Sunday, November 1, 2020

October 2020 Wrap Up

 My favorite month. Which is a little different during a pandemic. But I have still enjoyed the decorations, crafts, movies, gifts, and especially my spooky reads.

My mom and I exchanged haunted house advent calendars. We bought two from Michael's and we each took one home and painted it. Then we filled the little drawers with goodies and mailed them to each other. It has been a cute and fun way to celebrate the month! Here is the one I sent to her: 

I also had several little gifts for Kevin and he was sweet enough to give me several Halloween gifts, too! He also got into some of the decorations, so we both enjoyed the month together. On Halloween, we took a gingerbread Christmas village and made it a gingerbread Halloween village. And I got to FaceTime with my mom to see her in costume as well as my brother, his daughter, and his girlfriend in their super cute jellyfish costumes! And I got to chat with four of my best friends virtually and just hang out.

Work continues to be killer. I've lost a decent amount of weight due to working in the B3 so much. I've been trying to gain it back by eating Halloween candy ;) Despite that, and how hard it can be, and how much it makes my back and sometimes my legs hurt, I actually enjoy working in the B3. It is something that I always wanted to do and I'm still glad that I get to do that and get to work with infectious diseases, which is my scientific passion. So even though some days/weeks are hard, I do feel like I get a lot out of it. 

I had a list of books that was rather ambitious. I knew I wouldn't complete them all, but I did read some great ones this month! Here are some short reviews. (Maybe consider some of them for your spooky reads next year.)

Title: The Sundial
Author: Shirley Jackson
Synopsis: Following the funeral of one of the Halloran family members, Aunt Fanny has a vision foretelling the end of the world. But everyone in the Halloran mansion will be saved. The Halloran family and their guests figure out what it will mean to be the only ones left on earth.
Thoughts: This was a book club read. We always have two books to choose from (and some people read both) and I picked this one because it is Shirley Jackson and because the book club meet was at the beginning of October. I enjoyed We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but hadn't read anything else by her. This book was... strange. I read it very quickly and thought about it in between. I'm glad I read it as part of a book club because we had some good laughs discussing it. Even though I found it odd and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it, it was definitely interesting and I enjoyed it over all.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Title: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein
Author: Kiersten White
Narrator: Katharine Lee McEwan
Synopsis: Elizabeth Lavenza becomes companion, best friend, and confidante to Victor Frankenstein. To be saved from her abusive caretaker and secure her future with the Frankensteins, she has to become exactly who they need and want her to be. Behind the facade, she is calculating, smart, and quick. But who is she really?
Thoughts: I loved this book. It was so weird and creative. I loved the mashup of the classic story with Mary Shelley herself. It was clever and I really enjoyed it. If you like Frankenstein (or even if you didn't like it), this book is still enjoyable. I only read Frankenstein once, years ago, and didn't much care for it and I don't remember enough of it. But I was always interested in Mary Shelley and how she came to write Frankenstein. Despite not loving the book, I do admire Mary Shelley. And this was just a great new perspective on the whole story.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: Horrid
Author: Katrina Leno
Synopsis: An author letter came with this book that I am going to copy here: "Have you ever seen a flower so beautiful you wanted to taste it? Read a book so perfect you wanted to rip a page out and eat it? Loved something so much you wanted to consume it, to let it live inside you forever? This is a story about those obsessions, and about spooky autumn nights, and about old family secrets. This is a story about a girl with a little curl of hair right in the middle of her forehead. This is a story about what it means to be consumed--with love, with beauty, with fear. Maybe read it with the lights on..."
Thoughts: This was the September Owlcrate book (and this box has been one of my favorite Owlcrates, too). I don't like horror, despite my love of Halloween, so I was skeptical, but it sounded really good. Plus, I have always loved the poem about the girl with a curl  in the middle of her forehead: "And when she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid." And it is young adult, so I figured it would be more "horror-lite." But I did not get the ending and the redemptions and wrap ups that I was wanting. But that was oddly OK with me for this book. It was creepy and weird, but I must have enjoyed it because I ate this book up! (Not literally.) It was strange. Not my normal read, but I liked it and I am glad I stepped out of my comfort zone a bit.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: Strange Practice, Dreadful Company, and Grave Importance.  
Author: Vivian Shaw
Narrator: Susanna Hampton
Synopsis: Greta Helsing is a doctor, but her clientele are a bit different: vampires, ghouls, mummies. She treats the undead (or "differently alive," as she says in the second book) and provides them much needed medical care. But a cult of violent monks, crazy vampires, and creatures from alternate universes are causing mayhem and going after the very creatures that Greta cares for. She and her supernatural friends might be the world's only hope.
Thoughts: These were re-reads because these books are fun. I enjoy them and I like the references to other classic horror stories. I own the books and decided to listen to them this time around. It was nice to hear how some of the names are pronounced (or can be pronounced, I suppose). This series has gotten me to read other classics like the Vampyre and Varney the Vampire. I recommend this series for sure.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: Eventide
Author: Sarah Goodman

