Monday, November 21, 2011

The Febrile Muse Turns One: Many Thanks

Origin of Enthusiasm; painting by Lisa Stevens 2010
December 2, 2011 marks the one-year birthday of The Febrile Muse. Thank you to each and every reader.

My heartfelt thanks also to collaborators and editors: Genegeek and Gjerda are fantastic people to learn new things with; gotta love their enthusiasm. Speaking of enthusiasm, Bora Zivkovic at Scientific American  must be the most enthusiastic editor alive, along with my editor Lisa at NYJB, of course. Amy at, Robert at, and Cesar at Twisted Bacteria ooze enthusiasm for their science as well.  Some great writers and artists are: Joanna Lee, ArtologicaGlendon MellowMegan Pearce, Curtis Andrews, Bruce Taylor, Richard Nickel, Jr. at the Kingston Lounge, Richard Benjamin from the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, Amy Fraser, and Jack Zipes. The list is not all-inclusive, and authors of books I have mentioned in the past year are included in my thanks, but the above people have recently directly inspired me to write, edit, grow, and enjoy the whole process.

I also appreciate the people who have hired me to write and edit, the people who have let me read their books, my family, and now the people I will work with as a clinical pharmacist at a wonderful rural hospital. The Febrile Muse's followees and followers on twitter and facebook have also been fantastic in leading me to interesting reads and visuals.

Original Source of blackboard writing unknown,
but found on The
Because of you all, it has been a fantastic entry into the world of writing infectious disease science, medicine, pharmacy, literature, art, and history on the internet; I look forward to another year...and the ideas keep piling up...thanks to you.

What's coming up you say?

For December, The Febrile Muse will post articles about holiday gifts for the infectiously inclined and Ghost Maps and epidemiology. A guest-post is also coming soon--about HIV and the treatment advances of the last 30 years.

Do I really need to say who these guys are?
photo from Wikipedia
For the New Year, comedy will receive some attention. We all need a good laugh, so there may be some references to "The Three Stooges" or "Seinfeld." For 2012, there will also be serious posts like discussions of pogroms, Riverblindness, and much Inflammatory Language (a series of primers). In addition, endless books (like "Petroplague") and movies (like "Contagion") portray infectious disease (and microbes in general) in various lights.
What a Turkey
Thanksgiving craft photo by Aimee
Herring; found on

Book reviews of "Legend" by Marie Lu  and "Bacteria: the Bad, the Benign, and the Beautiful" by Trudy Wassenaar will pop-up on NYJB. What could they possibly have in common? Hmmm, you'll have to read and find out.

Have a great Thanksgiving Holiday (if you are in the States) and a wonderful Winter/Summer (lots of Australian readers). Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Guest Post from

