This podcast might not actually kill you, but it covers so many things that can. Each episode tackles a different disease, from its history, to its biology, and finally, how scared you need to be. Ecologists and epidemiologists Erin Welsh and Erin Allmann Updyke make infectious diseases acceptable fodder for dinner party conversation and provide the perfect cocktail recipe to match
Here's the Latest Episode from This Podcast Will Kill You:
Our first vector-borne disease episode of season 3 and our first mosquito-borne pathogen in quite some time, dengue virus proves itself to be more than a worthy topic (and quite a formidable adversary in terms of public health). This week we are joined by Dr. Alex Trillo who drops some firsthand knowledge on the excruciating symptoms that give dengue its colloquial name “breakbone fever”, and then we trace the virus’s path from its evolutionary origins in ancient forests to the inevitable emergence of dengue hemorrhagic fever following modern war. We round it all out with some truly horrifying stats on the prevalence of dengue today as well as some promising research on reducing the prevalence of dengue tomorrow.
To find out more about Alex’s incredibly cool research, check out her website at www.alextrillo.com and follow her on Twitter at @Trillo_PA.
Have you missed learning about plant poisons? Well, it’s your lucky day! Today is our first crossover of season three with our friend Matt Candeias of In Defense of Plants. In this episode we delve into the castor bean plant Ricinus communis and its two notorious products: castor oil and the star of the show, ricin. Join us as we learn about ricin’s storied history, which leads us through political assassinations and efficiency in engines, the biology of ricin, which horrifies us with its lethality, and finally, the ecology of the plant, which surprises us with its strategic partnerships.
Looking for more ways to cure your plant blindness? Check out In Defense of Plants at indefenseofplants.com and follow Matt on twitter @indfnsofplnts.
In 1518 a strange sight could be seen all over the town of Strasbourg. Crowds of people dancing unceasingly, unable to control their movements, seemingly heedless of their blistered and bloodied feet. As the contagious dance grew, so did the body count as the frenzied dancers succumbed to exhaustion. Over 500 years later, this dancing plague leaves us with many questions, first among them being, “What in the heck?”. In this episode, we try to get to the bottom of this mysterious infectious dance by investigating several different hypotheses, which lead us down some wild roads. Tune in, put on your best dancing shoes, and drop that beat.
You’ve seen the headlines: could this cat-associated parasite be controlling your every move? Is the love you have for cats pure or merely a manipulation? Join us as we discuss Toxoplasma gondii, the feline-associated parasite that infects a whopping one third of all humans. Yes, you read that right. From the behavior-altering effects on rodents to the ancestral origins of the domestic cat, we dive deep into all things toxoplasmosis, the disease that sounds like it comes straight out of a sci-fi novel.
This episode, our first foray into toxic metals, is heavy in all kinds of ways - metallically, emotionally, informationally, politically. Lead poisoning has been around for about as long humans have been working with lead, but despite its extensive history, it still poses an incredibly huge public health problem today, especially for children. Tune in to hear us chat about the multitude of effects lead exposure can have on your body, the dark and often strange history of lead poisoning (ancient Rome, anyone?), and the alarming extent to which lead exposure affects people around the world today.
E. coli. Such a short name for such a massive topic. This episode we explore the delightful diversity of Escherichia coli, the ubiquitous bacterium that predates humans and can range in virulence anywhere from “you won’t even know I’m there” to “this is really, really, really gonna hurt”. Today we cover the good, the bad, and the ugly: you’ll hear about the innumerable contributions of E. coli to the fields of genetics, evolution, and microbiology, a detailed account of how pathogenic strains can wreak havoc on your guts, and an exploration of one of the most infamous food-borne illness outbreaks in US history. Hoping we’d end it on a happy note? Better luck next time, folks.
