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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 9:19 am | Fair 47º

Your Health

Scott LaFee: Talk About Worming Your Way into Extra Credit

Researchers at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands wanted to better understand the pathology of Katayama syndrome, an illness caused by parasitic Schistosoma worms. So they, like scientists everywhere, turned to the most ubiquitous of guinea pigs: graduate students.

Two students agreed to become infected with male worm larvae (chosen because they cannot lay eggs in their hosts). A few weeks later, the students developed symptoms such as fever and headaches. They recovered, and their cases proved that it wasn’t the parasite’s eggs causing the syndrome, but perhaps antigens on the developing worms.

Body of Knowledge

Women tend to have worse dental health than men, a fact that appears to date back to early human origins. The reason, according to one University of Oregon study, is a combination of reproduction pressures and rising fertility.

Changes in female sex hormones, a lesser production of saliva than men (and a different biological composition) as well as immunological and behavioral alterations during pregnancies all make women more likely to get more cavities.

Get Me That, Stat!

A sedentary human gives off heat at a rate of 100 joules per second, or 100 watts. This means that a class of 10 students is as good at heating a classroom as a kilowatt heater. There’s no telling how hot a room gets with a class of 10 nonsedentary small humans.


27: Percentage the overall U.S. cancer death rate has dropped from 1991 to 2016, and yet ...

1.76: Number of new cancer cases, in millions, this year

600: Number of cancer deaths, in thousands, this year

American Cancer Society

Mania of the Week

Klazomania: An obsession or compulsion to shout or scream. It’s sometimes associated with certain neurological disorders, but also with alcohol abuse and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Best Medicine

“What happened to you, Mr. Smith? You look terrible.”

“Well, doc, you told me to take this medicine for three days and then skip a day. All that skipping wore me out.”


“The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.” — French writer François-Marie d’Arouet, better known as Voltaire. (1694-1778)

Medical History

This week in 1941, Ernst Chain and Howard Florey conducted their first test injection of penicillin into a human test subject.

Albert Alexander, 43, had scratched his face on a rosebush. When the scratches turned septic, and blood poisoning and numerous painful abscesses followed, Alexander agreed to the experimental treatment. Within four days, he had greatly improved.

However, Chain and Florey has only a limited amount of penicillin and were forced to stop treatment when they ran out. The infection returned, and Alexander died four weeks later.

Sum Body

A portrait of you, elementally speaking:

Hydrogen: 62.91 percent

Oxygen: 24.003 percent

Carbon: 11.97 percent

Nitrogen: 0.58 percent

Calcium: 0.24 percent

Phosphorus: 0.14 percent

Sulfur: 0.04 percent

Everything else: 0.11 percent

Medical Myths

Without the help of, say, a bleaching agent, hair cannot turn gray overnight. A bad scare or traumatic event won’t do it.

Hair gets its color from melanin, the same substance that darkens skin. Melanin in hair comes in two pigments, both of which are produced by cells called melanocytes and then taken up by another kind of cell called a keratinocyte. These are the cells that make up hair. When keratinocytes die, they retain their color. Your visible hair, no matter how shiny and alive, is literally dead.

When melanocytes stop producing pigment, hair loses color. Gray hair has less pigment; white hair has none. Hair color is controlled by genes, and when people lose hair color, if they do, is dictated by heredity. If it happens, it happens gradually, never overnight.

Med School

Q: What are lancets, fleams and scarificators?

A: Before the invention of the hypodermic needle (1853), these were instruments for puncturing veins to extract blood. Lancets were small, broad two-edged surgical knives, often with a sharp point. Fleams had several shafts that folded up like a pocketknife, each with a different-sized cutting blade. Scarificators were especially scary: Each had a set of 12 spring-driven rotary blades. Released by a trigger, the blades made several quick, shallow cuts.

Last Words

“I can’t come to the phone at the moment because I’m dead.” — The answering machine message left by an English scientist who hanged himself.

Scott LaFee is a staff writer at UC San Diego Health and the former chief science writer at The San Diego Union-Tribune, where he covered science, medicine and technology. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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