Current Event March 30, 2020
Countries that have extensively tested their populations for the COVID-19 virus have generally succeeded in containing the outbreak. Now debate has begun in the U.S. over how much testing makes sense in this country. Although many medical experts say aggressive testing would help to slow the spread of the disease, production of test kits has not kept up with demand. Listen to hear a public health expert explain why he believes testing is important for controlling the spread of COVID-19 and when he expects enough test kits to become available.
Current Event March 26, 2020
States around the country are ordering new restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19. State governors have put various orders in place, including closing nonessential businesses, restricting big gatherings, and directing people to stay at home. Essential services such as food stores, pharmacies, and public transportation, remain open. These leaders hope limiting social contact will slow the spread of the disease enough to avoid overwhelming hospitals and health care workers with patients. Listen to learn how states plan to enforce the orders and why one governor struggled mightily with his decision to close businesses.
Current Event March 23, 2020
Scientists are one step closer to finding a vaccine to protect people against COVID-19. A biomedical research company has vaccinated eight patients in Washington state with a new trial vaccine and has plans to vaccinate dozens more. The patients will be closely watched over time to make sure the vaccine is both safe and effective. The careful process means a vaccine will likely not be available to the general public for at least a year. Listen to learn how the new vaccine testing works and what motivates the scientists involved in the project.
Current Event March 17, 2020
The new coronavirus is a highly infectious disease that is spreading rapidly around the world. The virus causes mild symptoms for many people, like those of the common cold, but it affects others more seriously. The new coronavirus is very contagious, and public health experts are trying to better understand it and control the global outbreak. Listen to hear about the effects of the virus and what people can do to slow its spread.
This audio story was recorded in mid-February. The news about COVID-19 is changing rapidly and parts of this story may be dated.
Current Event March 17, 2020
Leaders in over 30 states have closed schools statewide to help contain the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Millions of students will be home, and parents and guardians are scrambling to find child care. Children from low-income families who rely on free or reduced-price lunches, and parents who are unable to stay home from work, will face particular challenges. Listen to learn why schools are closing for long periods of time and what politicians are doing to help people affected by the virus.
This audio story was recorded in mid-March. The news about COVID-19 is changing rapidly and parts of this story may be dated.
Current Event March 16, 2020
COVID-19 has officially been declared a pandemic, a disease infecting populations throughout the world. The virus spreads easily, and once a few people have it, they can quickly infect many others with whom they have contact. A graph of the infection’s spread shows a sharp peak when the rate of infection is highest. As schools close, more people work from home, and other steps are taken to limit human interaction, scientists expect the rate of infection to slow down and the graph’s curve to flatten. Listen to learn how flattening the curve can help the health care system handle the COVID-19 outbreak, and how past epidemics can help guide today’s decisions about how to respond.
Current Event March 12, 2020
Health care workers at a Seattle hospital can now drive their cars up to a window to be tested for COVID-19. Washington state has been one of the places hardest hit by COVID-19, an illness caused by a new coronavirus, and the city hopes to protect health workers who are essential to keeping the virus contained. Listen to learn how coronavirus testing is done and why drive-through test sites are considered safer than traditional clinics.
Current Event March 10, 2020
Authorities have locked down the city of Wuhan, China, where the first cases of the highly contagious coronavirus were found. Wuhan residents need to stay in their homes at all times and receive food and other supplies by delivery. Even foreigners cannot leave, since many airlines have suspended flights to and from China. Listen to hear an American teacher in Wuhan describe her daily routine and how she copes with the isolation of life under quarantine.
This audio story was recorded in late February. The news about COVID-19 is changing rapidly and parts of this story may be dated.
Current Event March 5, 2020
A new, highly contagious virus is spreading quickly, prompting many people to wonder how they can protect themselves. COVID-19, an illness caused by a new strand of coronavirus, spreads through tiny droplets sent into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Experts say simple measures like hand washing and avoiding handshakes can help prevent illness. Listen to a science reporter explain how Americans can prepare for a possible outbreak of COVID-19 in their communities and what individuals can do to keep themselves healthy.
This audio story was recorded in early March. The news about COVID-19 is changing rapidly and parts of this story may be dated.
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.
This audio story was recorded in early February. The news about COVID-19 is changing rapidly and parts of this story may be dated.
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.