Current Event February 24, 2020
Where did the new coronavirus start? Scientists believe the highly contagious virus spreading quickly among humans probably originated with bats. Bats’ amazing immune systems allow them to carry viruses without getting sick themselves. Just as with past viral outbreaks like SARS and MERS, scientists believe bats infected other animals with coronavirus, and those animals then passed it to humans. Listen to learn more about the origin of coronavirus and why scientists believe studying bats could unlock secrets about fighting disease.
Current Event February 19, 2020
An exhibit at a Philadelphia museum explores how ideas about infection have changed over two thousand years. “Going Viral” examines early views of illness, when people believed body fluids like blood and snot regulated the body, and helps visitors understand the devastation brought by epidemics like the Black Death and Spanish flu. It even demonstrates through an interactive display how germs might spread on a modern-day subway. Listen to hear more about the exhibit and what museum curators hope visitors will learn from it.
Current Event February 13, 2020
The World Health Organization and the U.S. government are taking action to keep a new contagious virus from spreading. The coronavirus is transmitted by air and can quickly infect large populations. To help prevent its spread, the U.S. government is restricting travel to and from China, where the outbreak began, and putting some travelers in quarantine, which means separating them from other people for a few weeks. Listen to learn how this virus compares to others, where it has already spread, and how the government plans to contain it.
Current Event October 29, 2019
With their sharp teeth and thirst for blood, vampire bats can be frightening. They have been known to bite the feet of sleeping children, and they sometimes spread disease. But these fuzzy, wrinkle-nosed creatures are also loving friends. Listen to learn more facts, both scary and surprising, about the legendary vampire bat.
Current Event October 17, 2019
Mosquitoes are biting insects that can bother people at summer barbecues, but they have also played an important role in human history. One historian says that mosquitoes have been critical in changing the course of history, primarily by spreading deadly diseases that have killed billions of people. He explains how new genetic tools might be used to eliminate the threat to humans posed by these dangerous insects, which offer no clear ecological benefits. Listen to hear the surprising ways that mosquitoes have influenced history and how mosquito populations could potentially be controlled.
Current Event June 6, 2017
Doctors around the world are worried about the threat of the global spread of bird flu, or avian influenza. In Hong Kong, scientists studying the virus are also concerned about how quickly the virus is evolving. The latest mutation of the virus is able to kill chickens in the lab within 24 hours. A leading scientist worries that a future mutation could be transmitted more quickly between humans, leading to a global pandemic. Listen to learn more about this research and the threat of bird flu.
Current Event March 8, 2017
In today’s world, there are more new disease outbreaks than ever before. Over the past century, the number of new infectious diseases appearing each year has quadrupled. Now, scientists are trapping and testing animals in rainforests around the world in an effort to find new viruses before they reach the human population. Listen to learn more about how infectious diseases pass from rainforest ecosystems to human populations and what scientists are doing to stop this growing trend.
Current Event April 1, 2016
Scientists all over the world are racing to stop the Zika virus epidemic. One solution being tested in Brazil is to release hundreds of thousands of male mosquitoes every day that have been engineered with a “self-destruct” gene. Female mosquitoes are the only ones who bite, so if they mate with these genetically engineered males, all offspring dies before they can spread Zika. This is projected to cut the number of disease-spreading mosquitoes by 70-80 percent. But not everyone agrees that this is the best solution. Engineering the mosquito population may allow other diseases to spread. Other solutions include sterilizing the mosquitoes or using bacteria. Listen and debate what your students think are the best ways to fight the Zika epidemic.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has inspired widespread fear throughout the U.S. and in many other countries. In reality, the threat of Ebola is actually quite small with only 1,700 deaths since 1976. The rarity of the Ebola virus has given major pharmaceutical companies very little incentive to develop a treatment for the virus given that the market for such a drug would be almost nonexistent. However, BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, a small pharmaceutical company based in Frederick, MD, has been given government help to develop a cure for the virus. Listen to learn more about the complexity of the Ebola virus and what is being done to develop a cure.
Scientists have now figured out the genetic code to one of the oldest known plagues. Eight hundred years before the Black Death struck in 1347, there was another plague that occurred in Europe in the 6th century CE. Scientists have now figured out the genetic code to the oldest known epidemic and discovered that the “Justinian plague” was the first outbreak of bubonic plague. Listen to hear about how a farmland gave scientists answers to centuries worth of questions.