This Podcast Will Kill You

By Exactly Right

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These ladies are freaking AWESOME, I'm so glad I finally subscribed and downloaded their podcast and their interactions are reminiscent of Karen and Georgia!!! Their research and knowledge of each topic is outstanding!!! I'm loving them!!!!


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

Episode Date
Ep 85 Alcohol: Beer for Thought
To say that alcohol is a part of human culture is a bit of an understatement. The relationship our species has with alcohol can be traced so far back that we see evidence of it in our DNA, in the way that humans, somewhat unique among mammals, gained the ability to more efficiently metabolize dietary ethanol. But while many of us have personal experience with the effects (and unpleasant aftereffects) that alcohol has on our body, how much do we know about why it makes us feel the way it does? What is alcohol doing to our bodies, to our brains? In this episode, we take a long look at this compound, from the varied effects it has on our bodies to the long history it shares with humans. Tune in to our Season 4 finale to hear why hangovers exist, how fermenting fruits on the forest floor led us to intentional production, and the truth behind all of those headlines advocating for a glass of red wine a day to keep the doctor away. See for privacy information.
Nov 02, 2021
Ep 84 West Nile virus: The Crow in the Coal Mine
It’s the summer of 1999 in New York City, and everyone's looking towards the future, towards millennium parties and potential Y2K catastrophes. But if they turned their eyes to the streets around and skies above, they might have seen something else on the horizon, something much more real and alarming than a Y2K glitch: the arrival of West Nile virus. In this episode, we take a close look at the virus whose recent emergence in the Western Hemisphere serves as a crucial reminder of how pathogens know no political boundaries and how working across disciplines is the only way to effectively control and prevent disease outbreaks. We are also so excited to be joined by Dr. Sarah Wheeler, Biologist at Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District, who talks us through the ecology of this mosquito-borne disease and shares the birds-eye view of the situation in North America. Last but certainly not least, we round out this episode with a delightful and informative song about West Nile virus: West Nile Story by MC Bugg-Z and the Fairfax County Health Department. Check out this action-packed episode wherever you get your podcasts! See for privacy information.
Oct 19, 2021
Ep 83 Diabetes: Short & Sweet
Almost everyone is familiar with diabetes mellitus in some way. Whether we know family or friends that have been diagnosed with the condition or we’re directly impacted ourselves, diabetes mellitus has become a household name. And this is perhaps not surprising given its extremely high prevalence - nearly 9% of adults around the globe are estimated to live with the disease. But although we may know someone with diabetes, how much do we know about diabetes itself? How does it work? Why does it cause the acute symptoms and long-term complications it does? Where does an infamous scientific rivalry fit into the story of diabetes? How long have humans been dealing with this disease, and how far has treatment come since the early days of diabetes? And importantly, how has our perception and portrayal of diabetes changed over the course of its history? In this episode, we seek to answer all these questions and many more about the globally-prevalent diabetes mellitus. See for privacy information.
Oct 05, 2021
Ep 82 Anthrax: The Hardcore Spore
Twenty years ago this month, letters containing Bacillus anthracis spores were mailed to various politicians and news media offices in the US, resulting in illness, death, and a widespread fear that transformed anthrax from an agricultural disease or occupational hazard into a potential weapon of bioterrorism. In this episode, we explore the many dimensions of anthrax, from the different ways B. anthracis can cause disease to the incredibly long and varied history of the pathogen, a history of which bioterrorism is only a very recent part. Adding to anthrax’s multifaceted nature is the fact that B. anthracis is an environmental pathogen, one that can greatly impact livestock and wild animals, which requires collaboration across fields to effectively identify and control anthrax outbreaks. To help us explore this pathogen from a One Health perspective, we were so thrilled to chat with Dr. Johanna Salzer, Veterinary Medical Officer in the Bacterial Special Pathogens Branch at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who filled us in on the veterinary side of anthrax, and Morgan Walker, spatial epidemiologist at the University of Florida, who talked us through the environmental factors that affect B. anthracis distribution and emergence. Tune in for a much more than surface-level look at this spore-forming pathogen. See for privacy information.
Sep 21, 2021
Ep 81 Chagas disease: The Reverse Triple Discovery
A nighttime “kiss” from a bug that casts a curse on its recipient in the form of a lifelong, and possibly fatal, illness. No, this isn’t some half-remembered fairy tale. It’s the true story of Chagas disease, caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi and transmitted by many species of triatomines (aka kissing bugs). In this episode, we take you through the utterly complicated biology of Chagas disease in its acute and chronic forms, the surprising evolutionary and historical background of this parasite and the scientist for whom it’s named, and finally the grim reality that is the global status of Chagas disease today.  The dizzying ecological complexity and pathophysiological mystery of this disease makes it a challenge to study, and the lack of funding only compounds the issue; Chagas disease bears the dubious distinction of the most neglected of all the neglected tropical diseases. In spite of this, many people are dedicated to easing the global burden of Chagas disease, and we were delighted to interview two of these Chagas champions for this episode. Daisy Hernandez, Associate Professor at Miami University, joins us to discuss the inspiration for her recent book The Kissing Bug: A True Story of a Family, an Insect, and a Nation’s Neglect of a Deadly Disease, and Dr. Sarah Hamer, Associate Professor at Texas A&M University, delves into the ecological aspects of this disease and shares the incredible community science program that raises awareness about T. cruzi and the bugs that transmit it. To learn more, check out the links below: Daisy Hernandez: website, Twitter (@daisyhernandez), Instagram (@iamdazeher), Facebook  Dr. Sarah Hamer: lab website, lab Twitter (@hamer_lab), Community Science Program See for privacy information.
Sep 07, 2021
Ep 80 Dysentery loves a disaster
While many of us know how deadly dysentery can be from playing countless hours of The Oregon Trail, there’s only so much that the classic game covered regarding this multifaceted disease. For instance, did you know that it can be caused by multiple pathogenic microbes? Or that it is and always has been closely associated with warfare and armies? Or that it remains one of the leading causes of death globally for children under five? In this episode all about dysentery, we pick up where The Oregon Trail left off. Tune in to hear facts about ancient toilets and a list of famous people killed by the disease and to learn how dysentery isn’t just about diarrhea and how the “bloody flux” lives up to its (horrible) colorful name. See for privacy information.
Aug 24, 2021
Ep 79 Hemophilia: A Hemorrhagic Disposition
Bumps and bruises. Cuts and scrapes. Gashes and gouges. Injuries small and large are familiar to all of us, but what happens when part of our body’s innate healing ability is disrupted? What happens, for instance, when the blood just won’t stop flowing? In this episode, we explore one of the most common of these disruptions: the clotting disorder known as hemophilia. From the physiological nitty gritty on how blood clotting actually works to the long history, at times both tragic and triumphant, of the “royal disease”, we trace the story of hemophilia, ending with a hopeful look towards the future.  See for privacy information.
Aug 10, 2021
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 pathogen, we review its surprisingly strange biology, take a brief tour of its history, and wrap up with a look at its current status across the globe, comparing and contrasting along the way. By the end of this ride, you’ll be bursting with Bartonella trivia, in awe of dental pulp, and scratching your head about the transmission of cat scratch fever. See for privacy information.
Jul 27, 2021
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, we walk through the massive investigation into this outbreak that would lead to the discovery of the causative agent, Legionella pneumophila, and explore the biology of this mysterious pathogen. We wrap up the episode with a look at the current status of Legionnaires’ Disease and a potentially grim forecast for its prevalence as the world slowly gets back to normal. See for privacy information.
Jul 13, 2021
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 infections it causes (spoiler alert: shingles as a viral survival strategy?!). And finally we trace its human history from discovery to vaccine to where we stand with chickenpox and shingles today. See for privacy information.
Jun 29, 2021
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 pathophysiological effects of the different forms of mercury exposure on the body, and then take a narrow tour of the metal’s history, focusing primarily on Minamata disease, before wrapping it all up with a look at just how widespread mercury contamination is today. Although the relationship between humans and mercury is as old as history itself, there are still so many lessons to be learned from it, especially “what is the true cost of progress?”. See for privacy information.
