”

Here’s another quick set of questions and answers from recent healthcare news:

How did modern medicine give birth to killer fungi?
What are the potential side effects of measles?
What are the benefits of spring cleaning?  

I promise: next week I’ll deliver happy news across the board. For now, though …

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 600 cases of candida auris have been identified in the US. This difficult-to-treat fungus can be lethal: nearly half of those with the illness in the US have died within 90 days. Most of these cases have appeared in New York, New Jersey, and Chicago. It’s also global. In the UK, David W. Eyre and his research team got to work quickly on the outbreak and, in the New England Journal of Medicine, reported that reusable, seemingly sterilized temperature probes were the culprit. C. auris is a tough bugger apparently, and hospital staff advise diligent hand-washing, along with plenty of bleaching of surfaces and instruments. It’s likely a byproduct of unnatural selection: pesticides weed out weak viruses and fungi, and super fungi and super viruses take over. What else can you do to be safe? Wash your vegetables, handle meat safely and, as best as you can, learn more about where your food comes from.

So yeah: then there’s measles, with over 550 cases reported in 20 states, and it’s not simply a slightly worse version of the chicken pox we had as kids. “It usually starts out with some cold symptoms, some coughing; red eyes, and then they quickly develop a high fever of 104 or 105,” said Camille Sabella, M.D., an infectious disease expert at the Cleveland Clinic. “They will have a bright red rash, which usually starts on the face, and the head and the neck, and spreads down to the trunk and the extremities.” 

From there, though, things can get serious and fast. Primary measles pneumonia or a secondary bacterial pneumonia can follow, as can acute encephalitis: a swelling of the brain with a significant mortality rate, said Dr. Sabella. With herd immunity compromised in seemingly more places than ever before, unvaccinated kids are at risk.  The ounce of prevention matters most: Dr. Sabella indicates that every healthy person age one and older should–if they haven’t already–receive the MMR vaccine.

Find three aging articles of clothing you haven’t worn in two years. Turn them into rags straight away. There: you did it. You set a goal and saw it through. Now your neurons are doing a happy dance. Seriously.

According to Scott Bea, PsyD, of Cleveland Clinic, spring cleaning lifts your mood.

“We’re shut in a lot during the winter months; we’re not getting rid of as much … so this is a ritualized behavior – it’s part of the renewal of spring,” he said. The human brain likes to start projects, and loves finishing projects even more, since it reduces tension. If the task is left unfinished, though, it gives rise to unrelieved tension, and the stress remains.

Procrastination relieves tension, too. Stress is often a symptom of change, and tossing things changes you to a person who presently has less stuff. The trick, then, is to ensure that you lean into that initial stress, stave off procrastination by staying on task, and reap the neurological and organizational benefits of completing the job.

“When there are fewer things to be taken care of,” Dr. Bea notes, “it also endorses our effectiveness as human beings.” It’s a lesson we’ve been learning for awhile now.

Close to the turn of the 20th century, Max Weber referenced Richard Baxter (1615–1691) to warn us against conspicuous consumption:

In Baxter’s view the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the “saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment”. But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage.

Now we have Marie Kondo to carry Weber’s torch: still, you might want to keep a few grains of salt handy.

Happy spring cleaning!

Published by Randal Doane

Living the good life in NE Ohio. I dig science and the written word. Let's build something amazing together.

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