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This Podcast Will Kill You

Exactly Right

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

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


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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




Ep 78 Bartonella: Keep Calm and Carrión

“Let’s do Bartonella next,” we said. “It’ll be straightforward and fun,” we promised ourselves. Turns out we were half right. In this fun but not quite straightforward episode, we tackle not one, not two, but three different species of Bartonella bacteria that can cause disease in humans: Bartonella bacilliformis (Carrión’s disease), B. quintana (trench fever), B. henselae (cat scratch disease). Essentially, we’re giving you three mini-turned-maxisodes for the price of one! For each...


Ep 77 Legionnaires' Disease: A Killer Mist

Celebration wasn’t the only thing in the air in Philadelphia in July of 1976. Over the course of several days during the 58th Annual Convention of the American Legion, a killer mist spewed out of the air conditioning units throughout the building and into the sidewalks nearby. The result was a large outbreak of unexplained febrile pneumonia, often fatal, that would acquire the name Legionnaires’ Disease. What was causing this terrifying disease and how could it be stopped? In this episode,...


Ep 76 Chickenpox: There's always a 'but'

Ah, chickenpox, that pesky old childhood illness. And that’s all it is, right? Just a mild, routine infection that we all used to catch until the vaccine came around? Not quite. In this episode, we learn that, when it comes to the varicella-zoster virus, not everything is as it seems. We explore the complex nature of this virus, how it can make you kinda sick and then how it can make you really, really sick. After that, we dive into the evolutionary origins of this virus and the different...


Ep 75 Mercury: The cost of progress

When you think of mercury, what springs to mind? Is it the entrancing drop of shimmery liquid that flows from a broken thermometer, giving the metal the name quicksilver? Or is it the warnings of overconsumption of fish and bioaccumulation? Or perhaps it’s the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland? The story of mercury, in both its biology as well as its history, is vast and varied, and in this episode, we attempt to piece together a picture of this heavy metal. We first delve into the...


COVID-19 Chapter 20: Looking forward by looking back

Over the past year and a half, we have learned so much about this virus, but there is still more to know. There always will be. We have seen the widespread impacts that the pandemic has had on all facets of society, but there is still more to see. There always will be. The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and its effects will continue to be felt for years to come. What can we expect in a post-pandemic future? Frankly, no one knows. But we can make some guesses based on what we have already...


Ep 74 Naegleria fowleri: The "brain-eating amoeba"

Every summer, when the warm weather rolls around and the local ponds and lakes heat up enough for a tempting dip, remember that there may be something else lurking in those waters besides the people looking to cool off. Naegleria fowleri, the topic of today’s episode, makes its home in warm, fresh waters, and that’s mostly where it stays, until a chance encounter between human and amoeba introduces it to a new locale: the brain. In this episode, we explore the brutal biology of the so-called...


COVID-19 Chapter 19: Your Stories

From virology to vaccines, from education to economics, and from disparities to disease, our Anatomy of a Pandemic series has covered many different aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. With such a broad range of topics and an often birds-eye view of the situation, it can be easy to forget that this is a large-scale event happening to individual people. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are widespread but also deeply personal and absolutely unique. In this episode, we wanted to take this...


Ep 73 Puerperal Fever: Seriously, wash your hands

Our sign-off, “wash your hands, ya filthy animals”, has never been more appropriate than with this episode on puerperal or childbed fever, now known as maternal peripartum infections. It took us over seventy episodes to get here, but today we finally tell the tragic story of Ignác Semmelweis, the “father of hand hygiene” and “savior of mothers”, whose keen observations and devotion to his patients earned him ridicule in his time and respect in ours. But the tragedy of this episode’s topic...


COVID-19 Chapter 18: Conservation & Pandemics

The COVID-19 pandemic has touched all of our lives in incredibly varied ways, with no two experiences exactly alike. Despite this, we all probably share the same thought: how can we stop this from happening again? In this episode of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series, we ask that question in the context of wildlife conservation. Why is protecting biodiversity synonymous with protecting our own health? If spillover events themselves are inevitable, how can we limit the likelihood that they will...


Ep 72 White-Nose Syndrome: How deep is your torpor?

A fluffy white fungus and a little brown bat. A deafening silence and an uncertain future. In this episode, we explore one of the most devastating wildlife diseases in recent times, white-nose syndrome. Since its debut in North America in 2006, this fungal pathogen has spread across much of the continent, leaving millions of dead bats in its wake. Why is it so deadly? Which bats are at risk? Where did it come from? And most importantly, what can we do about it? We attempt to answer these...