Jun 15, 2021
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 seen. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, one of our best reference points for comparison has been, of course, the deadly and devastating 1918 influenza pandemic. What can that pandemic tell us about our own uncertain future, and where do comparisons simply fall short? Did the lessons learned from the 1918 pandemic change the course of COVID-19? Or were we doomed to repeat history? To help us look forward by looking back, we are so excited to be joined by John Barry, award-winning and New York Times best-selling author of books such as The Great Influenza: The story of the deadliest pandemic in history (interview recorded May 25, 2021). This marks the tentative final episode in our Anatomy of a Pandemic series on the COVID-19 pandemic. There is still more ground to cover (there always will be), and it’s entirely possible we’ll produce additional episodes in the future, but this is it for now. Thank you to everyone who has been interviewed, who has sent in their firsthand account, and who has listened. We appreciate all of you so very much. To wrap up this episode as we always do, we discuss the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we’ve listed the questions below:  Can you remind us of some of the similarities as well as some of the differences between the COVID-19 pandemic and the 1918 influenza pandemic? The COVID-19 pandemic has been highly politicized, both in the US and elsewhere. Did we see a similar intersection of politics and public health in 1918, and if so, how did that affect both the way that pandemic played out as well as the aftermath? You wrote that the single most important thing for our society and our governments to do in this pandemic was to tell the truth. How did countries fail to tell the truth in 1918? And how would you rate our honesty during this present pandemic? How do today’s methods of science communication differ from the ways the public got their public health information back in 1918? Was there a similar issue with rampant disinformation campaigns? How did the 1918 influenza affect the public health infrastructure in the US? Did it change the general perception of the role of public health? During the 1918 pandemic did we see countries working together to try and solve the influenza crisis, or did we see intense nationalism due to the ongoing war? After the 1918 pandemic came the Roaring Twenties, with its dramatic lifestyle change and economic growth. Could you talk about what this period looked like and how much of it came as a reaction to the end of the 1918 influenza pandemic and WWI?  How long did the 1918 pandemic live in our collective consciousness as a vivid reality? Given its scale and duration, do you think this pandemic will live in our collective consciousness more vividly? Can you talk about some of the limitations in applying lessons learned from the 1918 influenza pandemic to today’s reality? What are some things that you hope we keep from this pandemic, either personally or as a society? See for privacy information.
Jun 08, 2021
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 ‘brain-eating amoeba’, walk through its recent but global history, and discuss the possible future of this pathogen, both good (e.g. treatments, awareness) and bad (e.g. climate change, land-use change).  Even though this is a very rare disease, its deadly potential is deeply felt by those impacted by it. We are very grateful to Dr. Sandra Gompf, who shares her story of how her son Philip’s fatal encounter with Naegleria fowleri led her to create Amoeba Season, a Philip T Gompf Memorial Fund for Infectious Disease Research project. You can learn more about Dr. Gompf’s story on her website,, where you can also find many helpful links for raising awareness, fact sheets on amoebic meningitis, and a wonderful set of resources for healthcare professionals. As Dr. Gompf says, amoebic meningitis is 99% fatal but 100% preventable, and the best method of prevention is knowledge - Amoeba Season is a great place to start. See for privacy information.
Jun 01, 2021
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 opportunity to recognize this aspect by featuring firsthand accounts that we have received from listeners over the last several months sharing their pandemic experiences. We have no expert to feature for this episode because, by this point, we are all experts in our own COVID-19 stories. Which stories resonate with you? Which ones surprise you? Let us know! And a huge thank you again to everyone who has shared their firsthand accounts with us - we feel so honored to hear them. See for privacy information.
May 25, 2021
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 doesn’t reside solely in the past. Today maternal peripartum infections are still a major contributor to maternal morbidity and mortality worldwide, and, surprise surprise, the impact is not equally felt across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Join us as we dive into this historically rich, medically complicated, and still appallingly prevalent group of infections. See for privacy information.
May 18, 2021
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 become epidemics or pandemics? Where do commercial wildlife markets and subsistence hunting fit into the equation? To help us answer these questions and more, we are thrilled to be joined by Dr. Chris Walzer, Executive Director of Health at the Wildlife Conservation Society (interview recorded April 6, 2021). And for more information on the topics discussed, check out the WCS’s COVID-19 News and Information page and read a recent Op-Ed piece by Dr. Susan Lieberman and Dr. Christian Walzer about why biodiversity is crucial for preventing pandemics.  As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we’ve listed the questions below: Now that we are over a year into this pandemic, what do we know about the sequence of events that led to this pandemic?  People have been studying spillovers and the emergence of novel viruses for a long time and have been saying that a pandemic like this was inevitable. So what did we do wrong on a national or international level? What things did we do right, or what things did we adequately prepare for during this pandemic?  What are the ways in which we’ve made scientific progress or the ways in which the world has fundamentally changed that have allowed this pandemic to play out differently than it could have 20 years ago?  Can you talk us through some of the nuance in the interactions between commercial wildlife markets, spillover events, and wildlife hunting for subsistence purposes? How predictable are spillover events themselves? Or perhaps, how predictable are the scenarios that would increase risks for spillover and how predictable are the events that follow? Since another spillover event could happen at almost any time, what measures do we have in place to prevent these events from turning into another pandemic? Where does wildlife and forest conservation fit into this equation?  Pandemic preparedness and pandemic response are two different things. How do these two aspects of dealing with a pandemic differ and who is involved in each of these efforts? What are people who study this the most concerned about when it comes to the next pandemic? What are the areas in which we still have big improvements to make in how we prepare for or predict or try to prevent pandemics based on what we’ve learned during this one? What do you hope we keep or learn from this pandemic, either personally or as a society? See for privacy information.
May 11, 2021
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 questions and more about this pernicious pathogen, and we are so delighted to be joined by Dr. Winifred Frick, Chief Scientist at Bat Conservation International and Associate Research Professor at UC Santa Cruz, who helps us take a closer look at the ecology and impact of this disease on North American bat populations. See for privacy information.
May 04, 2021
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 mental health issues. In this episode of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series, we seek to understand the factors contributing to the prevalence of these mental health issues among healthcare workers, the stigma that often prevents the seeking of treatment, the role that the COVID-19 pandemic has played in exacerbating these issues, and the ways in which the medical system has done or can do better. We are very excited to be joined by Michael Myers, MD (interview recorded March 29, 2021), psychiatrist and Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at SUNY-Downstate Health Sciences University in Brooklyn, NY and author of several books, including his latest, Becoming a Doctors’ Doctor: A Memoir. As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we’ve listed the questions below: How did you become interested in the field of physician mental health, and what made you choose to pursue it? Can you talk us through some of the challenges healthcare workers face and what impact they have on their mental health? Does this field experience things such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide at higher rates than the general public? What does the stigma surrounding mental illness look like in the medical field and how does it contribute to the high rate of mental health issues in healthcare workers? Can you talk a bit about where these mental health issues among healthcare workers originate and how each step of medical training and beyond contributes to the problem? How much of this is a problem unique to the US and how much of it is universal? What are some of those changes you have seen throughout your thirty-five year career as a psychiatrist primarily treating other physicians? How have we gotten better, and what are the areas in which we have failed to make improvements? How do these public health crises, especially COVID-19, amplify the issues that physicians are already facing in terms of mental health? Can you talk a bit about the “healthcare heroes” narrative and how damaging it can be? What is some of the fallout you think we can expect to see in the long-term from the COVID-19 pandemic? As family members or friends or partners of healthcare workers, what are worrying signs that we can look out for? How do we recognize these signs in ourselves as well? For those who maybe have friends or partners or family members who are frontline health workers, what are some of the ways in which we can help and provide meaningful support during these times as well as in non pandemic times? What do you feel are the biggest failings of the medical system in terms of emotional and mental health support for those in medicine? How can we begin to change things? What role should medical school play? Hospitals? Other physicians? See for privacy information.
Apr 27, 2021
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 control efforts. As a bonus, if you tune in, you’ll get to hear how on earth The J. Geils Band fits into this story and the integral role that dog digestion has played in the history of this parasite. See for privacy information.
Apr 20, 2021
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 existing structural inequalities in the healthcare, educational, legal, and housing systems, among others. In this episode of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series, we explore the deeply entrenched roots of racial disparities in the US, how our narrow focus on outcomes often fails to capture the complex causes of inequalities, and ways in which we can begin to work towards health equity in this country. We are so thrilled to be joined by Harriet Washington (@haw95) (interview recorded March 10, 2021), writer and medical ethicist, whose groundbreaking work on this subject through books such as Medical Apartheid, A Terrible Thing to Waste, Carte Blanche, and others has led to much-deserved critical acclaim. As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we’ve listed the questions below: Can you tell us a bit about your new book, Carte Blanche: The Erosion of Medical Consent, and what inspired you to write it? Although health disparities have been around forever, it was only within the last few decades that the term itself was coined, and it’s often only vaguely defined. Would you mind describing what we mean when we talk about health disparities? Can you talk a bit about how it’s not just being able to go to a doctor or afford a doctor, but how things like access to education, chronic stress, and environmental justice interact with and compound each other when it comes to health disparities? What are some of the different ways that we measure health disparities?  Can you talk about why it is important to understand the context of these disparate outcomes?  Can you talk about the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on communities that were already facing significant barriers to healthcare? How has the narrative of ‘race-based medicine’ shown up in discussions of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on certain groups of people? How can we increase health equity in this country? What can we do at an individual level to help, and what are some policies at the state or national level that could help narrow this gap? How can the medical establishment work to earn back the trust of these communities that we have historically disenfranchised (and in many ways continue to disenfranchise) when it comes to health? See for privacy information.
