Russia's population declined by 7m (5%) between 1992 and 2009


The decades since the collapse of the USSR are the longest period of depopulation in Russian history, and the first peacetime loss of that scale anywhere in the world. Booze, violence, obesity, and poor standard of living alone don't account for the mortality either.

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Does MERS come from bats? Or possibly, camels?

MERS — the deadly coronavirus related to SARS — has infected 77 people in the Middle East (that we're aware of) and killed half of them (as far as we know). Now, scientists are starting to look for its source and they're focusing in on two animals that have lots of opportunity to interact with local populations in Saudi Arabia, and other countries.

You're not a doctor, but you can play one on the iPad

The Epidemic Intelligence Service is the crack CDC team that investigates new diseases. (If you want to read more about them, I'd recommend checking out Maryn McKenna's Beating Back the Devil.) Now, you can play Epidemic Intelligence operative at home, with the CDC's new iPad app game, Solve the Outbreak. Fulfill all your childhood, Hot Zone-induced fantasies!

An epidemiology alphabet

The only alphabet guaranteed to make you want to wash your hands. Made by one, Jennifer Gardy.

In related news, this video taught me that the parasite giardia is sometimes called "beaver fever". Why? Because one of its major reservoirs — species that can comfortably host a parasite and pass it on to others — is, yes, the beaver.

Now here's the part you probably don't want to hear. Giardia is transmitted via what's known as the "fecal-oral route".

Now, nobody intentionally goes out and eats beaver shit. (One hopes. But this is the internet.) But beavers do shit in the woods. Near woodland streams. Which means that unwary hikers and backpackers can end up ingesting giardia when they drink from what appears to be crystal-clear waters.

Via the Worms and Germs blog

Who benefits if pubic waxing is an environmental catastrophe for crab-lice?


The crab-louse is in apparent decline, a situation that some doctors and entomologists attribute to widespread Brazilian waxing. Though, as Skepchick points out, there's a huge industry that stands to make a lot of money from this claim, and not a lot of evidence to back it up:

“Pubic grooming has led to a severe depletion of crab louse populations,” said Ian F. Burgess, a medical entomologist with Insect Research & Development Ltd. in Cambridge, England. “Add to that other aspects of body hair depilation, and you can see an environmental disaster in the making for this species.”

...“We put the flag out, so to speak, if we see a case of pubic lice nowadays,” [Janet Wilson, a consultant in sexual health and HIV] said in an e-mailed response to questions. “The ‘habitat destruction’ of the pubic lice is increasing and they are becoming an endangered species.”

Brazilian Bikini Waxes Make Crab Lice Endangered Species [Jason Gale & Shannon Pettypiece/Bloomberg]

(via Reddit)

(Image: Crab Louse (Phthirus pubis), a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from euthman's photostream)

Epidemic, or awareness?

Here's some evidence supporting the idea that the increase in autism diagnoses is just that — an increase in diagnoses, not an increase in incidence. Increases in autism diagnosis aren't evenly spread around the country. There are hotspots. Researchers found that kids who move into these hotspots — even after an age where autism might have been normally diagnosed — have a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with autism than kids to didn't. It suggests that awareness and resources might play a big role in rates of autism diagnosis. (Via Micah Allen)

A video featuring "Vomiting Larry"

By popular demand (and the help of intrepid readers Broan and theophrastvs), I present you a video clip of the humanoid robot known as Vomiting Larry.

Larry is used to study the way particles of puke become aerosolized, and how those particles spread and help infect other people. That's important, because it explains one of the ways that viruses spread by vomiting manage to end up in everyday things like, say, frozen raspberries. Aerosolized vomit isn't something you can spot. It doesn't clean up easily. And even just a drop of it can pass on plenty of viruses.

Carl Zimmer had a great piece up yesterday on norovirus, the virus that researchers are studying with the help of Vomiting Larry. His story has more info on how that virus spreads and will give you a better idea of why Vomiting Larry is so important.