Synopsis: Following the death of their mother and the subsequent madness of their father, Verity and her younger sister, Lilah, are sent to a small town in Arkansas. But once they arrive in the small farm town, they are separated as Lilah is adopted by the local school teacher and her uncle, and Verity is sent to work on a farm until she turns 18 in a few months. But there are strange things happening in the town. And the general suspicion the local people have for the woods is just weird. Until Verity starts to uncover old secrets, including old secrets about her own family.

Thoughts: This came in a book box I tried in October (Unplugged Book Box). It sounded like a good book for October, so I picked it up. Parts of it seemed historically inaccurate. It was an alright story, but not my favorite. I still liked it enough to finish it, but thought it was just OK overall.

Rating: 2 1/2 to 3 stars out of 5

I worked on reading more of Varney the Vampire, but the whole collection is soooo long and old-fashioned. It is going to take me several Octobers to actually finish it. I also started A Wicked Magic, but didn't get very far, so I will pick it up again next year. I started Jackaby, also, but I am far enough in that I will finish it in November.

Favorite book read this month: Probably the Greta Helsing trilogy
Least favorite book read this month: Eventide
I have now read 79 books towards my goal of 80 for the year. I will consider raising my goal a little.
 For the alphabet challenge, I completed letter E, started letter J, and I will probably count V for Varney the Vampire, even though I didn't finish it. 

That's all for October. I hope everyone else had a good spooky month!

Friday, October 16, 2020

Disease Post: Plague

OK, I am going to try for this post. I hope you are ready for a long one.

The plague is my very favorite infectious disease. It is so interesting and the history of it is devastating and fascinating. And what better way to celebrate the month of Halloween than talking about the Black Death? I mean, have you seen plague doctor outfits? They are terrifying (and I LOVE them). And yes, I do have a plague doctor costume, thanks for asking. 

It also helps me be a crazy rat lady since rat fleas (and/or other rodent fleas) are the primary carriers of plague. My rats do not have plague or fleas though, don't worry.

Plague of Marseilles- costumes for plague doctors. Credit- Wellcome Collection and Attribution 4.0 International

Plague is caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis. Y. pestis is a gram-negative (does not have peptidoglycan in its cell walls) rod or coccobacillus (round rod). It is a facultative anaerobe, which means that it "prefers" to have oxygen, but can survive without it by switching to fermentation for energy. This makes them fairly resilient little bugs.
Plague plush from Giant Microbes.
Historically, the plague has caused massive amounts of devastation worldwide and is still present all over the world. I will include a brief history later. 
Yersinia pestis is a zoonotic disease, meaning humans get it from animals and/or insects. In this case, the carriers are fleas.
Plague infographic from the WHO

How is it spread?
The infectious dose (or how many bacteria are needed to establish an infection) is not known, but is suspected to be quite low.
There are three different forms of plague: pneumonic (respiratory), septicemic, and (the famous) bubonic.
Let's start with bubonic plague and septicemic plague because they are similar. People get these by being bitten by an infected flea or by contact with contaminated animal tissue and/or fluid (like skinning or handling a plague-infected animal). Bubonic plague can turn into septicemic plague as the bacteria infiltrates the body and, therefore, the blood stream. And it can become pneumonic plague, too, if the bacteria spread to the lungs. Bubonic and septicemic forms do not spread from person to person.