Apr 13, 2021
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 episode, we want to do more than acknowledge the contribution of Henrietta Lacks and her cells to the field of biomedical science. We want to explore what it is about HeLa cells and other cell lines that makes them ‘immortal’. We want to learn what Henrietta was like as a person. We want to ask how it was possible for her cells to be taken from her without her consent or knowledge. And we want to share the tremendous impact Henrietta and her cells have made and continue to make on our world in so many ways. For more information about the Henrietta Lacks Foundation, check out the website. See for privacy information.
Apr 06, 2021
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 SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as emerging questions such as what exactly is long COVID or how well do vaccines work against the new variants? To take us through this massive topic, we enlisted the help of two experts, Dr. Krutika Kuppalli (@KrutikaKuppalli), infectious diseases physician and assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina (also featured in Ch. 3: Control of this series), and Dr. Jason Kindrachuk (@KindrachukJason), assistant professor and Canada research chair in molecular pathogenesis and emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba (interview recorded March 16, 2021). As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our experts. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we’ve listed the questions below: How much does the infectious dose, or the amount of virus a person is exposed to, play a role in whether they will get the disease and/or how severe the disease might be? How soon after being exposed does someone become infectious and how does that infectivity change over the course of infection? How much does infectiousness or viral shedding vary across disease severity? Are people who are severely infected more contagious than those who are asymptomatic? Could you walk us through the spectrum of COVID-19 in terms of symptoms or clinical observations, touching on first asymptomatic, then mild, then moderate or severe cases? What proportion of cases are severe vs mild vs asymptomatic? How much do symptoms or the general course of disease vary from person to person? How predictable is this virus? Can you talk about some of the lingering effects of infection and how frequently long COVID seems to occur? How has our estimate of the case fatality rate changed over this pandemic? Can you talk about some of the risk factors that seem to be associated with severe infections? Is there any link between blood type and risk of infection? What do we know about pregnancy and infection with COVID-19? Do risks regarding pregnancy vary depending on when during pregnancy someone may be exposed or infected?  What do we know about the duration or nature of immunity and the risk of reinfection? How has treatment for COVID-19 cases changed throughout this pandemic? Are we any better at treating patients with severe cases now than we were eight or so months ago? What do we know at this point about the vaccine candidates in terms of their effectiveness against new variants that have emerged? What does it mean if these vaccines are slightly less effective against some variants than others? What do the latest studies show about vaccines preventing asymptomatic as well as symptomatic infection? What is something you hope to take away from this pandemic, either on a personal level or as a society? See for privacy information.
Mar 30, 2021
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 role of eugenics in creating and promoting the stigma surrounding it, the ethical considerations surrounding genetic testing, and the medical and scientific advancements that give us reason to hope. And we are so grateful to the provider of our firsthand account for sharing their perspective on what it’s like to be diagnosed with this disease. Tune in for all this and more. See for privacy information.
Mar 23, 2021
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 lifecycle, its somewhat recent but surprisingly rich history, and the present threat it poses, especially in light of climate change and the United States prison system. This fungus is much more amongus than you may have suspected. We are also so lucky to be joined by Tori, who shared with us her firsthand account of contracting this fierce fungus. See for privacy information.
Mar 09, 2021
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 could say we’re covering all aspects of this highly-requested topic, warts and all. The historical stigma of cancer as a “woman’s disease”? Check. What’s actually inside a wart? Check. The possible origins of a mythical creature? Check. The massive disparity in vaccine access between high- and low-income countries? Check. Tune in to hear it all. See for privacy information.
Feb 23, 2021
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 transplantation. We begin by examining the immunological nitty gritty of transplant science and follow that up with the long and storied history of transplants. We round things out with a look at the numbers, which show the unfortunate reality that demand far outpaces availability, a reality that may soon be improved with innovative approaches towards bioengineering. And we are so excited to be joined by two fantastic guests, Carol Offen and Dr. Elizabeth (Betsy) Crais, who share their stories of what it’s like to donate or receive a kidney.  Carol, who is a NKF Kidney Advocacy Committee member, has a great website that includes many resources where you can learn more about kidney donation as well as keep an eye out for Carol and Betsy’s book, The Greatest Gift: The Insider’s Guide to Living Kidney Donation. You can also follow Carol on Twitter (@CarolOffen) and through her advocacy page on Facebook. We will also post additional links for where to learn more about organ donation and advocacy work on our website. See for privacy information.
Feb 09, 2021
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 sweating sickness has not been seen since (or has it?), scientists and scholars continue to investigate this mysterious illness and propose various pathogens as the likely causative agent. Tune in to hear us go through the most popular explanations to see if we can form our own consensus on ‘the sweat’. See for privacy information.
Jan 26, 2021
Ep 64 Rubella: Timing is Everything
For many of us, rubella has simply come to mean the R in MMR, the routine childhood measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. But that hasn’t always been the case. There was once a time when the rubella virus routinely made front page news and was at the center of countless legal discussions. This week, we explore everything you’ve ever wanted to know about this virus. We start off by asking what this virus does to your body and how it can cross the placenta, leading to congenital rubella syndrome. Then we journey through the short but impactful history of this disease, from the discovery of the effects the virus can have on a developing fetus to the widespread epidemics that spurred on the development of a vaccine. Finally we wrap up with some much-needed good news about the global decline of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome. See for privacy information.
Jan 12, 2021
COVID-19 Chapter 14: Virology, Take 2
The fourteenth installment of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series on COVID-19 dives into what we’ve learned about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Curious about the new strains or variants making headlines lately? Or how exactly tests for COVID-19 actually work? Or perhaps you’ve been wondering about the different routes of transmission that this virus uses. Whatever your virology question, we’ve (hopefully) got you covered. We were fortunate enough to interview virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen, affiliate at the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security, and whom you may remember from our earlier episode on the virology of SARS-CoV-2, which we released all the way back in March 2020. Dr. Rasmussen was kind enough to sit back down with us to answer all of our many burning virology questions (interview recorded December 30, 2020). As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. If you would like to read Dr. Rasmussen's article in The Guardian about the new SARS-CoV-2 variants, follow this link. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we’ve listed the questions below: Can you tell us a bit about SARS-CoV-2? What kind of virus it is, other viruses it’s related to, and what that tells us about the virus and the disease it causes? Could you tell us a bit more about the B117 strain, like whether this appears to be a new strain and how it is different? Do we have any evidence of any strains that seem to cause more severe disease or affect different populations? Where do these new strains come from? What does this new strain (or multiple new strains) mean for the effectiveness of the vaccines that have been developed? Will these vaccines work against these new strains?  What additional things have we learned about the structure or surface proteins of SARS-CoV-2 that give us more insight into how it causes disease or the widespread effects it has on the body? Is there any indication that the virus can be airborne? Does fecal-oral transmission seem to be playing a role? What are the various ways to test for SARS-CoV-2? Can you walk us through what each experience is like? How do the rapid vs PCR tests work? And can you compare their accuracy? Why does the rapid test have a higher rate of false negatives than the PCR test? What has this pandemic taught us about virology? See for privacy information.
Jan 05, 2021
Ep 63 Poison Ivy: It's Just Us
Our first crossover episode this season with Dr. Matt Candeias of In Defense of Plants stars everyone’s favorite irritating plant-originated substance: urushiol! Join us for a light-hearted deep dive into urushiol, aka the stuff in poison ivy that makes you soooo itchy/burny/scratchy. Have you ever wondered why popping a benadryl doesn’t relieve those oozing, raised welts all over your gardening arms? Or whether a poison ivy rash has ever been used as evidence in a murder case? Or why poison ivy and other plants produce this substance in the first place? Don’t worry, just like a poison ivy rash after a summer gardening sesh, we’ve got you covered. See for privacy information.
