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Tick bites can make you deathly allergic to meat

In Lyme Disease, Uncategorized on August 13, 2012 at 8:15 pm


By Sarah Laskow

Photo by The Adventures of Kristin & Adam.

If there weren’t enough reasons to be totally terrified and grossed out by ticks (they drop on your head from the trees, they suck your blood, they burrow into your skin, they transmit a terrible disease you’ll never be fully rid of), the bite of a lone star tick can trigger allergies that mean eating a hamburger can lead to anaphylactic shock.

Helen Chappell writes in Discover Magazine about her experience with this relatively unknown danger, and her account is pretty dire:

Tick saliva is “a really good provocateur of an immune response, even outside of an infection,” Commins told me, though they are not yet sure whether it’s bacteria carried in tick saliva or the saliva itself that is responsible. But they believe that something in some ticks’ saliva stimulates the human immune system to produce antibodies to a sugar present in mammalian meat, though not poultry and fish, called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal for short). The next time an unsuspecting meat lover chows down on a hamburger, those antibodies could rally a systemic allergic reaction.

Except not right away. Maybe not until hours later.

You can have a steak for dinner and not know anything’s amiss until the middle of the night. Add to that the fact that different kinds of meats — or even different cuts of the same kind of meat — can cause more or less severe reactions, and you’ve got a recipe for confusion.

Now, normally, we’ll all in favor of people eating less meat, but no one should have to undergo a near-death experience to get to that place. Ugh, ticks!




Sarah Laskow is a reporter based in New York City who covers environment, energy, and sustainability issues, among other things. Follow her on Twitter.




Long Tick Season in Affected Areas

In Lyme Disease on May 7, 2012 at 8:01 am


It could be a long tick season in affected areas; tips for staying safe

May 1, 2012

Shortly after her first child was born, Colleen Safford left Manhattan for a 10-acre spread north of the urban jungle to create a new life for her growing family — a life immersed in the outdoors.

But along with the woods and grassy fields came a drawback of country life in the Northeast: the black-legged tick, which can carry the Lyme disease bacteria.

“I wanted grass stains for my kids instead of cement scrapes,” said Safford, who owns a dog boarding business on her property in Chatham, N.Y., about two hours north of New York City. “I wanted them to have an intense outdoor experience, and Lyme disease came with it. But it’s worth it.”

There were 30,158 cases of confirmed and probable Lyme cases reported in 2010, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 94 percent of those cases being reported from 12 states in the Northeast and upper Midwest.

The disease may be spreading, according to a study released in February in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. It showed a clear risk across much of the Northeast, from Maine to northern Virginia; a high-risk region in the upper Midwest, including parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois; and “emerging risk” regions including the Illinois-Indiana border, southwestern Michigan and eastern North Dakota.

The mild winter this year could increase the number of Lyme cases. Adult ticks have been active earlier than usual and people have been getting outside sooner than they typically do, increasing the exposure season, said Paul Curtis, a natural resources professor and tick expert at Cornell University.

Nobody suggests staying indoors this summer. But nature enthusiasts, hikers, gardeners and people who work outside in high-risk areas need to guard against ticks.

“If you’re engaged in outdoor activities and you do regular tick checks, you’ll be able to find them,” said Phillip Baker, executive director of the American Lyme Disease Foundation. “Once they take a meal, they get bigger. If they’re still there the next day and it’s still less than 48 hours, you can pick them off. That gives you a bit of a safety measure.”

Only an infected tick attached to your body for about 36 to 48 hours can make you sick, he said.

Lyme disease causes flu-like symptoms including fever, chills and achy joints, and often a distinctive bull’s-eye rash. Most people recover quickly when treated early with antibiotics, but untreated infections can cause more serious conditions like Bell’s palsy, arthritis and neurological problems.

Besides tick checks, the American Lyme Disease Foundation recommends wearing light-colored, tightly woven clothing to make it easier to see crawling ticks; avoiding sitting directly on the ground or on stone walls; walking in the middle of established trails rather than at the edges; tucking pants into socks, and shirts into pants; and wearing covered shoes.