Pneumonic plague can develop as mentioned above, or can be caught directly through respiratory droplets in the air. If a sick person or animal is coughing (or even just breathing), they release infectious bacteria into the air in tiny respiratory droplets. These can be inhaled by another person or animal, establishing an infection in the lungs. This form can be transmitted person-to-person, but usually requires close contact. You can find more detailed information about transmission from the CDC.

Image from the CDC

As I mentioned above, there are three forms which will present with different symptoms, though all three will present with a fever, chills, weakness, and (often) headaches. Vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain are seen in some cases, too.

Bubonic plague has an incubation time of seven days or less from infection until the time a person shows symptoms. This form is characterized by the presence of one or more bubos. A bubo is a lymph node that  becomes inflamed, swelling enough to be visible. These are usually located in the neck, armpit, and/or groin. The bubos are tender and painful. From here, the infection can start to infect the bloodstream to develop into septicemic and/or pneumonic plague. Without treatment, estimated death rates are between 50%-70%.

Septicemic plague is the infection of the blood. It is not generally the initial infection that is established, but there are many records of people getting the plague this way. Once the bacteria is in the blood stream it can get just about anywhere. The CDC also notes that people may bleed into the skin or other organs and tissues will start to die and possibly develop gangrene (and turn black=the Black Death). One of my text books (Medical Microbiology by Murray et al.) estimates that 75% of people who have or develop septicemic plague die without treatment.

Pneumonic plague is generally the most worrisome. The incubation is shorter, generally 2-3 days. After the initial symptoms, patients will develop respiratory symptoms within a day or so. According to the CDC, the respiratory symptoms include: shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, and possibly bloody mucous. This is the only form of plague that can spread person-to-person and it is highly infectious. Most sources estimate that the death rate of pneumonic plague is 90% or more if not treated quickly (within 18-24 hours, according to the WHO).
Prevention and Treatment:
The good news is that plague is easily treated with a few common antibiotics! However, it needs to be caught as early as possible, especially for pneumonic plague. People do die even with treatment, especially if treatment is too late.

But plague, if there are no bubos, looks like lots of other illnesses. Diagnosis is helped if your doctor knows you have been exposed to fleas or wild rodents, especially in endemic areas (meaning it is "native" to those areas, like much of Asia, Africa--especially Madagascar, and the Southwest United States). 
Your pets can also become infected by the same means people can and your pets can spread it to you. Flea control is important and it is best to avoid wild rodents, especially ones that appear ill or have died. Wear gloves while handling dead animals that may be infected.

There is not great prevention besides that. There was a vaccine available in the United States, but not anymore. It did not protect against pneumonic plague. I'm sure there are groups working toward a vaccine, but no one knows if/when one will be available.
The plague of Florence, 1348; a scene from Boccaccio's Decameron. Etching by L. Sabatelli the elder after G. Boccaccio. Credit: the Wellcome Collection and Attribution 4.0 International

The plague has been around for centuries. It was also used in early biological warfare (bodies of plague victims catapulted into cities or enemy camps). Italian Gabriele de'Mussi gave an account of the Black Death origin in 1346: the Mongol army hurled plague-infected cadavers into the city of Caffa. This transmitted plague to the inhabitants, and those who fled took the plague with them towards Europe. This is explained by Mark Wheelis in his paper Biological warfare at the 1346 Siege of Caffa. Ultimately, it is suspected that the Black Death originated somewhere in Asia, though theories of exactly where differ.