Dec 29, 2020
COVID-19 Chapter 13: Vaccines, Take 2
We’re back with another episode in our Anatomy of a Pandemic series on COVID-19. This time, our subject matter is the one everyone has been waiting for: vaccines. In this episode, with the help of two amazing guests, we attempt to answer all of your burning questions about the new vaccines for the virus that causes COVID-19. We walk you through the ins and outs of the technology behind these vaccines, the safety and regulation steps required for their approval, and some of the logistical challenges involved in their distribution. For this info-packed episode, we were so fortunate to be joined by Dr. Maria Sundaram (interview recorded Dec 14, 2020), postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto Center for Vaccine Preventable Diseases and fellow at ICES and Dr. Orin Levine (interview recorded Nov 24, 2020), Director of Vaccine Delivery at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our experts. If at the end of this interview, your curiosity about vaccines is not quite satisfied, check out the COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker website, which is an incredible resource for pretty much anything you could ever want to know about these vaccines. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we’ve listed the questions below: Can you break down what the three potentially successful COVID-19 vaccines are and how each of them work? What are in these vaccines? What are the ingredients and what do they do? There has been some misunderstanding that these vaccines have the potential to give you COVID-19. Can you explain why that isn’t possible? Why are people being advised to wear a mask even after getting vaccinated? What does the timeline look like for these vaccines until we can go to the doctor or pharmacy and get one? Is it a valid concern that this vaccine was developed so rapidly? And could you walk us through some of the steps being taken to ensure safety and efficacy of a vaccine? Can you talk about what emergency use authorization means and whether we’ve seen this before and under what circumstances? Why should people be no more scared of this vaccine than the usual vaccines, like MMR and seasonal influenza? How likely is it that additional side effects we haven’t yet seen or long-term side effects will emerge later on? What do we know about the risk of vaccine-induced antibody-dependent enhancement with this vaccine? What do we know so far about the efficacy of these vaccines? Can you walk us through efficacy vs effectiveness in terms of vaccines? What do we know so far about how long immunity is expected to last from the various vaccines that are close to completion? What are some of the issues with clinical trials in vaccine development in terms of getting a representative subsection of the population and what does this mean for who may be able to get a vaccine once one is ready? Why do you still need to get vaccinated even if you’ve already had COVID-19? For our listeners who may know someone who is hesitant to receive the vaccine, what advice or reassurance can you give them that choosing to get one of these vaccines is a better option than taking your chances with COVID-19? What are the biggest hurdles to vaccine distribution here in the US? What are the biggest hurdles in terms of global distribution of the vaccine? And what is being done to address some of these challenges in vaccine access? We’ve heard about some countries pre-purchasing large stocks of vaccines, how may that affect the global availability especially in lower income countries? How might the availability of several different successful COVID-19 vaccines affect how different countries build their vaccine supply or distribution chain?  Could you talk about how skepticism surrounding vaccines plays into not only vaccine development but administration, and what can be done to rebuild trust in those communities? How do you think this pandemic will change the way that we view either emerging infectious diseases or vaccines in the future? See for privacy information.
Dec 22, 2020
Ep 62 Leishmaniasis, Relationship Status: It's Complicated
The neglected tropical disease known as leishmaniasis is really more of a collection of diseases caused by a variety of parasites transmitted through the bite of a diversity of sandfly species. Sounds a bit complicated? You’re not wrong. But have no fear. Because in this episode, we walk you through the ins and outs of leishmaniasis. From the biology of visceral vs cutaneous vs mucocutaneous leishmaniasis to the archaeological and modern history of these parasites, we give you the basics on one of the most globally prevalent parasitic infections. See for privacy information.
Dec 15, 2020
COVID-19 Chapter 12: Control, Take 2
That’s right, we are rebooting our Anatomy of a Pandemic series in which we cover various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic that has held the world in its grip since early 2020. Since our first episodes in the series dropped in March of this year, we have learned quite a lot about the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the disease it causes, patterns in its transmission, and of course, how we can best control it. In our first episode back, we focus on this last facet by exploring what we now know about policies and practices that work best to slow the spread of this virus and dive into some of the nuance surrounding masks, infection hot spots, and traveling. For this episode, we were so delighted to chat with Dr. Saskia Popescu, infectious disease epidemiologist and infection preventionist and Assistant Professor of Biodefense at George Mason University (interview recorded December 4, 2020) (Twitter: @SaskiaPopescu). As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we’ve listed the questions below: What have we seen so far in terms of regional or statewide control policies or practices that seem to best work for infection control? How might something like a nationwide mask mandate or even just fact-based, rational messaging have changed the course of this pandemic in the US? Can you highlight some of the patterns in the policies or practices of the countries where COVID-19 has been pretty well managed, in your opinion? Basically, what are other countries doing better than we are? Which individual behaviors or practices have been shown to be the most effective for virus control? Can you break down some of the different types of masks and explain which types of masks seem to be doing a pretty great job of slowing transmission and which ones may not be as effective? Our knowledge of where transmission is most likely to occur has become more nuanced as the pandemic has continued. How do things like grocery store visits and outdoor runs compare to indoor dining or working out in a gym? What are we seeing as hot spots of infection and what are safer than we previously thought? Although we know much more now than we did at the beginning of this pandemic, the fundamentals of the virus’s transmission and the ways we can control it haven’t really changed. So where is this surge of cases coming from? Do you think the lockdowns or increased restrictions being put into place in some high prevalence locations will have the same effect in flattening this third wave as they seemed to earlier in this pandemic? Do you think we’ll see a reduction in seasonal respiratory infections overall due to the  mask wearing, increased handwashing, and social distancing people are practicing? What are the steps people can take to be as safe as possible if they are committed to traveling during this holiday season? What would you say to those experiencing COVID fatigue? See for privacy information.
Dec 10, 2020
Ep 61 Typhoid: There's Something About Mary
Your long wait is finally over - the season four premiere of This Podcast Will Kill You has arrived! And to mark the special occasion, we’re taking on a topic that is both classic TPWKY material as well as enormously relevant to current discussions in public health. Typhoid fever has been the cause of untold death and devastation throughout human history, and despite our advancements in both treatment and prevention of the disease, it continues to wreak havoc on millions of people around the world every year. This week, we take a trip through the terror of typhoid, starting by tracing the journey this bacterium makes through your body before taking a look at the long history of typhoid in human populations. And what story of typhoid would be complete without Typhoid Mary? We examine the plight of Mary Mallon in the context of today’s COVID-19 pandemic and discuss the tension that often arises between individual and community rights in matters of public health. Finally, we wrap things up with a look at the current status of typhoid fever around the world (spoilers: it’s pretty terrible) as well as some promising developments on the horizon (spoilers: okay, it might not all be bad!). We are so excited to be back with you this season, coming through your headphones with some casual chat about diseases throughout human history! As always, we are happy to hear from you about what you’d like us to cover, so send any suggestions through our website contact form. For your TPWKY merch needs, check out the sweet offerings on our shop's page. And for extra reading, you can find references for each episode on the episode page or check out our affiliate page or our Goodreads list. See for privacy information.
Dec 01, 2020
Ep 60 Giving birth to "The Pill"
Well, TPWKY listeners, it has been a heck of a year, and it’s not even over yet! But one thing has come to an end: our third season. Given the profound implications these next couple of months will have on the future of health and security in the United States, for our season finale we chose to cover a topic that’s near and dear to our hearts and minds: birth control. Have you ever thought to yourself, “I know this IUD/patch/pill prevents pregnancy, but how exactly does it do that?” or “How on earth did someone come up with this pill and then get it legalized?” If so, you’re in luck. In this episode, we walk through the basics of how the most common hormonal contraceptives work and then journey through the history of the various birth control movements in the United States. Finally, we wrap up with some of the latest developments in birth control technology (male hormonal contraceptives, anyone?) as well as the major legal decisions impacting access to birth control. We want to thank all of you fantastic listeners who have been with us through this wild year. You have made it all worth it! And fear not - we’ll be back with season 4 before you know it. Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the first episode drop of the next season! See for privacy information.
Oct 13, 2020
Ep 59 Thalidomide: Justice Delayed, Justice Denied
The story of thalidomide is often employed as a cautionary tale - why testing a drug’s safety during pregnancy is crucial or why it’s important to choose the right animal models. Or it’s framed as a success story for drug repurposing or regulation. But those tellings often gloss over the darker lesson of thalidomide: that for some companies, the bottom line is more important than human life. This week, we explore all elements of this infamous drug. We start by examining what we know about how thalidomide causes the severe congenital malformations it’s associated with, and then we dive into the deep, dark history of the drug, complete with a full cast of villains and heroes. Finally, we discuss thalidomide’s controversial comeback as a treatment for myeloma and complications of leprosy. Get out your angry hats for this one, people, because you’ll find yourself asking along with us, “why are humans the way we are?” See for privacy information.
Sep 29, 2020
Ep 58 Guinea worm: (Almost) Ancient History
You’ve heard about smallpox, and you’ve learned about rinderpest. Now it’s time to meet what may be the third disease to ever be eradicated: dracunculiasis, also known as Guinea worm disease. In this episode, we take you through the absolutely remarkable life cycle of this not-so-little worm and the nitty gritty of the havoc it wreaks on a person’s body throughout its journey. Then get out your TPWKY bingo cards, because the history of Guinea worm includes not only mummies and historic papyri but also ancient Rome and fun etymology. To bring us up to speed on the current status of Guinea worm today is Sarah Yerian, Senior Associate Director of the Guinea Worm Eradication Program at the Carter Center. Sara discusses not only how the reduction in prevalence of dracunculiasis has been achieved but also the challenges that remain to finally relegate this worm to the history books. To learn more about the Guinea Worm Eradication Program at the Carter Center, check out the website or follow them on social media: @CarterCenter. You can also find the link to our firsthand account here. See for privacy information.