MIT models which airports are most likely to spread disease

Researchers at MIT used network theory to put together a model of how an infectious disease might spread around the world with the help of American airports. The model shows which features—geography, connectivity, levels of use—most impact the spread of disease and use that to predict which airports would be at the heart of an outbreak.

Some are not a shock. ("Oh, you say JFK and LAX could serve as worldwide hubs for disease?") But the model also reveals some surprising spark points. Like, say, Anchorage. It's also interesting to see the order that the model ranks airports in. Would you believe that Honolulu has more disease-spreading power than Atlanta?

Read the full journal article at PLOS One, an open-access scientific journal.

Read a short summary at the Nature Medicine blog

Autism: Epidemic or awareness?

At Discover's big-idea blog The Crux, Emily Willingham has a really interesting post about the prevalence of autism—is it actually increasing, or is this really about medical definitions and increased attention?

This is a topic we've talked about here on BoingBoing before, most recently back in March, when Steve Silberman offered some scientific evidence that suggests the ostensible increases in autism prevalence are "caused" by more accurate diagnosis.

But Willingham's piece adds a couple of new, interesting details to that still-emerging story. Being more aware of neurodiversity makes it look like there's more neurodiversity than there was before we were aware of it. And that was true even for the guy who invented the diagnosis of autism.

Leo Kanner first described autism almost 70 years ago, in 1944. Before that, autism didn’t exist as far as clinicians were concerned, and its official prevalence was, therefore, zero. There were, obviously, people with autism, but they were simply considered insane. Kanner himself noted in a 1965 paper that after he identified this entity, “almost overnight, the country seemed to be populated by a multitude of autistic children,” a trend that became noticeable in other countries, too, he said.

...by 1953, one autism expert was warning about the “abuse of the diagnosis of autism” because it “threatens to become a fashion.”

Read the rest of Willingham's piece, which includes a detailed look at several different studies that back up this view of autism with evidence. It looks like the majority of the "increase" in diagnoses can really be attributed to the process of diagnosis itself.

Image: 74/365 - autism awareness., a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from macbeck's photostream

Unknown respiratory disease in Cambodia

Having listened to Radiolab describe the origins and early history of HIV yesterday, I found this press release particularly fascinating. The World Health Organization is investigating an outbreak of an unknown disease in Cambodia. The disease begins with a fever, then progresses into neurological symptoms and very quickly to respiratory failure. All the recorded cases have been in children. 62 children were admitted to hospitals with these symptoms. 61 have died. (I should note that this doesn't necessarily mean that whatever this is has a 98% kill rate. We're only talking about the people whose symptoms were severe enough that they ended up in a hospital. There could be many more asymptomatic or mild cases.) (Via John Rennie)

Spoiler: Indie after-the-zombies movie

Spoiler is an independently produced 17-minute horror/science fiction movie that illuminates the kinds of cold equations that have to be solved in pandemic outbreaks. In this case, it's the story of the coroners who keep the zombie plague under control after it's been beaten back. It's a good twist on the traditional zombie movie, and hits a sweet spot of sorrow and horror that you get with the best zombie stories.

The zombie apocalypse happened -- and we won.

But though society has recovered, the threat of infection is always there -- and Los Angeles coroner Tommy Rossman is the man they call when things go wrong.

Spoiler (Thanks, Ben!)

Witch Doctor: demented graphic novel about a metaphysical epidemiologist bent on stamping out incipient Cthulhuism

Under the Knife is the first collection of Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner’s charmingly demented graphic novel Witch Doctor, which concerns th travails of Dr Vincent Morrow, a metaphysical epidemiologist who specializes in tracking down and eradicating transdimensional pestilences, ably assisted by Penny Dreadful (a possessed former art students whose internal demon feeds on pandimensional horrors) and Eric Gast, a paramedic who’s learning the metaphysics trade.

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