Livin' on the MDedge

Helpful giant rodents and our old friend, the hookworm


Rat-ting out coronavirus

Did you know there is a possibility that giant rodents could rat out coronavirus? Not many people are keen on the presence of a 3-foot-long African giant pouched rat, but they have already been trained to sniff out diseases that are dangerous to humans, such as brucellosis and tuberculosis, according to researchers at the University of Glasgow.

Gambian pouched rat, 3 month old, on white Farinosa/Getty Images

Professor Dan Haydon and his associates believe there is a good possibility that the rats can be trained to sniff out COVID-19. Dogs have been helpful in sniffing for COVID-19 at airports and are being trained to detect it through armpit sweat, making detection of the virus easier for travelers and staff. Even robots have gotten into the COVID-19 detecting act.

Since African giant pouched rats can grow to be the size of a small dog and “are easily tamed as companion animals,” it seems likely that they have the potential to do the same. That is, sniffing for COVID-19, not appearing at your local airport. That’s still gross.

Stay healthy, get a parasite bestie

The key to health could actually be swimming around in your gut. Researchers from University College London have found that a parasitic worm could be the answer to longevity and avoidance of chronic diseases.

The seeming immunity from inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis may come from helminth parasites, or hookworms – parasites that have been coexisting harmlessly with the human body for thousands of years. The investigators went so far as to call them “old friends,” but the kind that you rarely see at reunions or call up for a favor.

Ancylostoma hookworm, illustration Kateryna Kon/Science Photo Library/via Getty Images

As a result of modern sanitation and improved hygiene, humans and hookworms are seeing much less of each other, which may be a factor in the rise of “aging-associated inflammation” such as COVID-19 symptoms, they suggested. So is there a way to get these old friends back?

“Restorative hookworm treatments” could help with heart disease or dementia, according to the investigators, but maybe you’re not totally on board with getting an actual parasite in your system. We get it. There are helminth-derived proteins that have already been tested to get the job done.

Maybe old friends really do make the best friends.

I love the smell of microbe-infected aerosols in the morning

Have you gone into a public restroom and just stood around for a while appreciating the fine aromas? No? You haven’t? You do your business and get out? Well, it’s a good thing you act like a normal person, because the aerosols released when toilets flush can contain all sorts of nasty bacteria and viruses.


The authors of a new study published in Physics of Fluids came to this groundbreaking conclusion by going to a public bathroom, sticking particle counters above a urinal and a toilet, and letting them sit for a while. After 3 hours and 100 flushes, the ambient level of particles 0.3-3 mcm in diameter had increased dramatically, with particles sized 0.5-1 mcm particularly prone to lingering. For those particles, the level from baseline increased by over 200%.

This is a major concern, the researchers said, because the sort of microbes that are expelled through feces, urine, and vomit can include some pretty nasty things. Ebola, noroviruses that can cause food poisoning, and even good old SARS-CoV-2 can be expelled from the body but remain viable for a time in these aerosols. The researchers recommended improving the ventilation systems in restrooms so that aerosols don’t hang around for hours at a time. Plus, it might make the place not smell like a, uh, public restroom.

Not to question the research and the people behind it, but we’re not sure how necessary it was to give people another reason not to hang out in a place where hundreds, if not thousands, of people come to relieve themselves. There’s a reason we’re supposed to “stop and smell the roses” and not “stop and smell the public bathroom.”


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