Sep 15, 2020
Ep 57 Herpes: Stop the STIgma
The harm caused by herpes simplex viruses (HSV) 1 & 2 often arises not from the pathology of the viruses themselves but rather from the stigma and shame associated with a positive diagnosis. In this episode, we attempt to lay a clear foundation for understanding not only how these viruses work but also what occurred to change the perception of them from “innocuous infection” to “dreaded disease”. Starting us off with his firsthand account is the incredible Courtney Brame, founder and host of Something Positive for Positive People, a non-profit organization and podcast that aims to provide community support, healing resources, and educational discussions around positive HSV and other STI diagnoses as well as larger issues in sexuality and physical and mental health. We then dive into the meat of the episode, tackling such questions as “how do these viruses hide out in your body?”, “what kind of treatment is available?”, “where did these viruses even come from?” and “why is there such a huge amount of stigma and what can we do about it?”. To help us address this last question is our other fantastic guest, Dr. Ina Park, Associate Professor, University of California San Francisco School of Medicine and Medical Consultant, Division of STD Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We chat with Dr. Park about her new book, Strange Bedfellows, when to have “the talk” with your kids, and how we as individuals can break down some of the shame surrounding a positive STI diagnosis. To learn more about Something Positive for Positive People, head to the website or check out the SPFPP podcast wherever you get your podcasts! You can also follow Courtney on Instagram: @honmychest. And don’t forget to pre-order Dr. Ina Park’s upcoming book Strange Bedfellows: Adventures in the Science, History, and Surprising Secrets of STDs, expected February 2021. You can find out more about Dr. Park and her work on her website or by following her on Twitter: @InaParkMD or Facebook: Ina Park. See for privacy information.
Sep 01, 2020
Ep 56 Sickle Cell Disease: Invisible Illness, Enduring Strength
Neglected and ignored by the medical establishment throughout most of its history, sickle cell disease remains one of the most common (and commonly misunderstood) genetic conditions in the world. In this episode, we break down the myriad effects that one nucleotide substitution can have on the human body and discuss the basics of what it means when blood cells sickle. Continuing with the theme of the seen and unseen, we then turn to the history of sickle cell disease, a history of long-standing injustice and the unending fight to raise awareness and provide support for those impacted by the condition. And as always, we wrap up with a discussion on the current global status of sickle cell disease and some exciting new treatment options on the horizon.  We are so honored and thrilled to be joined this episode by not one, not two, but three incredible guests! You’ll hear first from Marsha Howe and Sharif Tusuubira, who share with us some of their firsthand experiences living with sickle cell disease. And then in our current status section, Dr. Megan Hochstrasser from the Innovative Genomics Institute walks us through the mind-blowing genome editing approaches being used to treat genetic conditions such as sickle cell disease. You can follow Marsha on her website for her non-profit organization and blog “My Life With Sickle Cell” as well as through her social media channels: Twitter: @MarshaMLWSC,  Instagram: @marsha_h181, Facebook: Marsha Howe. And make sure to check out B Positive Choir too! Twitter: @bpositivechoir and Instagram: @bpositivechoir. Learn more about Sharif Tusuubira’s amazing advocacy efforts on his website and through his social media channels: Twitter: @tkksharif, Instagram: @tkksharif, Facebook: Sharif Kiragga Tusuubira. You can also watch his 2017 talk in Washington, DC as a Mandela Washington Fellow. And to learn more about the futuristic-sounding research being done at the Innovative Genomics Institute (including using CRISPR to develop a faster, cheaper coronavirus test!), you can follow Megan (@thecrispress) and IGI (@igisci) on Twitter, or head to their website. See for privacy information.
Aug 18, 2020
Ep 55 Rocky Mountain spotted fever: The tick must be destroyed!
Despite what its name might suggest, the story of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) takes us far beyond the jagged, snow-capped peaks of the western range. From the Bitterroot Valley to southeastern Brazil, it is a story filled with equal parts tragedy and discovery, as the researchers desperate for answers fall victim to the very disease they seek to prevent. In this episode, we dive into the dark past of this deadly disease, first exploring the biology of the teeny tiny organism that wreaks such devastation. As always, we follow that up by tracing the history surrounding this much-feared infection and its role in the creation of one of the world’s leading infectious disease laboratories. Finally, we end with the current status of RMSF, which (spoilers) isn’t as bleak as you might think, thanks once again to antibiotics. Tune in to hear why we’ve been excited to research this episode since the very beginning of the podcast. See for privacy information.
Aug 04, 2020
Ep 54 Wake Up and Smell the Caffeine
Are you one of the billions of people around the world who starts your day with a freshly brewed and deliciously aromatic cup of coffee or tea or maybe even hot chocolate? Or are you caffeine-avoidant, looking on at your coffee-addicted friends with confusion and maybe even pity? In either case, this episode is for you. We are joined by the one and only Matt Candeias of In Defense of Plants to tackle the world’s most consumed psychoactive drug: caffeine. First we get a taste of the massive history of the most popular caffeine-containing beverages, then we trace what exactly caffeine does in your body after that first scrumptious sip. And finally, we explore what role this compound has for those many, many plants that produce it. We hope you find this episode as stimulating as its subject! See for privacy information.
Jul 21, 2020
Ep 53 Radiation: X-Ray Marks the Spot
“I have discovered something interesting, but I do not know whether or not my observations are correct.” With these words, Wilhelm Röntgen introduced the world to an invisible power, a power which would in turn be used to both harm and heal. This week, we take a tour of the wide world of radiation, starting with a primer on what radiation actually is and how it works, courtesy of Dr. Timothy Jorgensen, Associate Professor of Radiation Medicine and Director of the Health Physics and Radiation Protection Graduate Program, Georgetown University. Then we discuss the nitty gritty on what radiation does to you on a cellular level. We follow that up with a stroll through some of the major moments in the history of radiation - from X-rays to atomic bombs and from radioluminescent paint to cancer treatments. Finally we wrap things up by chatting about the many amazing medical applications of radiation therapy and how you can assess the risk/benefit of that X-ray or mammogram. To read Dr. Jorgensen’s incredible book Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation, check out his website or head to our website for our full list of sources. See for privacy information.
Jul 07, 2020
Ep 52 Rinderpest: Moo Cows, Moo Problems
The second disease ever to be eradicated, rinderpest could be the most devastating and notorious infection you never knew existed. Though its name means “cattle plague”, the deadly rinderpest virus infected hundreds of species of animals during its long reign, and outbreaks of rinderpest left nothing but famine and ruin in their wake. In this episode, we start by taking you through the biology of one of the biggest killers we’ve ever faced. We then trace the long history of this feared disease, from fire festival rituals in Russia to the imperialist exploitation of the Great African Rinderpest Panzootic of the 1890s that paved the way for European colonial rule over a large part of the continent. Fortunately, this story ends happily as only one other has done so far - with complete and total eradication. You may have started this episode not knowing about rinderpest, but when you’re done, you won’t be able to stop talking about it. Trust us. See for privacy information.
Jun 23, 2020
Ep 51 The Path of Most (Antibiotic) Resistance
No story of antibiotics would be complete without the rise of resistance. As promised in our last episode, this week we dive into what the WHO calls ‘one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today’ - antibiotic resistance. In the decades since their development, misuse and overuse of antibiotics has led to many becoming all but useless, and our world seems on the verge of plunging into a post-antibiotic era. How does resistance work? Where did it come from? Why did it spread so far so rapidly? Is there any hope? In this episode, we answer all these questions and more. First, we explore the many ways bacteria evade the weaponry of antibiotic compounds. Then we trace the global spread of these resistant bugs by examining the major contributors to their misuse and overuse. And finally we assess the current global status of antibiotic resistant infections (spoiler: it’s very bad) and search for any good news (spoiler: there’s a lot!). To chat about one super cool and innovative alternative to antibiotics, we are joined by the amazing Dr. Steffanie Strathdee (Twitter: @chngin_the_wrld), Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences, Harold Simon Professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Co-Director at the Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics. Dr. Strathdee provides a firsthand account of helping her husband, Dr. Tom Patterson, fight off a deadly superbug infection by calling on a long-forgotten method of treating bacterial infections: phage therapy.   To read more about phage therapy and Dr. Strathdee’s incredible experiences, check out The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir.  See for privacy information.
May 26, 2020
Ep 50 Antibiotics: We owe it all to chemistry!
Fifty episodes. That’s fifty (sometimes) deadly viruses, bacteria, protozoa, parasites, and poisons. And don’t forget the fifty quarantinis to accompany each! What better way to celebrate this momentous occasion than talking about something that may actually save you: antibiotics. In this, our golden anniversary episode, our ambition tempts us to tackle the massive world of these bacteria-fighting drugs. We explore the various ways that antibiotics duel with their bacterial enemies to deliver us from infection, and we trace their history, from the early years of Fleming and Florey to the drama-laden labs of some soil microbiologists. Finally, we end, as we always do, with discussing where we stand with antibiotics today. Dr. Jonathan Stokes (@ItsJonStokes), postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Jim Collins’ lab at MIT, joins us to talk about some of his lab’s amazing research on using machine learning to discover new antibiotics, which prompts us to repeat “that is SO COOL” and “we are truly living in the future.” We think you’ll agree.   To read more about using machine learning to uncover antibiotic compounds, head to the Collins’ lab website, the Audacious Project site, or check out Dr. Stokes’ paper:  Stokes, Jonathan M., et al. "A deep learning approach to antibiotic discovery." Cell 180.4 (2020): 688-702. See for privacy information.