For sun lovers and others who don’t want to cover up, there are spray repellents that Baker said work “pretty well.”

There also is clothing made with the insect repellent permethrin bonded to the fibers.

Other ways to help prevent Lyme disease, according to the CDC, include bathing after being outside, to help spot ticks or wash of ones that haven’t attached yet; checking outdoor gear and pets for ticks; and running clothing through a hot dryer for an hour to kill any ticks.

In New York’s Columbia County, where Safford lives, Lyme is a part of everyday life.

“People talk about it like you would talk about a common cold up here,” Safford says.

“You just need to be aware that it’s in your environment and err on the side of caution in terms of your checking, but not allow it to hinder or affect your lifestyle.”

Her two older children — Sayer, 5, and Orla, 3 — attend a school where they spend most of the day outside tending to gardens and animals, and the family of five often hikes on weekends. Only Sayer has been treated for Lyme, twice when he was 4.

Boys ages 5 to 10 have the highest number of reported Lyme disease cases, according to federal figures.

Safford says she uses natural repellents against Lyme and checks her children’s bodies nightly at bath time, removing any ticks that are found. Ticks are especially fond of bodily creases such as armpits, the back of the knee, the groin and the nape of the neck.

“We just say, ‘tick check,’ and they lift up their arms and I look through their scalp and hair,” Safford says. And she and her husband scan each other. “It’s very romantic,” she joked.



CDC Lyme site:

American Lyme Disease Founndation:

Philadelphia police working to arrest bedbugs

In Bed Bugs on July 12, 2011 at 6:55 pm

A bedbug infestation is a worst nightmare at home, and at hotels, but what about the police station? Police have called an exterminator to the Harbison and Levick street station to deal with a possible case of bed bugs.

Fraternal Order of Police Vice President Roosevelt Poplar says the building is a busy one–with prisoners, and hundreds of officers from the 2nd and 15th Police Districts, and the Northeast Detective Division.

“The 15th District is a closed circuit facility which means that they do processing of prisoners and they all transport prisoners from that locations down to the Police Detention Unit,” said Poplar. “It’s possible that the bedbugs can travel either on a prisoner or on officers.”

New York Again Tops Bedbug Charts

In Bed Bugs on May 26, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Bryan Derballa for The Wall Street Journal
Bedbug exterminators at work in New York City last year.

It probably isn’t much of a surprise, but bedbugs are taking a bigger bite out of the Big Apple so far this year, according to one exterminator company.

For the second consecutive year, Terminix ranked the city first in the nation for bedbug infestations, edging out Cincinnati, Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia.  (In better news for New Yorkers, a rival ranking by competitor Orkin ranked the city only the seventh worst for bedbug cases.)

Terminix’s city rankings are based on the number of customer complaints and infestations discovered by employees of the company’s 350 U.S. branches. The company wouldn’t release specific data on just how many bedbug complaints it gets, but it said the problem is multiplying.

Bob Young, an entomologist and Northeast and Midwest division manager for Terminix, estimated that he has logged two to three times more bedbug calls over last year, following high-profile cases in which bedbug invasions forced several Manhattan businesses to close temporarily.

Is any borough of New York more infested than the others?

“Manhattan,” said Young, who is based in New York. He the added: “Clearly, Brooklyn and Queens. The Bronx. Even in the rural areas. They’re all over the place. These things, they hitchhike.”

Business for bedbug exterminators boomed last year. Bedbugs start at $500 a room, and off-site fumigation of personal belongings can add another $1,000, Young told WSJ columnist Anne Kadet last year. High-end residential jobs involving art and antiques can cost as much as $20,000.

This summer projections for bedbug activity probably won’t help New Yorkers feel more at ease. ”It’s a larger and larger problem each day,” Young said. “College students seem to bring them home with them.”

Young, who has been with Terminix for 15 years, said he started seeing the critters hit New York in the early 2000s. Since then, complaints have risen ten- to fifteenfold, he said, as the public becomes more aware of their presence.