There are three main plague pandemics (Perry et al). The first was in the early middle ages (the Plague of Justinian from 541 CE until the mid-700s) and is one of the earliest records we have of the plague. It is suspected to have originated in China and spread to Egypt and then to Constantinople. At the peak of the first pandemic, it is suspected to have killed 10,000 people per day and killed about 40% of citizens. A bit later, in 588 CE, there was another wave that spread it through the Mediterranean and about 100 million people died.

The second pandemic was the one most people are familiar with, from the 14th century to the 19th century. What is known as the Black Death started in this time period. The plague spread from China or somewhere in Asia along the Silk Road, infecting Asia, Europe, and Africa. China lost about half of its population, Europe lost a third to a half of its population, and Africa lost about an eighth of its population. For the record, people at the time did not call the plague the "Black Death," that is a more modern term. They called it the "great pestilence" or the "great mortality" mostly.

The third pandemic was in the 19th and 20th centuries. A wave began in China in 1855 which spread through China, to India, killing more than 12 million people in the two countries. From there, the plague traveled to Russia, causing a large outbreak in Siberia in 1910. It was during this pandemic, in the late 1800s, that the plague bacterium was identified and isolated. Alexandre Yersin is credited with the discovery and the bacteria was eventually named after him.
Part of the fear of plague has to do with its potential as a bioterrorism agent. This is part of what keeps this on the select agent list in the United States.

As mentioned above, cadavers of plague victims were intentionally thrown into the city of Caffa, causing an outbreak and causing the disease to spread. This is not the only time that this was done in the history of warfare.

I remember learning about this in history and in my biodefense class. This sentence sums it up fairly well, though it does not go into all the cruel experiments that the Japanese performed on the Chinese. "In World War II, the Japanese military experimented with plague in human subjects at their clandestine biological research facilities in Manchuria, and on several occasions dropped Y. pestis-infested fleas from low-flying planes on Chinese civilian populations, causing limited outbreaks of bubonic plague and initiating cycles of infection in rats" (Dennis, David T. Plague as a Biological Weapon).

The end-goal with Y. pestis as a biological weapon was to successfully aerosolize it, to cause pneumonic plague. I have in my old class notes that "aerosol release of Y. pestis would be odorless, colorless, and likely to be unnoticed until the first victims fell ill," but I have not been able to locate a source yet, so take it with a grain of salt. 
It was estimated by a committee of experts that "intentional release of 50 kg of aerosolized Y. pestis over a city of 5 million would... cause 150,000 cases of pneumonic plague and 36,000 deaths...[and] without adequate precautions, an initial outbreak of pneumonic plague involving 50% of a population could result in infection of 90% of the rest of the population in 20–30 days and could cause a case fatality ratio of 60–70%" (Dennis, David T. Plague as a Biological Weapon).

About the bacteria:
I was always interested in the bacteria itself and its interactions with flea and animal hosts. That isn't talked about much because people are concerned with the diseases of people. The flea is initially infected by taking blood from an infected host. I won't get into technical details, but so you know, it does affect the flea by blocking digestion until the flea regurgitates the bacteria when they bite another host. The blocked gut of the flea will eventually kill it. Animal carriers are often symptomatic and can also die of the plague.

There are some genes that the bacteria has that they can switch between based on which host it is in to help it adapt to either the temperature and environment (like pH) of the flea versus animal hosts

The bacteria switches between gene expressions based on the host and the host temperatures. Generally, the bacteria grows best at lower temperatures but can switch gene expression to help them survive and grow at normal human temperatures.

Fun Facts:
The plague doctor mask had the beak which was to be stuffed with flowers, spices, and/or herbs--anything that smelled nice because the belief was that disease traveled through bad smells or miasma.

The plague doctor outfit did actually afford them protection, but not because of the potpourri in the mask. The mask protected their faces from respiratory droplets. They also covered themselves from head to toe in mostly leather, which fleas could not bite through.