May 12, 2020
COVID-19 Ch 11: Modeling
The eleventh episode of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series has arrived, and just in time. Have you found yourself trying to sift through headlines claiming “this model predicts that” and “that model predicts this”, but you’re not sure where the truth really lies? Then this episode is for you. With the help of Dr. Mike Famulare from the Institute for Disease Modeling (interview recorded April 29, 2020), we walk through the basics of mathematical modeling of infectious disease, explore some of the current projections for this pandemic, and discuss some guidelines for evaluating these headline-making models. As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we’ve listed the questions below: What is a math model and what are some of the goals of mathematical modeling? So talking specifically now about infectious disease models, can you walk us through what the basic components are of an infectious disease model, like an SIR model? Where do you get the data that you use to estimate the parameters in an SIR model - what is based on actual data and what has to be estimated? Infectious disease outbreaks often have a curve-like shape, with the number of infected individuals on the y-axis and time on the x-axis. Can you explain why infectious disease epidemics tend to follow a curve? Can you talk us through some of the assumptions that you have to make when you're constructing one of these models and how that kind of relates to the uncertainty inherent within models? How might that uncertainty affect interpretation? What are some examples of the various ways we use infectious disease models in public health policy? Can you talk about how models might be used at various stages of a pandemic to guide public health measures? How might our use of models early on in a pandemic be different from the middle of one? Speaking specifically about COVID-19 now, can you talk about what a basic model for this pandemic might look like?  Are models for COVID-19 using only lab-confirmed cases of the disease or clinical-confirmed cases as well? Looking back on these earlier models of COVID-19, what can we take away from the performance of these models? Is there any agreement among models as to what policies might be the best in terms of keeping cases and deaths as low as possible?  For those of us who have no background in mathematical or statistical modeling, are there guidelines that we should use to evaluate these models or compare them? What should we (as in the general public) be taking away from these models? Are there any positive changes you hope to see come out of this pandemic, either as a member of the community or as a math modeler? For a deeper dive into the wonderful world of infectious disease models, we recommend checking out this recent video from Robin Thompson, PhD of Oxford Mathematics titled “How do mathematicians model infectious disease outbreaks?” The video was posted on April 8, 2020.   See for privacy information.
May 04, 2020
Ep 49 Eastern Equine Encephalitis: Triple EEEk!
In 2019, eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, made headlines in much of the US as cases skyrocketed compared to previous years. But why is this disease so feared and even more importantly, why is it on the rise? Those are just a couple of the questions we seek to answer on this week’s episode. From the nitty gritty on what this virus does to your body to centuries-long forest dynamics in Massachusetts, we connect the disease ecology dots of EEE. We promise, the biology and history of eastern equine encephalitis is much more exciting than its etymology. See for privacy information.
Apr 28, 2020
COVID-19 Chapter 10: Schools
In the tenth episode of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series on COVID-19, we continue our exploration of the diverse impacts of this pandemic by taking a look at how education and schooling has been affected, with a particular focus on the United States. Massive school closures and transition to distance learning has revealed vast inequities in access to basic educational needs and has highlighted the importance of public schools as more than just a place to learn. We are joined by journalist Jennifer Berkshire (Twitter: @BisforBerkshire) and education historian Dr. Jack Schneider (Twitter: @Edu_Historian), producers of Have You Heard, a podcast on educational policy and politics, to examine the current challenges in delivering educational content during this pandemic and some implications for the future of public schools (interview recorded April 17, 2020). As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we’ve listed the questions below: Have we seen anything like this before, like with the 1918 influenza pandemic and school closures due to polio epidemics? What are some of the services that public schools in the US provide? And how is this pandemic revealing that schools are more than just a place to learn?  Can you talk briefly about the inequalities in education and access and their historical roots? Are these inequalities unique to the United States or are there other countries where similar inequalities are seen or being revealed by this pandemic? Who is being left out in this switch to distance learning?   Can you discuss how well distance learning works across different age groups? Do you think that this epidemic will make policymakers and politicians see the economic value of schools? Or is it going to further decrease funding to schools and result in the dismantling of the public school system? How do you think our definition of school will change after this pandemic? What was the trajectory of funding for public schools before this pandemic? How well does distance learning seem to work?  When schools re-open, what kind of effects are we going to see on current students? Specifically, how do we recover when some kids will have continued to learn during this pandemic and others will likely have fallen further behind?  What positive changes do you hope to see come out of this? See for privacy information.
Apr 23, 2020
COVID-19 Chapter 9: Economics
Episode 9 of our Anatomy of a Pandemic is here, and this week we’re stepping outside our public health sphere to examine COVID-19 from an entirely different perspective, that of an economist. Pandemics don’t happen in a vacuum, and the ripples of their impact extend far beyond those of public health, as nearly every person can attest to today. We’ve seen headlines about a global recession and high rates of unemployment, but what do those things actually mean? Have we seen something like this before or is this uncharted territory? And most importantly, what can we expect? We were curious to know the answers to these questions but we lack the expertise to take them on ourselves, so we asked economist Martha Gimbel, Manager of Economic Research at Schmidt Futures to join us on this episode about the economic impacts of COVID-19 (interview recorded April 14, 2020). A caveat: this episode focuses mostly on the economic impact of the pandemic in the US. As per usual, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we’ve listed the questions below: What are some of the indicators that we use to know how the economy is performing, and what were the trends we were seeing in the months before this pandemic hit? Could you take us through a timeline of the economic impact, starting with the first signs that the pandemic was having an impact on the global economy? What industries felt the pandemic first, and where do we stand now? Could you break down the impact that we’re seeing on the global economy, the US economy, large corporations, small businesses, and the average consumer? Was there a global recession after the 1918 influenza pandemic? If not, what makes these current circumstances unique? Which countries or industries are the most vulnerable and why? Are certain countries or industries proving to be more resilient in the face of this global recession? Can you talk about the gig economy here and how our reliance on low-paid workers with no protection from their employers has impacted our own economic resilience? Can you talk about the implications of the numbers of unemployment insurance filings that we’re seeing and just how staggering they are? Are the current benefits offered through the unemployment system going to be enough to keep people at home and not seeking work in situations that put them at higher risks of exposure? Are there any general trends or predictions in terms of how long this recession will continue and what it will take to recover? How will we know when we have “recovered”? Are you seeing any innovative solutions that people are proposing or starting to implement in terms of a social safety net? What positive changes do you hope this pandemic will bring about? Where is the money for the stimulus checks coming from? Is that $1200 check going to be enough to keep people going for the next few months? See for privacy information.
Apr 20, 2020
Ep 48 Botulism: Why are you the way you are?
You don’t look surprised to see this in your podcast feed - or is that just the botox? This week we’re taking a tour of the wonderful world of Clostridium botulinum and the toxin it produces, at once both poison and prescription. First, we delve into how botulinum toxin acts to paralyze your muscles and under what circumstances you might encounter it. Then we iron out the wrinkles of the why of botulinum toxin, an answer that involves migratory birds, maggots, and marshes. The story continues with blood sausages, an unfortunate funeral party, and a massive shift from toxin to treatment as the therapeutic potential of botulinum toxin is explored. And the best part of this episode? Georgia. Hardstark. You’ve heard the always amazing, ever hilarious, and one of our personal heroes Georgia Hardstark on My Favorite Murder, but now listen to her share her firsthand experience with getting botox facial injections. This episode ranks among our top favorites we've ever recorded, and we hope you love it as much as we do! See for privacy information.
Apr 14, 2020
COVID-19 Chapter 8: Disparities
In the eighth episode in our Anatomy of a Pandemic series focusing on COVID-19, we discuss how this pandemic will likely lead to a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable populations around the globe. “Wash your hands.” “Stay at home.” “Practice physical distancing.” These are the public health messages for how to slow this pandemic. But what happens when you can’t wash your hands because you lack clean water or soap? Or if you can’t stay at home because you’re fleeing a war zone? Dr. Jonathan Whittall, Director of Analysis at Medicines Sans Frontières (aka Doctors Without Borders) joins us to talk about the challenges faced by the most vulnerable populations during this crisis and how MSF is working to overcome those challenges while bracing for the pandemic’s impact (interview recorded April 3, 2020). We wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we have listed the questions below: What kind of projects are you currently working on? Can you talk about what you're seeing in terms of the differences between this COVID-19 pandemic and other public health emergency situations, such as cholera outbreaks in refugee camps or Ebola epidemics? What are some lessons that you think hospitals in other regions can learn from physicians or logistical coordinators that have worked in these situations previously? You wrote a great opinion piece about some of the challenges faced by the most vulnerable populations in trying to prevent infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. Can you talk a bit about those challenges and what the most vulnerable populations are? What are some of the ways that MSF has been trying to overcome those challenges?  What have we seen so far in terms of the impact of COVID-19 on these vulnerable populations? MSF has recently expanded their efforts throughout Europe - can you talk about what that expansion looks like and how different groups or activities are prioritized? As a part of a group that works internationally, can you talk about some of the challenges in coordinating this work internationally and why it's so crucial to communicate across borders? There's been a lot of discussion about how this pandemic may change the way we handle public health at national and, especially, international scales. What are some of the changes you hope to see?   Follow Dr. Jonathan Whittall (@offyourrecord) or check out the MSF-Analysis website ( And read his fantastic article here: See for privacy information.