That’s right, we’re back! And we’re starting off with a bang. Syphilis, aka the Great Imitator, is the subject of today’s long-awaited episode, and it’s got everything you could imagine. When you woke up today, were you hoping to learn about how this spirochete can invade all of your body’s organs? Or how the geographic origins of syphilis are still disputed? Maybe you were wishing to gain some knowledge about a horrific experiment that revolutionized bioethics and defined what it means to give informed consent? One thing is certain - you’re definitely going to want to know about the current status of this ancient disease (yikes, it’s on the rise) and how to cure it (whew, penicillin works). Tune in to have all these wishes granted.
For our last episode of this season, we’re going out with a bang, or should we say bite? This week we’re tackling the doozy of a disease called Lyme, the most prevalent tick-borne infection in the northern hemisphere. Tune in to hear us navigate the complicated biology of Borrelia burgdoferi, delve into the ancient history of the disease (ice mummy? yes, please!), and trace the tangled ecological web woven by the spirochete, its vector, and its hosts. And to round out this delicious blood-meal of an episode, we are joined by the one-and-only hunter of ticks, ecologist of disease, and PhD advisor of Erins, Dr. Brian Allan! Not only does Brian shine some light on the current innovative research on Lyme disease ecology, but he also details his own experience with the disease. This episode is as full as a tick with information about Lyme disease, making it one you’re not going to want to miss.
The clock is already ticking for our third season premiere on October 29, so mark those calendars, people! And in the meantime, wash your hands, ya filthy animals!
Despite being one of the most common genetic disorders, affecting millions of people worldwide, cystic fibrosis evaded medical description for thousands of years after its first appearance. But the last century has led to a revolution in diagnosis, treatment, and our understanding of the disease. This week we talk all things cystic fibrosis, from salty sweaty tests to European folklore, from Bell Beaker culture to gene therapy. And we are honored to be joined by Jay Gironimi, author of “Can’t Eat, Can’t Breathe, and Other Ways Cystic Fibrosis Has F#$%*d Me”, who chats candidly about his experience with CF. Oh, and the best part? Jay, also the talented musician behind All Hallow‘s Evil, wrote a custom song specifically for this episode! We loved it so much we named this ep after it, and we know you’re gonna love it too.
You can find Jay’s book on amazon in both paperback and digital versions, find the audiobook version on audible and more of his writing at canteatcantbreathe.com. You can also find his music at allhallowsevil.bandcamp.com and follow him on twitter @allhallowsevil.
Walking through a forest at dusk, you’ve likely heard the croaks and groans of frogs and toads forming a chorus in the damp undergrowth. But what if the forest were suddenly, inexplicably, silent? In the 1980s scientists started noticing the forests becoming quieter as amphibian populations around the globe began to decline -- rapidly. Today we are joined by Dr. Taegan McMahon from the University of Tampa to discuss our first ever wildlife disease: chytridiomycosis. Chytrid fungus, or Bd for short, has wreaked havoc on amphibian populations for the last several decades, and researchers are still trying to find a way to stop it.
For more information on Chytrid and Taegan’s research, follow her lab on instagram @mcmahon_lab. For more awesome parasitology pics, check out @uoftampa_parasitology, and for gorgeous biology art, Taegan does watercolors @wandering.ecologist!
What exactly is disease ecology anyway? How did TPWKY come to be? How do we come up with our quarantinis? What’s our favorite pathogen? In this very special episode, you get to hear exactly what you’ve been asking for -- literally. Today we answer listener questions and don’t hold anything back. From what are the effects of climate change on vector-borne disease to what we were like at age nine, you asked and we answered!
Giardia may be the most common intestinal parasite in the US and one of the most common worldwide, but did you know it was only in the last 40 years that it was officially recognized as a human pathogen?! In today’s episode, we’ll travel back to a time before humans knew microbes even existed to discover alongside Leeuwenhoek a whole new world of animalcules like giardia. We’ll find out how seeing these critters for the first time changed everything, and how long it has taken to recognize their impact on the globe. Plus, we’ll tell you all about how giardia gives you such bad poops.