Books and Media:
There are several books and such concerning the plague that are great.

For educational purposes, The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague by Dorsey Armstrong from Great Courses is amazing. It goes into details of spread and impacts of the plague (during and after) on society, art, economics, and more. You can get it through Great Courses or through Audible. 
This Podcast Will Kill You did a two-part episode on the plague that is very good.

The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly is said to be good. I have not read it yet, but I would like to.

The Black Death by Philip Ziegler sounds great, but is another one that I have not read.

Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. Arguably, this account is not entirely credible as the author wrote it 57 years after the fact. But he did experience the plague and it is considered to be an accurate account of the time. It was good either way.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. This is a historical fiction novel, but it is based on a real town in England that isolated themselves when they found that the plague had reached them. A friend gifted this book to me years ago and it was enjoyable.

The Plague by Albert Camus. I am embarrassed to admit that I have not read this book yet, though I want to, obviously.
Crow Boy by Philip Caveney is a fictional story about a modern boy in Edinburgh who travels back in time to 1645, during a plague outbreak. I enjoyed this one, even though the plague doctor was fake and kind of evil.

This is a silly video that will get the original song stuck in your head forever, but it's funny. We watched it at some point during my Masters program: Black Death (Hollaback Girl) aka Fleas on Rats.

There are so many more books that I have not yet read. If anyone has a particularly good suggestion, please drop it in the comments. And if you know of anything about plague doctors, I definitely need to know!

I hope you enjoyed my plague post. If you made it this far, thanks for reading!
Perry, Robert D and Fetherston, Jaqueline D. Yersinia pestis--etiologic agent of plague. 1997.
Medical Microbiology sixth edition by Patrick R. Murray, Ken S. Rosenthal, and Michael A. Pfaller
Armstrong, Dorsey. The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague. 2016. Great Courses.
Dennis, David T. Plague as a Biological Weapon. 2009.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

September 2020 Wrap Up

 So I finally, FINALLY got my diphtheria post up. I don't think it is one of my best because I wrote it in fits and starts. But it's alright. I need to do more, but I'm not sure what disease I want to do next. I would love to do a special plague post, but plague is my very favorite and I want to do it justice. But October and Halloween time (my favorite time of the year) would be a great time to do it. I will have to think on it and see if I can pull something together in time. If work doesn't keep drowning me.

Speaking of October and Halloween, it is about that time of year! I have been working on my October reading list (and I read the Night Circus this month to prepare). And the Graveyard Book is always on my list, but I ended up starting and finishing that this month, also. A bit early, but it made it feel more like autumn so it's OK. I will post my list at the end of this post. Quick book reviews first.


Title: The Princess and the Fangirl
Author: Ashley Poston
Narrators: Eileen Stevens, Emily Lawrence, and Caitlin Davies
Synopsis: This is the second book in the Once Upon a Con series. Jess Stone was a popular Indie film actress until she was cast as Princess Amara in the new Starfield movie. But she hates Amara and is afraid this part has put an early end to her career. But when someone starts leaking the script for the next Starfield, it might be her fault and she has to stop it. Enter Imogen, normal person and president of the #SaveAmara movement. And when her pink pixie cut is covered, she looks just like Jess Stone. And Jess hatches a plan to have Imogen pose as her while Jess poses as Imogen to try to track down the missing script.