Apr 09, 2020
COVID-19 Chapter 7: Spillover
Coming at ya with our seventh episode in our Anatomy of a Pandemic series on the ongoing COVID-19 situation. So far in the series, we’ve discussed aspects of the virus’s biology, clinical disease, epidemiology, and control efforts. We’ve briefly touched on aspects of the virus’s ecology, including its origins, but we wanted to take a step back and ask, “how do spillover events happen and how do we stop them?” To answer those questions (and many more), we brought on Dr. Jonna Mazet, Professor of Epidemiology and Disease Ecology at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and Executive Director of the UC Davis One Health Institute, who has spent much of her professional life on the hunt for emerging pathogens (interview recorded April 2, 2020). We pick Dr. Mazet’s brain on how we look for and identify pathogens of possible public health concern, what work disease ecologists are currently doing on SARS-CoV-2, and what we can expect to see in terms of future spillover events. We wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we have listed the questions below: Can you take us through a step-by-step of how surveillance of novel pathogens is done? From the logistics of international coordination to the sampling to the reporting - what does that look like? What happens when you do identify a potential spillover event? Can you talk about how you decide what a hotspot is? What makes a hotspot a hotspot basically? We've talked a lot on this podcast about spillover events, and obviously they can happen in many different ways, but can you give us a general overview of how one occurs? What are some patterns we see with all spillover events? Over the past 100, 200 years, land use change has increased and the barrier between humans and wildlife has decreased - have we seen a corresponding increase in spillover events during that time? What do we know at this point about how SARS-CoV-2 spilled over into humans? I assume eventually we will get a clearer picture of how that spillover event occurred. How can we use that information in the future? Can you talk about what it means for a pathogen to "jump species"? Do viruses more easily "jump species" compared to bacteria, or is it just that we hear more about the viruses? I'd like to talk about what happens when prevention has to shift to control. What are the first steps taken for disease ecologists studying this outbreak? How is the One Health approach being used to study and slow down the current COVID-19 pandemic? What role do we see wildlife conservation playing in spillover events or preventing them? Can you talk about how there can be a conflict in wildlife conservation for the greater good when people are also just trying to feed their families? How do you determine whether something easily moves between species? Is that a genomic question or is it an experimental question?  What do you think are some of the biggest barriers or challenges in identifying these spillover events in the future? The One Health approach is such a great example of interdisciplinary collaboration. Can you talk about what some of the different fields are that work in One Health? What positive changes do you hope to see come out of this pandemic? Follow Dr. Jonna Mazet (@JonnaMazet), the PREDICT project (@PREDICTproject), and the Global Virome Project (@GlobalVirome). Or check out their websites: One Health Institute (, PREDICT (, Global Virome Project ( The firsthand account was taken from a piece by Craig Spencer, MD written for the Washington Post titled, “How long will we doctors last?” See for privacy information.
Apr 06, 2020
Ep 47 Schistosomiasis: A Snail's Pace
It’s back to your regularly scheduled programming this week with an episode on schistosomiasis (aka bilharzia), that scourge both ancient and modern. We kick off the episode by walking you through the amazingly complex life cycle of these blood flukes and the myriad of symptoms they and their eggs can cause, including a “check out the reproductive output on this one!” moment.  We then trace its early appearances in mummies (of course) and ancient writings, following that up with an overview of how imperialism drove the field of tropical medicine in its early days. To wrap up this wormy episode, we discuss the current, staggering numbers on schisto around the globe. See for privacy information.
Mar 31, 2020
COVID-19 Chapter 6: Mental Health
Welcome to Chapter 6 of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series exploring the world of COVID-19. If you have made it this far in the series, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of the information we’re throwing your way. You’re not alone. We were feeling a bit too deep down the rabbit hole as well. So we reached out to Rosemary Walker and Peter Rosencrans, two psychology doctoral students at the University of Washington to talk to us about the mental health impacts this pandemic has had and walk us through some coping strategies (interview recorded March 20, 2020). Hang in there, everyone. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we have listed the questions below: You are both in Seattle, which has been impacted longer than much of the US, so, how are you? (05:55) This is a brand new situation for all of us that's affecting so much more than our physical health.So what are we seeing in terms of some of the mental health outcomes? (09:21) What are some of the challenges that you, as mental health professionals, have faced so far and that you expect to appear in the future related to COVID-19? (15:59) What are some coping strategies that we could use to deal with some of these issues? (19:15) What are some resources for people who normally see a therapist, but who cannot now because of COVID-19? (31:43) How can we as individuals be good neighbors, community members, in this stressful time while still protecting our mental health? (36:50) Do you have any specific resources that our listeners could seek out? (41:09) See for privacy information.
Mar 23, 2020
COVID-19 Chapter 5: Vaccines
Chapter 5 of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series covering all things COVID-19 goes through some of the exciting developments in potential vaccines for this new virus. Starting us off is an anonymous account describing the challenges faced by someone in the US trying to get tested for COVID-19. Then we review some of the basics of vaccines - how they work, the different kinds, and some of the challenges in accelerating the vaccine development pipeline during a crisis such as this. We sought the expert knowledge of Dr. M. Elena Bottazzi (interview recorded March 17, 2020), who is part of a group that is currently working on developing a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2. She answers a number of your vaccine- and treatment-related questions and sheds some light on the prospects of vaccine development for this particular disease. We wrap up again by going through the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we have listed the questions below: What makes this virus a good candidate for a vaccine? (11:05) Why is it more difficult these days to produce completely protective vaccines vs partially protective vaccines? (13:29) How is the vaccine that your group is working on made, what is its target and how does it work? (16:02) What is the timeline of vaccine development, testing, deployment, and how soon might we see an effective vaccine for SARS-CoV-2? (21:19) What steps of this development process can be shortened to get an 'early release' of a vaccine? (25:49) It seems we are better at developing vaccines than we are antivirals; why is this? (28:55) See for privacy information.
Mar 23, 2020
COVID-19 Chapter 4: Epidemiology
The fourth installment of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series takes a look at some of the epidemiological characteristics of the COVID-19 pandemic. But first, we hear about the experience of Katie Burson, who was quarantined along with her family on the infamous Diamond Princess cruise ship in February 2020, when cases of COVID-19 were reported among guests. Then we review some of the disease ecology of the SARS-CoV-2 spillover event and walk through a timeline of the pandemic, which, we have to admit, is pretty chilling to hear. We are joined by Dr. Carlos del Rio (interview recorded March 20, 2020), who chats with us about updated estimates for the R0 of SARS-CoV-2, reasons for regional variation in case fatality rates, and what the deal is with the slow rollout of tests in the US. We wrap up again by going through the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we have listed the questions below: Do we know what the R0 is for this virus? (27:44) Is there a risk for a second wave of infection in China or other places where the disease seems to be slowing down? (29:31) What are the stages of an epidemic curve and what does it mean to flatten that curve? (31:03) Are people who get infected able to be re-infected or are they immune? (32:45) What is the relative effect of social distancing vs herd immunity? (33:31) How can we convince people who can stay home to actually stay home? (34:40) What are the differences between populations that contribute to the differences in case fatality rate between China vs Italy vs South Korea, etc? (36:28) What might we see in terms of numbers of infections or how long the outbreak will last? What's the end game? (38:00) Should the measures that have been enacted in some parts of the US be happening even in places with fewer cases so far? (40:55) Is this virus likely to become well established and another 'seasonal' respiratory infection? (42:16) What's the deal with testing in the US? Why was rollout so slow at the beginning? (43:14) When should a person try to get tested if they suspect they're infected? (45:58) What has this outbreak taught us so far about our ability to respond to pandemics, and how can we do better moving forward? (46:36) See for privacy information.