Last year, bedbugs shut down the flagship Niketown store on East 57th Street, the Hollister Epic store in SoHo and a Victoria’s Secret on the Upper East Side, among other locations. And the insects made a debut at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

This year? “They’re even in police-department squad cars,” Young said.

Grad students detect malaria with cellphones

In Malaria on May 1, 2011 at 11:39 am

“In a post on his website, The Gates Notes, Bill Gates stressed the importance of the future of cell phones for solving health care problems.

“Cell phones are amazing tools,”  he wrote. “For some of us, they’re about staying in touch. For millions of people, it could be about staying alive.”

Gates’ foundation announced last year that it would give $100,000 in grants to eight scientists who are using of cell phones in areas with limited resources to improve health care.”

Regarding the competition, Gates wrote that it’s “one of the most important science competitions in the world.”

By Amy Simpson

Staff Writer

Published: Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Central Florida FutureCourtesy Tristan GibeauThe future of diagnosing malaria may be just a snapshot away.

UCF computer engineering graduate student Tristan Gibeau and the other members of Team Lifelens have been working since November on a technological innovation for Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2011 competition.

Lifelens formed not only to participate in the technology competition, but also to create a simple, accurate and cost effective way to diagnose malaria. Gibeau joined the team after meeting Wilson To, a University of California-Davis graduate student who created the project idea, through the Microsoft Student Partner Program, where they both work from their respective campuses.

For this year’s Imagine Cup competition, Gibeau and Lifelens developed a mobile smartphone application that uses high magnification and software developed by Gibeau to detect malaria in a blood sample. The phone is equipped with a special lens that is easily placed onto the phone’s image sensor, as well as an app that the team created.

“He came up with this idea, and I ran with it,” Gibeau said regarding To and the project. “And now we have a full working product that can detect both malaria as well as cell locations.”

Using just a drop of blood smeared onto a slide, a photo is taken of the sample and a phone with Lifelens technology can visualize the blood on a cellular level to detect the presence of malarial parasites. It can also test an individual’s blood count to eventually test for anemia.

“It was something that we felt was very important,” said Gibeau. “Right now, current [malaria] testing is not very good. It’s very, very clunky.”

The team, which is spread across the nation, communicates via its computers, using email and desktop sharing. The U.S. finals will be the first time Gibeau will meet face-to-face with any of his team members, aside from To.

“It can be hard,”  Gibeau said. “I feel like we could probably be more productive if we were all together, but then again, we’ve done a pretty good job.”

The team competed in last year’s competition under the name Mobilife. They won the software category of the U.S. competition and moved on with 400 other students to Warsaw, Poland for the finals. There, a team from Thailand swept the competition with their software that translates speech into sign language and text in real time.

Gibeau was brought onto the team for this year’s competition because of his experience with programming and computer vision image processing. In layman’s terms, Gibeau said, it is “pretty much finding things in images.”  For example, finding malaria in a photograph of cells.

The theme of this year’s competition is “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems,”  and that’s what the Lifelens team hopes to do.

According to UNICEF, malaria has a 15-20 percent mortality rate, and the majority of those deaths occur in children under five. The disease must be recognized promptly for treatment to be effective. After taking a photo of a blood sample, the Lifelens app takes 1-2 seconds to detect the presence of malaria. Current technology accurately detects malaria 40 percent of the time. Lifelens has 90 percent accuracy. It also costs less.

In a post on his website, The Gates Notes, Bill Gates stressed the importance of the future of cell phones for solving health care problems.

“Cell phones are amazing tools,”  he wrote. “For some of us, they’re about staying in touch. For millions of people, it could be about staying alive.”

Gates’ foundation announced last year that it would give $100,000 in grants to eight scientists who are using of cell phones in areas with limited resources to improve health care.

Regarding the competition, Gates wrote that it’s “one of the most important science competitions in the world.”

Though he is battling lack of sleep, Gibeau considers the experience worthwhile.

“In school I’ve always done all these projects,”  he said. “I personally wanted to do this project because I wanted to apply my knowledge, my experience, what I know in general to be able to help someone other than myself.”