by Dr. Amy Rogers, author of Petroplague
Magazines make a great holiday gift for kids. They’re relatively inexpensive, encourage reading, require no wrapping or shipping, and keep giving pleasure all year long. This year, consider giving your young people a magazine to foster their natural scientific curiosity and their science literacy.  Subscriptions also make great teacher gifts.
Here are some popular science-themed periodicals for kids of various ages:
Ranger Rick (1-year auto-renewal)Ranger Rick: The granddaddy of kids’ science/nature mags.  I used to get this when I was a kid back in the 70′s, and my daughter gets it now.  Ranger Rick is an award-winning publication of the National Wildlife Federation; target age is 7 -14.  This is a clean, high-quality magazine that emphasizes nature, animals, and ecology.  Excellent photography, accurate articles.  In significant contrast to its competitor NGKids, Ranger Rick is not commercialized: no promotions of pop culture movies or games, in fact NO ADVERTISING at all.   Highly recommend.
The National Wildlife Federation also publishes similar themed magazines for younger kids:
  • Your Big Backyard for ages 4-7
  • Wild Animal Baby for ages 2-4
Kids Discover: Another periodical with super-high quality content.  Kids Discover is a little different: each issue features a single nonfiction topic in the natural or social sciences and explores it in depth.  Not just a nature magazine!  Excellent photography and uncluttered layout.  Forages 7-12.  Highly recommend.
National Geographic KidsNat Geo Kids (NGKids): Produced by the famed explorers and photographers of National Geographic.  For ages 6-14, you’ll find great photos in this snazzy kids’ magazine.  Emphasis on animals, nature, ecology.  My daughter enjoyed it for years.  However, each issue typically has a feature article that ties in a promotion for a new movie or other pop culture thing–advertising disguised as news.
Nat Geo also publishes NG Little Kids for ages 3-6.
The following magazines I have not seen in person:
Know, the Science Magazine for Curious Kids.  A cartoony-type layout with content that features a central topic in each issue and includes home science experiments, articles, and of course games.  Looks pretty cool.  Recent featured topics: bats; ocean science; It’s Elemental.  For ages 6-9.
By the same publisher: Yes Mag, the Science Magazine for Adventurous Minds.  Target age: 10-15.  I’m going to buy this one for my family this year.  Here’s what they say about themselves:
As kids get older, their questions change from the simple (Why do onions make you cry?) to the complex (Why do molecules stay together?). YES Mag, for ages 10 to 15, answers the tough questions in a way everyone can understand. With a mix of great photos and illustrations, humour, and long and short articles, YES Mag is sure to engage, entertain, and educate.
Cobblestone Publishing produces a variety of high-quality, no-advertising literary and science magazines for kids.  A subscription to one of these would make a great teacher gift for the classroom.  Here are their science offerings:
Odyssey: Adventures in Science.  For ages 10-16.  Upcoming topics.  What the publisher says:
ODYSSEY believes that science is an exciting adventure, and that it can lead to a lifetime of scientific inquiry and satisfaction. That’s why each 52-page themed issue is packed with articles by acclaimed writers and scientists – information that talks “to” (and not “down to”) young readers. ODYSSEY helps children keep pace with the rapidly changing world of science by presenting its most exciting discoveries, and it prepares children for the challenges and rewards of the future.
ASK. For grades 2-5.
How did great scientists and thinkers get their start? By asking questions! Each themed issue of ASK invites newly independent readers to explore the world of science and ideas with topics that really appeal to kids: What makes wind? Where do colors come from? Were pirates real? Filled with lively, well-written articles, vivid graphics, activities, cartoons, and plenty of humor, ASK is science kids demand to read!
Click: Science for grades K-2
And the last magazine from the Cobblestone/Cricket group, Dig isn’t “science”, it’sArcheology and History for grades 5-9. Fun!
Dr. Amy Rogers writes thrilling science-themed novels that pose frightening “what if?” questions.  Compelling characters and fictionalized science—not science fiction—make her books page-turners that seamlessly blend reality with imagination.  She is a member of International Thriller Writers Debut Class (2011-2012).  In her novel Petroplague, oil-eating bacteria contaminate the fuel supply of Los Angeles and paralyze the city.  Learn more at and  You can also follow Amy on twitter (@ScienceThriller) and on her Facebook fan page.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Interleukin, schminterleukin: Inflammatory Language No.2

Flasks by Skycaptaintwo 2006
There are many chemicals involved in inflammation. Some chemicals are released by injured cells and travel through the body causing immune cells to “come-on-over” or take action. The immune cells either navigate to the site of injury or act by releasing more chemicals, called cytokines. A cytokine (chemical from a cell) like interleukin is released from various cells such as leukocytes, monocytes, B cells, T cells, and etcetera. It acts by causing many reactions such as inflammation, neutrophil maturation, fever, or may try to inhibit further reactions. The interleukin may act by recruiting other cells to join in the perceived “fight,” or try to slow-down or stop the reactions all-together.

There are many interleukins (35 proteins and counting) with various functions within the immune system. Starting at the beginning is interleukin-1 (IL-1). IL-1 comes in many types (alpha, beta…and so on). Among its extensive list of duties is to be a leader and recruiter of other cells to join in the fight, either actively or by releasing their own specific chemicals—the cytokine cascade is born and hard to stop. From IL-1’s leadership, a cycle of many things, including inflammation, results.

This diagram only begins to show the complexity of the
 cytokine cascade: from

Interleukin-1-rich immune cells infiltrating the
beta-amyloid plaques seen in Alzheimer's disease;
photograph from Shaftel SS, Kyrkanides S, and
Olschowka JA, et al 
 from the University of Rochester; 2007
IL-1 would be ineffective if other cells didn’t have a way to respond to it. The cells that respond to IL-1 would have an IL-1 receptor. This receptor is much like a lock on a door—that opens only when a specific key is placed into it. The IL-1 receptor recognizes IL-1 and responds, allowing IL-1 access to the cell and/or its actions. One of the resulting actions is inflammation in which damage may result--depending on the location and extent of inflammation.

To stop the inflammation born by IL-1 is tricky, and not always necessary. Just stopping IL-1 is like stopping one wheel on a massive semi—not real effective in slowing its actions down. A multi-prong approach to stopping inflammation is needed. It is important to note here that IL-1 is not the only inflammatory cytokine.

Some research looking at the role of IL-1 in inflammation and cellular damage:

Interleukin-1's role in inflammation and neuronal damage as that seen in Alzheimer's disease or atherosclerosis.

