Rochester Science

A clean sink drain means clean eye balls.

A recent study by Penn State University, the US Department of Agriculture and Rochester’s own Bausch and Lomb found that the nasty bugs that infect humans are commonly found – perhaps unsurprisingly – in our sinks as well.

Matching the DNA signatures of fungi found in 161 sinks in various locations to those found in human infections, the scientists were able to determine that about 66 percent of sink drains had at least one strain of the Fusarium fungus which is known to infect humans. This suggests at least some connection between the infection rate in sinks and in humans. Clearly, humans are exposed to this fungus, but what the relationship is may not be entirely clear.

However, at least one case of Fusarium infection, contact lens wearers in both Southeast Asia and North America contracted the infections from what researchers believed was an improper use of the sterile lens solutions. Exposure to infections from the bathroom sink seem to have played a direct role, and this research provides further evidence.

Even more comforting: analyzing the DNA in sinks revealed 32 previously-unidentified and as many as four completely new strains of the Fusarium fungus.

So, I guess the lesson here is: clean your sink.

Penn State Live – Disease-causing fungi prevalent in sink drains, study finds.


Salmonella, aka: Typhoid Fever

Typhoid Mary and salmonella outbreaks: two very different stories, right?

Well, maybe not so much. As it happens, salmonella exists in many different forms in many different species and one of those is Salmonella Typhi. The CDC says the United States sees about 400 cases of Typhoid Fever a year, mostly from people who have traveled abroad.

What most salmonella outbreaks refer to is a slightly different version of Salmonella that results in salmonellosis. This is the classic – if unpleasant – disease that causes diarrhea, cramping and fevers. And its common enough and mild enough to not always be reported, though the CDC estimates about 400,000 cases annually. Mild as it is, the more common salmonellosis can cause hospitalization as well, particularly for the especially young or old. Hospitalization usually occurs when the salmonella bacteria make their way to the blood stream.

In both cases, salmonella is transferred to food by people already sick with the illness. So, wash your hands and wash your veggies before you use them!

CDC – Typhoid Fever: General Information – NCZVED.


Our global connectivity is brewing a “viral storm”

If you’ve noticed a sharp increase in purple flowers growing along the roadsides in the Rochester area – 390 being a particularly good example – that would be what is known as an “invasive species.” Purple Loosestrife is a wetlands plant that has been in the country for over a hundred years, but is only just now making its way to Rochester. Its done so because increased trade between New England states and Rochester has brought spores with it. As the plant displaces cattails in wetland areas, the other forms of life such as butterflies that depended on the cattails also get displaced. There are many more recent examples of this. Zebra Mussels, of course.

But another even scarier repercussion of our globally-connected world is that viruses and funguses are as easily transported and as readily-adaptable as these other forms of life. And that is setting up conditions for world-wide pandemics the likes of which we have never seen before. Scientific American goes into detail on the subject reviewing a new book The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age. The difference, they say, is that while there are some globe-trotting species of life, most animals including birds never really leave their homes. And those that do travel far still travel only between two locations. But human interconnectivity and trade is changing all that at an ever-increasing rate:

via How an Interconnected Planet Is Fueling the Brewing Viral Storm: Scientific American.