This week The Filtrate is a day late, because we were busy celebrating America's birthday yesterday. We baked a cake, but there wasn't enough to share with all 380 million of you, so you'll just have to take our word that it was delicious.
Besides Independence Day, a great reason to celebrate in July is that this month typically has the lowest average daily death rate of the year, according to the CDC. It was nice of them to publish the graph now instead of this Fall, so we can forget about it before the deadliest months (December, January, February) roll around.
Government organizations like the CDC collect data systematically, of course, but in recent years there's been a major push to deputize "citizen scientists," especially using smartphone apps to sample biodiversity. There's a lot to like about citizen science. The major disadvantage is that these efforts tend to yield temporally and spatially biased data; species active in city parks during daytime hours are sampled much better than nocturnal creatures in remote wilderness. This paper outlines a nifty way to address that, using a game-like scoring system to encourage more diverse sampling.
Game-like scoring isn't always a good thing, though. Indeed, in the current version of the US healthcare system, an agency called the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services runs a scoring system to
ruthlessly cut determine funding levels of hospitals and clinics. One of the most punishing scores is the readmission rate, which penalizes facilities when patients return soon after discharge. This persuasive commentary explains the problems with that approach, and suggests some remedies. Don't place any big bets on them getting implemented soon.
Let's move on to something more pleasant: bed bugs. Did you know that these insects (Cimex lectularius) have extremely kinky sex? It's called traumatic insemination: instead of using the regular sort of opening, the male literally stabs the female with his sex organ to inject sperm into her body cavity. The resulting injury is prone to infection, of course. It turns out the female's body anticipates this, ramping up her immune system after feeding, which is when the males go on their stabbing sprees. Isn't that romantic?
If you need to take a deep breath after that last item, be careful not to inhale too much dust. That's how people acquire Cryptococcus fungal infections, which kill hundreds of thousands of people a year. Like a lot of fungi, Cryptococcus has been hard to study in the lab, but this team developed a strategy that let them analyze how it infects mice. It turns out that the spores are much more pathogenic than the vegetative forms. Read the paper to see why.
Another respiratory disease that's been causing a lot of grief lately is Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, caused by a recently discovered coronavirus. Researchers have found that camels are a major reservoir host for MERS coronavirus, but new work reveals that it can also replicate asymptomatically in some other species of domestic animals. That will make control efforts more complicated, but perhaps also more successful.
That's it for this week. If you'd like to respond to something in this issue of The Filtrate, you should have ramped up your immune system before reading it. Whether or not you did, though, you can reach me on Twitter.