Reservoirs of Salt Adapted Yersinia pestis

The Arab Maghreb is one of the most arid environments to host plague reservoirs. The most recent study on the area highlights the proximity of plague foci to salt water, either the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean or importantly inland salt lakes (Malek et al, 2016). These inland salt springs, called chotts, are saltier than the ocean.... Continue Reading →

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Ötzi’s Lyme Disease in Context

One of the ancient DNA finds that continues to intrigue me is the discovery of Borrelia burgdorferi, the agent of Lyme disease, in Ötzi the 5300-year-old ice mummy from the Italian Alps. As far as I know, this is the only finding of B. burgdorferi in ancient remains of any date.  I discussed the initial report... Continue Reading →

Landscapes of Disease Themed Issue

For the last couple years, I have been writing about a landscape-based approach to the study of infectious disease in general and historic epidemics in particular. When I first wrote about Lambin et al.'s now classic paper "Pathogenic landscapes" nearly three years ago, I did not know then that it would be so influential in... Continue Reading →

The Promiscuous Human Flea

by Michelle Ziegler The human flea seems like a misnomer today. We are not its current primary host, but that doesn't mean that it once wasn't our primary flea.  Pulex irritans was first described by Carl Linnaeus as the "house flea" in 1758 (Krasnov 2012:4) and it is still found in homes in many parts of... Continue Reading →

Dogs as Plague Sentinels and Vectors

I've been a little obsessed with thinking about dogs and the plague lately. Dogs are often overlooked in historic plague discussions because they usually survive plague and dog-specific fleas are not associated with transmitting plague. Yet, dogs can host many of the fleas common among rodents and others that do transmit the plague including the... Continue Reading →

Multi-strain Plague Blooms Over Landscapes

Two articles have come to my attention over the couple months that argue strongly for an environmental role in plague epidemics/epizootics over clonal expansion. Taken together these studies suggest that multiple strains of Yersinia pestis percolate out of multiple reservoirs at the same time. The strongest support comes from Madagascar where ten MLVA defined strains from... Continue Reading →

Reading in July

  As I start working on my book project, I'm going to have less time to develop blog posts, so I thought I would share what I'm reading with you each month. This will also give me an incentive to keep blogging and reading! I'll list the books I've read and the papers that I... Continue Reading →

‘Seed and Soil’: an epidemiological parable

I've been thinking about the 'seed and soil' metaphor used by turn of the century by physicians who accepted germ theory but only had environmental medicine to combat infections. All classically trained physicians, whether religious or not, would have been familiar with the biblical parable of the sower. It also works well as an epidemiological... Continue Reading →

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