Shaftel SS, Kyrkanides S, Olschowka JA, Miller JN, Johnson RE, O'Banion MK (2007 Jun 05). Sustained hippocampal IL-1 beta overexpression mediates chronic neuroinflammation and ameliorates Alzheimer plaque pathology. J Clin Invest. 117, 1595-604.

 This is the second post of a series: Inflammatory Language.The series will briefly emphasize aspects of inflammation, mainly in response to microorganisms, but not always. You can contribute to this column by submitting 300 serious, political, scientific, or funny words (as long as they have something to do with inflammation) to me  by email, along with byline. If deemed appropriate, we'll publish it here--thank you. At some point, I may be able to offer gifts, but not yet.



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Inflammatory Language No 1. The ongoing cycle

Much like trying to tack down the answer to the chicken-and-egg-thing, starting a conversation or course on inflammation is problematic. Often the dry outcome is an outlay of descriptions of the cells involved or cytokines.  This is too linear of an approach for The Febrile Muse. We are going to start by showing how inflammation is a circular cycle with multiple inputs and multiple outcomes--a macroview first.

Nothing starts inflammatory language better than Billy Joel and his smart-edgy "We Didn't Start the Fire." If you can't view on this site, here is the link:

Get this song in your head.

Now, this....

Interleukin, monocyte, whole blood cell, skin is tight
Urethritis, laryngitis, antiviral drug

Dr. Wakefield, meningitis, redness, swelling, don’t excite us
Pustule, furuncle, who pulled out the rug?

Histamine, fungus, cytokine, yellow pus
Coughing, Alzheimer’s plague, he just had a heart attack

Remodeling, Roceph, patient with TNF
Differential, antibody, antibiotic

The cycle of inflammation
it’s always running
And we keep on learning
‘bout the cycle of inflammation
What got it started and
How do we stop it

Paul de Kruif, Leeuwenhoek, Pasteur and Methnikoff
Edward Jenner, Koch and Erlich, soap, water, rinse it off

TB, parasite, Alex Flemming, agar
Arthur Ashe and Magic, baby’s got bad asthma

Extravasation, NSAIDS, cortisone, reaction
Pneumonitis, inhaler, bronchitis, with pallor

Lupus, arthritic, city epidemic
Panic, virus, face mask, it’s allergenic

The cycle of inflammation
it’s always running
And we keep on learning
‘bout the cycle of inflammation
What got it started and
How do we stop it

Cystitis, exudate, macrophages, propagate
Cascade, renegade, acute or chronic, protein

Foreign body, bad germs, chemicals and bad burns
Radiate, pathogen, we will need more oxygen

Hot to touch, fever, sepsis and anemia
Neutrophil, histocytes, got to take my pill

Mast cell, mediator, ate a toxin, see you later
Vomit, clotting, complement and kinin

The cycle of inflammation
it’s always running
And we keep on learning
‘bout the cycle of inflammation
What got it started and
How do we stop it

Polio, wheezing, spread the germs by sneezing
Sniffles, headache, one system is innate

Adaptive immunity, it remembers all it sees
Antigen, DNA, wish this cold would go away!

Nitric oxide, enzymes, interferon, lysozyme
Lipids, cells walls, gees—I will forget it all

Celiac, sarcoid, she’s got a positive node
Reperfusion, acne, transplant, myopathy

The cycle of inflammation
it’s always running
And we keep on learning
‘bout the cycle of inflammation
What got it started and
How do we stop it

Penicillin, quinine, quinolone, betadine
HPV and cancer, ID doctor’s on the line

Benadryl, loratidine, what do all these numbers mean?
Fever curve, blood pressure, Bell’s palsy of the cranial nerve

B12 and vitamin D, ANC and CRP
Encephalitis, UA, insulin and malaise

Scaring and abcess, this is one whole bloody mess!
Resolution, Stop it! I have had enough of it.

The cycle of inflammation
it’s always running
And we keep on learning
‘bout the cycle of inflammation
What got it started and
How do we stop it

The cycle of inflammation
It’s supposed to help us
But it goes on and on and on and on…..

I hope Billy Joel would approve--for science-sake. Perhaps we'll get lucky and he will contribute a video of himself at the piano singing The Febrile Muse's version--I'd split the profits with him and give half to local science/literacy programs for kids.