Imagine this: a sickness where millions fell into a deep slumber from which they never woke. Of those that did, many remained trapped in a cage of their own bodies, unable to move or speak but fully aware of the world around them. Imagine that this sickness appeared suddenly, without warning, and spread across the globe, affecting millions in just a few decades. Then, just as quickly as it emerged it disappeared. Survivors were left to suffer, eventually forgotten, while hundreds of questions remained unanswered. This is the story of encephalitis lethargica, the subject of our first ever medical mystery episode. Encephalitis lethargica was a ‘sleepy sickness’ epidemic which afflicted millions in the early 1910s and 20s but has caused only sporadic cases since the 1940s. This mysterious illness revolutionized the fields of neurology and psychiatry and forced physicians to examine where the brain ends and the mind begins. What could cause such an illness and why haven’t we seen it since? Tune in to hear us tell you the story of this fascinating medical mystery.
On this very special crossover episode with our friend Matt Candeias from In Defense of Plants, we’re switching things up from poison to remedy, focusing on the plant-derived wonder drug, aspirin! We cover the ancient use of salicylic acid-containing willow bark to relieve pain and fevers and then reveal how such a harsh compound was transformed into a useable pharmaceutical. We also delve into what happens in your body when you pop an aspirin and discuss why on earth so many plants make this incredible compound. Spoiler - it’s not just a wonder drug for humans.
This week's episode comes with a warning: don't attempt this at home. While self-experimentation has led to many a scientific breakthrough, we're definitely not advocating it. But it happened to work out for the best for Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, even earning them a Nobel prize. That’s right folks, today we’re talking about none other than Helicobacter pylori, the curvy little bacterium identified only a few decades ago to be a causative agent of peptic ulcer disease, a major risk factor in the development of gastric cancer, and a fierce warrior who can survive the harshest of environments: your stomach.
Were you stoked about the history and biology of vaccines we covered in part 1, but left with even more questions? Were you really hoping to hear us talk about anti-vaccine sentiment and address misconceptions about vaccines in detail? Did you want even more expert guest insight?! Well then do we have the episode for you! Today, we delve into the history of the “anti-vaccine movement” which, spoiler alert, is nothing new. With the help of Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and Co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development we address some of the most common concerns and questions that arise about vaccines, their safety, and their efficacy. And finally, we hear from Bill Nye The Science Guy about dealing with the challenges of science communication in the modern world when diseases spread as fast as fake news headlines. Y’all. This is the episode you’ve been waiting for.
You can follow Dr. Peter Hotez on twitter @PeterHotez and check out his book “Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism”
And you can listen to “Science Rules!” the new podcast from Bill Nye the Science Guy, available now on stitcher https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/stitcher/science-rules-with-bill-nye or wherever you are listening to this podcast!
The wait is finally over: this week we are very excited to bring you the episode we’ve been teasing for weeks: vaccines! This week and next (you don’t have to wait a full two weeks for the next episode!), we are presenting a two-part series on vaccines. In today’s episode, we dive deep into the biology of vaccines, from how they stimulate your (amazing) immune system to protect you, to how they make you into an almost-superhero, shielding the innocents around you from deadly infections. We take you back hundreds, nay, thousands of years to when something akin to vaccination first began, and then we walk along the long road of vaccine development to see just how massive an impact vaccines have had on the modern world. The best part? We are joined by not one, but two experts from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr. Gail Rodgers and Dr. Padmini Srikantiah explain the process of vaccine development, highlight the challenges of vaccine deployment, and shine a hopeful light on the future of vaccines. And be sure to tune in next week for part 2 where we’ll focus on vaccine hesitancy and address common misconceptions surrounding vaccines in even more depth.
For more information on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation initiatives, visit: https://www.gatesfoundation.org/
For more information on vaccines currently in development, check out: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ and https://www.who.int/immunization/research/vaccine_pipeline_tracker_spreadsheet/en/
And, as always, you can find all of the sources we used in this episode on our website: http://thispodcastwillkillyou.com/episodes/
This bug deserves a big round of applause and not just because it’s nicknamed “The Clap”. Check out this week’s episode to gasp in wonder at the tricks that Neisseria gonorrhoeae uses to tiptoe past your immune system. Then prepare to cringe at some old-timey treatments for the disease while we trace the history of this ancient pathogen. Finally, make sure you have a quarantini or placeborita in hand for when we chat about the not-so-cheery outlook for this particular sexually-transmitted infection. Believe us, this is one episode you’re not gonn(orrhe)a want to miss.