Thoughts: This was a re-read since I read Bookish and the Beast and re-read Geekerella. This one may be my favorite in the series (so far? Will there be more? I hope so). It's just fun and cute and fluffy and nerdy, so obviously I can't resist.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Synopsis: Starr is a sixteen year old girl who attends a higher class, predominantly white high school, but she lives in a poor, Black neighborhood. She feels like her two worlds do not mesh together. And when she witnesses the shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, and the aftermath, she finds she may be right. Her family and friends get dragged in with her and we follow her journey to find her voice.
Thoughts: This book needs to be required reading for everyone. I have had it on my reading list for a long time now, and I'm glad I finally picked it up. I should not have waited so long. It was heartbreaking and touching. It's hard not to fall in love with Starr's family and be sucked into her world. And because she is torn between worlds, it makes it more accessible to white readers. We learn to see and love her family and her home. And because she is still figuring out how to navigate the aftermath of Khalil's death, it gives us white readers (who know little to nothing of these situations) to learn and grow with her. I cried SOOOO much during this book, but sometimes they were tears because I was so touched. It was heartbreaking, and redeeming, and very educational. Seriously, everyone should read this book.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Title: The Shadow Crosser
Author: J.C. Cervantes
Narrator: Ozzie Rodriguez
Synopsis: In the third book, Zane's adventures continue. He and the other godborns are meant to get training at a special camp arranged by some of the gods. But two of the other gods are trying to kill all of the (arguably) "good" gods and make them sacrifices. The godborn are called in to save them, even if they have to go through space and time to do so.
Thoughts: I'm not sure if this is a trilogy or not, but I believe it is. I have enjoyed these books a lot. They are good stories, informative because they are all about the Mayan gods, and they are fun. I definitely recommend the whole trilogy.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Narrator: Jim Dale

Synopsis: This mysterious circus appears overnight without warning and it is only open at night. The circus itself is magical and builds a fan following. But there is more going on in the circus than most people are aware of.

Thoughts: I have read this book a few times. I just love it. I love the writing and most of the story (I'm not the biggest fan of Marco and his romance(s)). It is magical. I want to go to this circus so badly. And to the midnight dinners.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Title: Star Daughter
Author: Shveta Thakrar
Synopsis: Sheetal has a secret that she must keep from most of the people around her: her mother is a star and Sheetal is part star. Her father, aunt, and best friend know, and it is starting to become harder to keep it hidden. Her powers start to burst out of control, driving her to join her mother in the sky to solve her problems. Once in the sky with her star family, she becomes entangled in family dramas and a competition that she must win.
Thoughts: This was a recent Owlcrate book. It just sounded so good and I love Roshani Chokshi's books, so I was excited to read this one. I will say that it was a bit more lack-luster for me than I was hoping. But I still enjoyed the story and the magic. It is a bit reminiscent of some of Roshani Chokshi's books, so if you like her books, you may like this one. But it was pretty good and the book is really pretty!
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Narrator: Neil Gaiman
Synopsis: The story of Nobody Owens who walks a unique path between life and death. Raised by the ghosts and other denizens of the graveyard gives him a great appreciation of life. And while his story is sad and sometimes very lonely, he grasps life with both hands, knowing he will see his family in death. I suppose he never really misses out on anything.

Thoughts: How many times have I read this book? Every year for the last seven maybe? Anyway, I always love it so much. And no matter what, I always find myself thinking about it and about the characters. And I always cry at the end. One of my favorite books.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Favorite book read this month: New book? The Hate U Give, but I always love the Graveyard Book and the Night Circus.
Least favorite book read this month: Star Daughter. Not because it was bad, it just wasn't my favorite.
I have read 72 books out of my goal of 80. So I am well ahead of schedule, which is awesome. After last year, I am glad to be doing better!
I didn't make any progress on my alphabet reading challenge. I still have six letters to complete, but hope to complete two in October. I'm not sure I will quite finish, but that's OK, it is just for fun.

Here is my reading list for October (after taking out the Graveyard Book). And I doubt I will be able to read all of these, but I will select all of my reads from these:

I have already started the Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein and I am nearly finished with the Sundial (a book club selection that we are discussing next week). There is another book club book to read in October for November, but I don't plan on reading it because priorities, obviously. I need to read Jackaby and Varney the Vampire to help with my alphabet reading challenge. Some would be re-reads. And I am looking forward to reading Horrid. It might be more scary than my usual, but it sounds good.

I'm excited for my favorite month of the year!