This is the first post of a series: Inflammatory Language. It will briefly emphasize aspects of inflammation, mainly in response to microorganisms, but not always. You can contribute to this column by submitting 300 serious, political, scientific, or funny words (as long as they have something to do with inflammation) to me  by email, along with byline. If deemed appropriate, we'll publish it here--thank you. At some point, I may be able to offer gifts, but not yet.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Guest Posts at

Thank you very much to Amy Rogers of for inviting The Febrile Muse to submit a guest post. In two-part fashion, The Febrile Muse became ScienceThriller's "Web Treasure Tuesday!" In that post my science short stories and recommendations of infectious disease picture books for little kids were highlighted. In an additional post the next day, Amy posted my recommendations for science books for kids.

As you may know, Amy Rogers is the author of Petroplague. I hope to be reading and reviewing it soon here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Antimalarial Campaign for GIs, Daddy-O Style

Booklet cover with caricature of Ann the mosquito in a come hither pose.
Theodor Seuss Geisel;
 from 1943 War Department
“This is Ann…” writes Theodor Seuss Geisel [yes, Dr. Seuss] in his 1943 World War II Army instructional pamphlet about how GIs can protect themselves [in Africa, the Caribbean, India, South and Southwest Pacific and other “hot spots”] from the Anopheles mosquito.
  • Use netting correctly
  • Wear clothing
  • Wear repellent even over clothing [especially over the seat of the pants as this is a favorite target].
  • Army is draining pools and ditches and poisoning ones that can’t be drained.
  • Don’t go into native villages.
  • Report headaches, chills, and fevers and seek treatment.
His illustrations are what you would expect, but the prose is non-rhyming and the dialog not appropriate for young children:
“The best protection you have with you all the time is your clothes. If you go running around like a strip teaser, you haven’t got a chance”….from Theodor Seuss Geisel: The Early Works of Dr. Seuss vol 1; 2005; Checker Book Publishing Group
All-in-all, it’s fun to see his foray into infectious diseases. Also included in this book are WWII editorial cartoons, a mention of his WWII documentaries written with Chuck Jones, and various advertising campaigns he was involved in.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Scientific American Guest Blog: Tinea Speaks Up--a Fairy Tale

A Graveyard in Ireland; "Circle of Friends"
photograph by Curtis Andrews; 
curtismandrews[at]yahoo[dot]com; Waukesha WI
This story published on Scientific American Guest Blog yesterday relates to power of infectious diseases, yet told in Fairy Tale format.  Ringworm and other scalp diseases were commonly grouped together as "scald head" or "mange" in fairy tales.  In my tale "Tinea speaks up--A Fairy Tale" Tinea wants power and makes a case for it by using some fairy tales [that of the Arabian Nights, Basile, Grimm and Calvino] as evidence of her worthiness.  It is not as "scientific" as "Lenina versus the pneumococcus," but infectious disease is central.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lost in the Tangles: Journey and Genes of Alzheimer's

Genegeek and I co-developed "Lost in the Tangles: Journey and Genes of Alzheimer's" to enter into GeneScreenbc's 2011 video competition.  The project was geared toward education and was 
"targeted towards those interested in creating short films aimed at educating students in grades 8 to 12 about any topic related to the role of genetics and genomics in human health." [Genescreenbc]

Genegeek and I decided to give it a try, our first attempt. We had a great time working together on it, with our HS student video editor--a sweet trifecta considering the goal of the project.  

As to the relevance of Alzheimer's to an infectious disease website--there is no known infectious disease cause. However, inflammation plays a key role in Alzheimer's pathology.

Please view the video and "like" it if you wish to vote for us--there is a People's Choice Award for the one with the most "likes."
Regardless of the outcome, the three of us have won a fantastic experience.

In tribute to memory, here is J.S. Lee...
it's a process

head tipped back and lens out of focus
i sip the last dregs of sunlight
from a summer fast fading,
etching her colors black-inked into tomorrow,
tracing my words into the wet cement of eternity.
my steps quicken to match the fall
of the leaves over old brick in the city’s
East end, my footfalls small
miracles of blurry substance in a brittle
but the words
just won’t flow like
they’re supposed; they start and they
stutter over roots in the sidewalk, getting lost in the
mutter of leaves and passing traffic and sometimes
when the light recalls just perfectly
the way it used to fall
through your bedroom blinds in
September’s late mornings, then
the muscles at the top of my throat
close up and in the sudden rush of air
that i swallow to
push the memories back
down into oblivion, they
vanish altogether,
leaving my shadow to
walk alone through the early October

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Inflammatory Language: Call for Submissions

The Febrile Muse will be starting "Inflammatory Language." This will be a series of brief primers concerning inflammation. Here is the call for submissions!  Would you like to contribute a very brief [300 word or less] primer that relates in some way--inflammation? You can use humor, politics, current events, artwork, or whatever you wish as long as it is appropriate for viewing and written so that most people can understand it.