Zika virus may not have as long and storied a history as many diseases we've covered, but in a short time it has managed to make a big impression. Today we'll talk about how Zika wriggled its way out of obscurity and cover its journey from a mosquito's mouth straight to our newspaper headlines. From the first discovery of the virus in a Ugandan jungle, to the heartbreaking effects only recently discovered, to the future of Zika research and vaccine development, we'll fill you in on everything you want to know and then some.
Today we’re taking a bite out of hookworm, our first macroparasite. We start, as all hookworm journeys must, from the dewy grass, where larvae burrow into your exposed flesh and make their long and winding way to your guts, where the eggs of a fortunate few will be immortalized in fossilized poop. It’s a tale of human migration, of failed eradication, and of overburdened populations. So pull up a chair, take off your shoes, and rest your feet in the cool dew-soaked grass. But watch out for the ground itch...
Find more from Meramec Valley Girl at https://meramecvalleygirl.com/ and on instagram @meramecvalleygirl
Are you ready to dilate your mind? Or at least your eyes? We hope so, because that means you’re ready for another Poisoncast episode! This week we’re joined by our friend Matt Candeias from In Defense of Plants to chat about Atropa belladonna, a lethal yet beautiful plant that lives up to all of its many names, including deadly nightshade, belladonna, devil’s berries, and naughty man’s cherries (yes, really). We’ll explore the ancient myth, medieval lore, and modern murder that make up this plant’s history, and then we’ll venture into the nervous system to find out what belladonna has to do with fight or flight. Finally, we talk evolution to see how this deadly substance helps out its plant producer. Pour yourself a quarantini and listen up, making sure you’ve added the right berries to the mix, of course.
Check out Matt’s website indefenseofplants.com and follow him on twitter @indfnsofplnts!
You’ve seen the recent headlines and heard the news reports, but they’re only part of this deadly virus’s story. This week we’re covering the rest. We take you on a one-of-a-kind tour of measles, exploring how this vaccine-preventable virus can wriggle its way into your cells and cause short-term misery and long-term damage. Then we trace the history of this notorious killer from its bovine beginnings to the devastation it wreaked on unexposed populations. The tour ends with a look at measles by the numbers around the world today. If you take home one souvenir from this tour, let it be gratitude for vaccines!
This week's episode is nothing like any of our past episodes, and there will never be another quite like it. How can we be so sure, you ask? Because this week, we're covering prions, the terrifying, genetic material-less infection that is 100% fatal and caused by nothing more than a humble protein. And not just any protein, a protein you already have in your body. Are you sweating yet? Good. Then settle in and listen to the amazing biology of this terrifying twisted proteinacious particle, the fascinating and fraught history that led to its discovery, and the current research on just how scared you need to be of prions in your brain.
Arr, mateys, climb aboard for a swash-buckling tale of when the high seas were full of disease! Today we’re covering a non-infectious but no less terrifying scourge that has wrecked millions of lives and sent even the bravest of sailors quivering in their boots: Scurvy. From the open ocean to the California gold rush to modern times, scurvy has been causing collagen breakdown throughout human history, and we can blame it all on...evolution?
What do Korea, Slovenia, Finland, and the southwestern US all have in common? If you guessed Hantaviruses, you’d be quite correct. Today we bring you all the details on hantaviruses, from the deadly and terrifying hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, to the less lethal but still horrifying hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome. From its long road to discovery, through the infamous 1993 outbreak and up to the present day, you’ll never look at an adorable little deer mouse the same way again.
