How animals pass disease to humans

Given the ongoing outbreak of H7N9 flu in China (and, now, also Taiwan), this is a good time to listen to a fascinating podcast discussion with David Quammen. Quammen recently published a FANTASTIC book, Spillover, about zoonoses — the diseases that humans contract from animals. This includes bird flus like H7N9. It also includes AIDS and a whole host of familiar viruses and bacteria. Bonus: Scary disease girl Maryn McKenna has a cameo in the podcast, discussing the way news media (in China and the US) are covering H7N9 and what you can do to better understand what's happening. Read the rest

Non-symptomatic cases make newly identified diseases less scary

If you've been following news about the H7N9 bird flu outbreak in China, it may be relieving to know that doctors are now looking for (and finding) people who are infected with the virus, but who appear perfectly healthy or who are just suffering from a mild case of the yucks. It's an important reminder that we identify new diseases when sick people show up, very sick, in hospitals. Just because those are the only people we know to have the disease, doesn't mean the disease makes EVERYONE that sick. Hidden in the background are often many, many people who shrug off a new flu the same way you or I have shrugged off an old, boring flu. This is context you should take into reading about every new disease. Read the rest