The overall goal is to accurately inform readers.

Submissions can be sent to thefebrilemuse[at]gmail[dot]com, and as soon as I have received acceptible submissions, I will begin posting with your byline and link to your website. Thank you in advance.

Neutrophil chasing some Staphylococcus aureus
(from 16mm movie by David Rogers, 
Vanderbilt University, in the 1950s)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Maple Seed Marburg Virus

It's always good to look down when walking along.  I almost stepped on this cluster of maple seeds disguising themselves as the Marburg Virus; may it be the closest I get to the real thing.

Maple seeds posing as Marburg Virus; photograph by CM Doran 2011

Marburg virus
Photograph of the real Marburg Virus; from the CDC
Next post: Fungus and Fairy Tales

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Shaw's Paradox

The Sick Child [with TB] by Edvard Munch; from Wikipedia

File:George bernard shaw.jpg
George Bernard Shaw
 from Wikipedia
In 1906, there were no treatments for Tuberculosis [TB] except for isolation, fresh air, and a tuberculin inoculation. What if you were a doctor/scientist at this time, such as Sir Almroth Edward Wright, who knew how to inoculate more safely; you knew that lives could be saved this way, but you could take on only one more patient. Who do you save? Who is worthy of your discovery? That is The Doctor’s Dilemma [Sir Colenso Ridgeon’s dilemma, that is] in George Bernard Shaw’s play.

In the 1966 Tyrone Guthrie Theatre edition of The Doctor’s Dilemma, Shaw’s 1911 Preface on Doctors exposes his views—somewhat paradoxical views when read in 2011. Back in the early 1900’s, in England, there wasn’t a National Health Service. In addition, doctors were paid per smallpox vaccination, and under the Vaccination Act, it was compulsory. Shaw was very outspoken about this; he thought that smallpox severity was lessening, and that it would go away without intervention--the vaccine had nothing to do with the decrease in deaths. This is an interesting position from a man that supposedly held science in high regard.  In the play he takes recent scientific findings on opsonic theory and builds a smart exploit—of different kinds of people, of science in the wrong hands, of journalists who don’t understand science, of medical ethics, and places them before us. There is high regard for the science, but little for the people using it.

His 1911 preface exposes [in his view] bacteriology as a superstition, germ theory as farce, and likens vaccines to homeopathy [which he despised]. He also was against vivisection and despised all doctors [GPs and surgeons]. His science loving yet science denying views are his paradox. Of smallpox vaccination he says:
“…Such monstrosities as vaccinations are, as we have seen, founded, not on science, but on half-crowns. If the Vaccination Acts, instead of being wholly repealed as they are already half repealed, were strengthened by compelling every parent to have his child vaccinated by a public officer whose salary was completely independent of the number of vaccinations performed by him, and for whom there was plenty of alternative public health work waiting, vaccination would be dead in two years, as the vaccinator would not only not gain by it, but would lose credit through the depressing effects on the vital statistics of his district of the illness and deaths it causes, whilst it would take from him all the credit of that freedom from smallpox which is the result of good sanitary administration and vigilant prevention of infection…”
His preface, seen with a modern scientific eye, is nearly funny--until you realize that similar diatribes exist today. Perhaps with better understanding of the science of vaccinations today, he would have had a different opinion. 

Shaw’s answer to the dilemma is given by the preface: that doctors should be paid by the nation and paid bonuses when their individual district’s death rate decreases, and he offers this advice:
“Take the utmost care to get well born and well brought up. This means that your mother must have a good doctor. Be careful to go to a school where there is what they call a school clinic where your nutrition and teeth and eyesight and other matters of importance to you will be attended to. Be particularly careful to have all this done at the expense of the nation, as otherwise it will not be done at all, the chances being about 40 to one against your being able to pay for it directly yourself, even if you know how to set about it. Otherwise you will be what most people are at present:  an unsound citizen of an unsound nation, without sense enough to be ashamed or unhappy about it.”
He seems to have followed his own advice. He was 94 years old when he died following an accident in his garden…and it wasn’t an infection.

Millions of lives have been saved by vaccination. Shaw would have liked to have seen this [would he have seen this?] as well as the formation of the NHS in 1948.

The BCG vaccine [used to prevent TB, and used in countries with high rate of infection] became available in 1921.

For information about modern-day vaccines, visit either The CDC vaccine, the NHS vaccine, or WHO vaccine websites.

An early 1900 article in NYT about using opsonic theory to treat TB.
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