Are you hungry for braaaaiiiinnnnssss? Or for fugu at the very least? We hope so, because this week we’re talking zombies and tetrodotoxin. In this crossover episode with Dr. Shane Campbell-Staton from The Biology of Superheroes Podcast, we trace the origin of the modern pop culture zombie back to its Haitian roots. We explore the outrageous evolutionary arms races in which tetrodotoxin, the principal component of so-called ‘zombie powder’, has played a major part. And finally, we answer the age-old question: can a pufferfish make you into a zombie? Be sure to check out Part 1 of this crossover episode, Episode 7 of The Biology of Superheroes Podcast, where we discuss the biological basis of death, whether we’re prepared for a zombie outbreak, and behavior-manipulating parasites. You can follow Shane @superbiopodcast on Twitter.
This episode is so good that we’re putting it out a full day early. Pour yourself a quarantini and cozy up with us as we tell you a story of a bacterium that slowly strangles children to death, a scientific quest that helped shape the understanding of infectious diseases, and a great dog sled race across wild and frozen lands to stop death in its tracks. The main character of this story is, you guessed it, Diphtheria. This dreaded disease still lingers, infecting children throughout the world today with its stinking pseudomembrane. But don't worry, it's not all bad news... we have a vaccine.
We've gotten pretty graphic on this podcast before, but this episode takes it to a whole new level. The omnipresent Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium that wears many faces. Often that face is harmless, but Staph has the power to invade and infect nearly every organ of the body, leaving destruction (and a lot of pus) in its wake. While Staphylococcus aureus has been wreaking havoc on humans since well before the discovery of antibiotics, Methicillin-resistant Staph aureus (MRSA) has risen to terrifying prominence as resistance becomes the new norm. If any disease could make you run out (or stay in) and wash your hands, it’s this one. As always, you can find all of our sources at thispodcastwillkillyou.com/episodes.
After a long hiatus we are back with a much anticipated look at one of the most feared diseases of all time: rabies. We cover everything from its evolutionary history to its massive case fatality rate, from why it makes you slobber so much to how Pliny the Elder thought you should treat it (spoiler: don't try it at home, folks). Sit back with a foam-topped quarantini in hand and enjoy our first episode of season 2.
What's the difference between a physician and a pretender, a magician and a poisoner? That's a question we'll try and answer in today's episode! We are very excited to bring you our first botanical poison crossover episode with our good friend Matt Candeias of the awesome podcast and website, In Defense of Plants. This week, we'll talk about Wolfsbane, or Monkshood, or Aconitum, or any of its various common names. The point is, get ready to learn about a pretty gnarly poison, its history, how it affects your body, and why on earth a plant would make such deadly compounds from an ecological and evolutionary perspective.
Don't forget to check out our guest spot on In Defense of Plants where we talk about two plants commonly used in herbal remedies. You can find it on itunes or wherever you are listening to this pod. Check out Matt's website indefenseofplants.com and follow him on twitter @indfnsofplnts!
The cherry on top of our first season, this bonus episode features more of Frank, Hillel, and Brryan's stories. Frank and Hillel, who live on opposite coasts of the US, share what it was like for them to live through through the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 90s. Brryan and Hillel also share their experiences living with HIV today. We were incredibly moved by all three of their stories and are so honored to get to share them with you. We hope you enjoy it!
If you'd like to hear more from Brryan, you can find him on social media @BrryanJackson, and also find his website here.
If you'd like to learn more about Being Alive LA, the speaker's organization Hillel mentioned, you can find their website here.
This is it, y'all: the season finale. This week we’re talking about HIV/AIDS, one of the biggest pandemics of modern times. We were fortunate enough to speak with three individuals who have had vastly different experiences with HIV/AIDS. Frank Iamelli, who took care of many of his friends throughout the epidemic, Hillel Wasserman, who has been living with HIV since 1987, and Brryan Jackson who was diagnosed with AIDS when he was only 5 years old. In this episode, you'll get a glimpse into their stories and then we'll fill you in on all of the biology, history, and present state of HIV in the world.
Don’t forget to tune in next week for our special bonus episode where you will get to hear more of Frank, Hillel, and Brryan's stories in depth. In the meantime, here are a couple of links to Brryan's website and Being Alive LA which you'll hear more about next week!