The U.S. Finals are being held in Seattle next week, and the World Finals in May will be in New York City — the first U.S. city to host the World Finals.

The yearlong competition has taken place every year since 2003, starting with just 1,000 participants that first year and growing to more than 325,000 last year.

Sharon Pian Chan of the Seattle Times called it “a World Cup for nerds.”

Aside from the title and monetary award for winners, there are many benefits for competitors, according to Microsoft’s Academic Developer Evangelist, Tara Walker.

“It’s a great way to start their own business,”  said Walker. “That’s another benefit that the students really get. It can further their career and can take them to the next step after they graduate.”

The competition gives participants real world experience and the opportunity to network with like-minded students as well as industry professionals. Their projects can also get visibility, which can lead to support and funding.

” I am not aware of any companies that do this to the magnitude that we do,”  said Walker.

The team hopes to be able to detect sickle cell anemia in time for the World Finals. Gibeau has already written down the procedure to program the application to do so. They would also like to work on preventive technology, to keep deadly diseases at bay by knowing how and where they spread.

“I enjoy this stuff so much,”  Gibeau said. “I’m glad I’m putting my knowledge and resources into good use.”

Second National Bed Bug Summit

In Bed Bugs on January 25, 2011 at 3:49 pm

The Federal Government is convening the second national bed bug summit on February 1 and 2, 2011. The goal for this summit is to review the current bed bug problem and identify and prioritize further actions to address the problem. Here is a link to attend the webinar:

We are going to the 2nd Annual Bed Bug Summit in DC. Many of the leading experts in govt., academia and business will be attending and discussing the growing problems associated with bed bugs. Notice the cool new search tool for solutions. When we are ready for the market our products will be listed there as well.

New York City’s Problem With Bedbugs Getting Itchier

In Bed Bugs on January 19, 2011 at 9:38 pm


Bed Bug Panic in NYC


“Tons of people that have infestations don’t say anything and, if they are in apartments, the people next door are the ones with a complaint finally. They may not file a complaint, but they may go through the proper channels and tell the landlord or co-op board or condo owner,” said Mr. Sorkin. In 2010, there were 4,846 violations and 13,472 complaints, up slightly from 4,811 and 12,594 in 2009.

In New York, bedbug complaints are registered with the city’s 311 nonemergency hotline. The landlord is notified of the complaint and the department contacts the tenant to confirm the complaint before making a site visit where a city inspector will visually inspect the home. If bedbugs are found, a violation is issued.


Why Bedbugs Won’t Die

In Bed Bugs on January 19, 2011 at 9:19 pm


The first comprehensive genetic study of bedbugs, the irritating pests that have enjoyed a world-wide resurgence in recent years, indicates they are quickly evolving to withstand the pesticides used to combat them.

The new findings from entomologists at Ohio State University, reported Wednesday online in PLoS One, show that bedbugs may have boosted their natural defenses by generating higher levels of enzymes that can cleanse them of poisons.

In New York City, bedbugs now are 250 times more resistant to the standard pesticide than bedbugs in Florida, due to changes in a gene controlling the resilience of the nerve cells targeted by the insecticide, researchers at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst recently reported.

Maryland lawyer bites back with bedbug lawsuits

In Bed Bugs on November 28, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Daniel Whitney has staked his claim on the title of Maryland’s bedbug barrister: Since Sept. 1, the Towson attorney has filed eight lawsuits on behalf of bedbug victims across the state seeking a total of more than $7 million in damages. MORE

Who You Gonna Call? For Bedbugs, an Out-of-Work Actor

In Bed Bugs on November 16, 2010 at 12:00 pm
One bedbug (Cimex lectularius) traumatically i...

Bed bug

For struggling New York actors reduced to waiting tables for a living, there’s finally an alternative career path: bedbug hunter. Ever since the city began suffering from a widespread infestation of the pernicious bugs last year, demand has soared for people to get rid of them. Actors, it turns out, make the perfect bug busters. More

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