COVID-19 Chapter 17: Frontline Mental Health

This pandemic has certainly taken its toll on all of us, but one group that has been particularly hard hit are those who have been on the front lines, continuing to take care of patients even when PPE was running low or nonexistent, even when there were no more ICU beds available. During both non-pandemic and pandemic times, physicians and other healthcare workers experience a tremendous deal of stress and pressure that can lead to depression, isolation, anxiety, moral injury, and other...


Ep 71 Onchocerciasis/River Blindness: So many mysteries

In this classic TPWKY episode we travel down rivers and into worm-laden nodes as we take a look at the complex world of Onchocerca volvulus, the vector-borne parasite that causes river blindness. Join us as we learn why the name ‘river blindness’ captures only one dimension of the devastation caused by this parasite, how the short evolutionary history of this worm is at once surprising and enlightening, and why grasping the disease ecology of this system has been crucial in successful...


COVID-19 Chapter 16: Disparities, Take 2

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted racial and ethnic minorities, especially here in the United States. Higher infection, hospitalization, and death rates due to COVID-19 have been observed for historically marginalized groups, and the harmful effects stem beyond those relating to health, with higher unemployment and food and housing insecurity also reported. Yet these disparities did not emerge anew from this current pandemic; rather, this pandemic has served to amplify...


Ep 70 Henrietta Lacks: HeLa, There, & Everywhere

Of the many topics our podcast has covered in the past, from smallpox to scurvy, vaccines to birth control and beyond, one factor has linked nearly all of them: HeLa cells. These cells and the woman from whom they were taken have often remained behind the scenes in the coverage of these topics, but they have nevertheless been absolutely fundamental in the development of technologies, the advancement of knowledge, and the discussions of ethics, ownership, and informed consent. In this week’s...


COVID-19 Chapter 15: Disease, Take 2

We’re over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and our understanding of this virus and the disease it causes has grown immensely. And while we’ve learned so much about the spectrum of disease severity, the wide array of symptoms, and the effectiveness of various treatments, there is still so much we are discovering about this illness. In this installment of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series covering the COVID-19 pandemic, we review what we currently know about the disease caused by the...


Ep 69 Huntington’s disease: Let’s talk frankly

Despite being one of the earliest recognized genetic diseases, many aspects of Huntington’s disease remain shrouded in mystery. This stems in part from our limited grasp on how our own minds work but also from the dark history of Huntington’s disease and the shame and silence that accompanied it for so long. In this episode, we attempt to bring what we know about Huntington’s disease into the light, to talk frankly about the characteristics and progression of this hereditary disease, the...


Ep 68 Coccidioidomycosis: It’s never a spider bite

Don’t be daunted by the length of this disease name or just how difficult it looks to pronounce. By the end of the episode, you’ll be saying it right along with us, and bonus, you’ll also be armed with a whole bunch of excellent trivia about this fascinating fungal disease. In this episode, we dive right into all things coccidioidomycosis, also known as Valley fever, which also happens to be the first human fungal pathogen we’ve covered. We’ll walk you through its unusual dual natured...


Ep 67 HPV: My wart be with you

The world of human papillomaviruses is vast and varied, and causing cervical cancer is just one of the many roles these viruses can take on. From their carcinogenic tendencies to their more benign wart-forming ways, this episode explores what these tiny viruses have taught us about how our bodies prevent cancer, how imaginative old timey cures for warts can be, how slow acceptance of the facts and a failure in marketing led to a delayed and impaired vaccine uptake, and so much more. You...


Ep 66 The Outs and Ins of Organ Transplantation

From the first skin grafts to the future of 3D printed organs, the science of organ transplantation has always seemed like something out of a sci-fi novel. How on earth can an organ from one person be removed and successfully placed into another person? Who first attempted such a monumental feat, and how long did it take for trial and error to become trial and success? Our episode this week seeks to answer these questions and so many more as we tackle the massive topic of organ...


Ep 65 Sweating Sickness: Ready, Sweat, Go!

Here’s a pop quiz for all of you: what disease makes you sweat profusely, run a slight fever, develop body aches and a pounding head and then makes you drop dead within hours of symptom onset? If you answered “I have no idea”, you passed! Because we haven’t a clue either. In this episode, we attempt to tease apart the mysterious sweating sickness, which struck only five times in the 1400s and 1500s in England, leaving in its wake terror, confusion, and a trail of bodies. Although the...