Let's face it. This is the episode you've been waiting for. Are you ready for one of the most publicized epidemics of the century? Because we're ready to tell you about it. Ebola has been in the scientific consciousness since 1976, but why did it take an outbreak of epic proportions for you, dear listeners, to hear about it? Well, listen closely for the answer. Special guests this episode include badass scientists Lauren Cowley, Nell Bond, and Sarah Paige, who will share their first-hand experiences with the 2014 Ebola epidemic.
Today we're talking about yellow fever, a disease with a history as colorful as its name, and a vector as pretty as a picture (depending on whom you ask, I suppose). From an epidemic that decimated Memphis, Tennessee in the late 1800s, to the development of the vaccine, to where the offending mosquito hangs out today, we'll cover everything you need to know about this disease. Like for example did you know that A. Ham The Man himself was infected?! Yeah, me neither. Let's learn things together.
Today, we’re taking a page straight out of Dickens and talking about tuberculosis- a disease as rich in history as it is in bloody sputum. We'll travel the path of an individual Mycobacterium tuberculosis as it makes it way down the respiratory tract of its victim and waits patiently, hidden and untouchable. We’ll learn why Nicole Kidman's skinny physique was so en vogue in Moulin Rouge, talk about ‘The Royal Touch’, which isn’t quite as creepy as it sounds, cover enough of Koch's postulates that you can give yourself an honorary microbiology degree, and oh so much more.
It's both a disease of dinosaurs and a plague of people. A gin and tonic might make you forget how much those bites itch, but it won't protect you much from this mosquito-borne monster. That's right people, today we're talking about malaria! We're super excited to tell you about this parasite since it's one of EAU's personal favs (are we allowed to have favorite horrible diseases?). Come along as we travel back millions of years to explore malaria's wee beginnings, trace its path as it shaped human evolution, take a short botanical detour to make that G & T, and end up where we first began--in 2017. Turns out that monster hasn't released humanity from its clutches quite yet.
A scientific rivalry for the ages, a president with a closely kept secret, and a summertime with no pool time. What do all these things have in common? Well step right up and take a listen- today we're talking about polio, that virus that just won't quit.
We're back with another episode all about plague-TGFA: Thank Goodness For Antibiotics! Today we'll focus on the status of plague in the modern world: where it is, where it isn't, and what we can do about it. And as always, we'll let you know whether or not to put on your scaredy pants.
That's right y'all... Today we're talking the GMOAT: The GREATEST MORTALITY OF ALL TIME: BLACK DEATH. This episode we'll cover the biology and history of one of the most epic diseases of all time- Yersinia pestis the causative agent of plague. It's such an epic topic in fact, that you'll have to tune in next week to catch up on the current status of plague around the world!
That's right.. this is the poop show! Today we talk cholera- the bacterial disease that makes you liquid-poop your pants (and then some). Travel back in time with us to when London was a sewage-filled cesspool until the Original John Snow stepped in to save the day and created the field of epidemiology. But is cholera a thing of the past? Not so much.
This week we pay tribute to one of the gnarliest diseases of all time, and the only human disease that's ever been eradicated (thus far). That's right, people- we're talking smallpox! It's gonna get grody. Smallpox has a depressing history, a fascinating biology, a moderately uplifting present, and a precarious future. We'll cover it all.
This week we tackle leprosy. That biblical (or is it?) infection that, believe it or not, is still with us today. Leprosy has an ancient history that exemplifies some of the worst of human behavior, and its present day status may surprise you.
In Episode 1 we're talking all things flu, just in time for the start of flu season! We'll dive into the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed literally millions of people, then talk about the state of influenza in the world today, and tell you everything you need to know about how the flu virus works.
Welcome to This Podcast Will Kill You, your new favorite way to learn about disease biology, history, and stuff to gross out your dinner party guests. Join us October 31st for Episode 1 of Season 1- "The Plagues You Know"!