Mar 23, 2020
COVID-19 Chapter 3: Control
Welcome to the third chapter of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series, in which we cover the many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this chapter, we discuss how epidemic control can be managed from the individual, state, and national levels, as well as the importance of international collaboration to prevent the uncontrolled spread of disease. We start off with a firsthand account from Dr. Colleen Kraft, featured in COVID-19 Chapter 2, who shares the challenges she faces on a daily basis during this crisis while acting as Associate Chief Medical Officer at Emory University Hospital. Then we review some of the terms you’ve probably seen all over the news lately, such as “flattening the curve” or “social distancing”. Dr. Krutika Kuppalli (interview recorded March 18, 2020) shares with us her expertise from a global health and pandemic preparedness perspective, and she answers some of your questions relating to the steps you can take to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community. We wrap up again by going through the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we have listed the questions below: Now that community transmission is established in the US, what can we do to slow it down? (18:05) Do we need to enact these control measures (social distancing, etc.) everywhere, even in places currently have low case numbers? (19:51) Are travel bans effective in slowing disease spread? (21:20) How can we tell if our control measures are working? (22:52) How soon do we expect to see the effect of these control measures? (24:00) There have been a lot of comparisons with seasonal influenza. How does COVID-19 compare to seasonal influenza and why are we taking such extreme measures to reduce the spread of this disease when we don't do so for seasonal influenza? (25:22) How well prepared was the US for this epidemic? (28:25) What have we learned so far to help us stop the spread of this pandemic and prepare for future pandemics? (31:19) What are the risks as this pandemic spreads to less well-resourced areas? (33:39) See for privacy information.
Mar 23, 2020
COVID-19 Chapter 2: Disease
This marks the second installment in our Anatomy of a Pandemic series, in which we discuss the various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this second chapter, we explore what we currently know about the disease itself, from symptom progression to incubation period and the role that asymptomatic individuals play in the transmission of disease. Our firsthand account, told from the perspective of a respiratory therapist, illustrates the severity of this disease and the frightening, yet very real, prospect of running out of medical equipment, protective gear, and hospital beds. We then discuss what we currently know about COVID-19 from a clinical disease perspective. We are joined by Dr. Colleen Kraft (interview recorded March 19, 2020), whose voice you may recognize from our first episode on coronaviruses. She helps to break down some of the disease-related questions sent in by our listeners. We wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we have listed the questions below: What does "respiratory droplet" transmission mean, and how is this different from something with "airborne" transmission? (15:08) What are the symptoms of COVID-19? (16:48) How long is the disease course, and how does this vary between mild vs severe symptoms? (18:45) What does "supportive care" mean in the context of caring for people who fall severely ill from COVID-19? (19:40) How much does viral load correlate with the severity of symptoms? (20:47) What is the incubation period of this disease, how long do people remain infectious, and are asymptomatic people contributing to the spread of disease? (22:22)  What are the groups that are particularly at risk for severe disease? (24:00) Why do children seem to be more resistant to this infection? What about children who are immunocompromised, are they at risk? (27:40) What is the case fatality rate, and how might we expect it to change throughout the course of this pandemic? (29:09) Are there long term complications associated with COVID-19? (31:58) Is it possible to get re-infected if you get this virus and then recover? (32:54) The full article our firsthand account came from can be found here: See for privacy information.
Mar 23, 2020
COVID-19 Chapter 1: Virology
To discuss the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we are introducing Anatomy of a Pandemic, a series in which each episode tackles a particular aspect of COVID-19, from virus biology to clinical disease, from control efforts to epidemiological patterns, from vaccine development to mental health coping strategies during this uncertain time. And we’ve got a quarantini (and placeborita) recipe for each installment! In the first episode of this series, we tackle some of your questions about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that is responsible for COVID-19 (aka COronaVIrus Disease-2019). Our episode begins with a firsthand account from Tiziano, a schoolteacher in northeastern Italy who has been living under the strict movement restrictions imposed by the Italian government in an attempt to limit the spread of the disease. Then, we review some of the basics about SARS-CoV-2 and RNA viruses in general. To help us discern fact from fiction, we seek the expertise of a virologist, Dr. Angela Rasmussen (interview recorded March 15, 2020), who answers some of the listener-submitted questions about the virus itself. We wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we have listed the questions below: What are the origins of this virus? Where did it come from? How can we tell whether this virus originated from one spillover event or multiple? What do we know about the mechanism of how this virus causes disease in humans? Are there multiple strains of SARS-CoV-2, and how do different strains of virus affect disease severity?  Is there a risk of SARS-CoV-2 mutating into something more deadly?  What is Remdesivir and how does it work?  How does handwashing work to reduce transmission risk? How long can SARS-CoV-2 live on surfaces?  What is the minimum infective dose of SARS-CoV-2? See for privacy information.
Mar 23, 2020
Ep 46 Lactose Intolerance: Never trust a fart
Everyone loves a good poop story, don’t they? We certainly hope so, because our good friend Katie shares a fantastic one to kick off our episode on lactose intolerance. In this episode, we explore what lactose is and the symptoms that lactose non-digesters experience when they eat some sneaky cheese or ice cream. Then we explain that this episode is actually flipped - turns out that not being able to digest lactose is the normal state, and those of us who can are actually the mutants! We trace the origins of this mutant allele and how the persistence of pastoralism spread milk drinking far and wide. Where do we stand with lactose intolerance today? Tune in for that answer and for an abundance of milk facts to arm yourself with for the next pub trivia night. See for privacy information.
Mar 17, 2020
Ep 45 Hepatitis C: Hepatiti?
From its discovery only 30 years ago to the recent development of an effective treatment, the short life of the Hepatitis C virus certainly has been action-packed. This week, we take you through the biology of this deadly virus by exploring its cancer-causing qualities and pondering the plural of hepatitis. Then we take a stroll through the often bizarre and disturbing history of blood technology, discussing how a lack of sterilization and screening allowed for the proliferation of the Hepatitis C virus around the world. Finally we ask, “what’s going on in the world of Hepatitis C today?” Spoilers: it’s not all bad! As long as you can afford the treatment of course... See for privacy information.
Mar 03, 2020
Ep 44 Pertussis: Whoop Here It Is
[TRIGGER WARNING: see below]  Whooping cough, that terrible childhood scourge, has been making an alarming comeback due to lapses in vaccination coverage across the globe. And in this episode, we’ll tell you why exactly its return is a cause for concern. From the devastation it wreaks on the body to the untold tragedy of past epidemics, pertussis is a dreaded disease that was nearly relegated to the past thanks to the amazing efforts of three incredible researchers, Pearl Kendrick, Grace Eldering, and Loney Gordon. But as the provider of our firsthand account illustrates, pertussis is still very much present today. We are joined by the incredible Catherine Hughes, who does us the honor of sharing her story about her son Riley and her efforts to raise awareness about the importance of childhood vaccinations.   Read more about the Light for Riley campaign and the Immunisation Foundation of Australia to see the hugely important work being done.   Trigger Warning: The firsthand account of this episode features the death of an infant. If you do not wish to hear this, skip to 5:10. See for privacy information.
Feb 18, 2020
Ep 43 M-m-m-my Coronaviruses
What better time to explore the world of coronaviruses than amidst an outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus that brings to mind memories of SARS and MERS? On this very special episode of This Podcast Will Kill You, we’ll take you through what we know about this diverse group of viruses, from the mild strains constantly circulating to the epidemic ones that make headlines with their lethality. Want to know how exactly these royal viruses make you sick? Or what went on during the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic? Don’t worry - we’ve got you covered. And to help us get a grasp on the current 2019-nCoV outbreak that’s got the world’s attention, we’ve brought on four experts from Emory University to give us the lowdown: Dr. Colleen Kraft, Dr. G. Marshall Lyon, Dr. Aneesh Mehta, and Dr. Carlos del Rio. *Please keep in mind, we recorded this episode on Sunday, Feb 2 and conducted the interviews between Jan 29 and 30, 2020. Since recording, the statistics on 2019-nCoV that we and our guests reported have changed as the epidemic continues to evolve. The figures are changing fast, but the basic info is still relevant. To follow the 2019-nCoV outbreak, our experts recommend the following as reliable sources of information: WHO 2019-nCoV website, especially the Situation Reports Map Dashboard of 2019-nCoV Cases by Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering CDC 2019-nCoV website And to learn more about the amazing work that our special guests do on the regular, follow them on Twitter! Colleen S. Kraft, MD, MSc (@colleenkraftmd) G. Marshall Lyon, MD, MMSc (@GMLyon3) Aneesh K. Mehta, M.D., FIDSA, FAST (@AneeshMehtaMD) Carlos del Rio, MD (@CarlosdelRio7) See for privacy information.
Feb 04, 2020
Ep 42 Dandy Dengue Fever
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 and follow her on Twitter at @Trillo_PA. See for privacy information.
Jan 21, 2020
Ep 41 Ricin: A Bad Seed
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 and follow Matt on twitter @indfnsofplnts. See for privacy information.
Jan 07, 2020
Ep 40 Dancing Plague: Worst Dance Party Ever
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. See for privacy information.
Dec 24, 2019
Ep 39 Toxoplasmosis: Calling All Cats
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. See for privacy information.
Dec 10, 2019
Ep 38 Lead Poisoning: Heavy Metal Episode
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. See for privacy information.
Nov 26, 2019
Ep 37 E. coli (unless it's beets)
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. See for privacy information.
Nov 12, 2019
Ep 36 Shades of Syphilis
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. See for privacy information.
Oct 29, 2019
Ep 35 Lyme Disease: I'd like to check you for ticks
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! See for privacy information.
Sep 03, 2019
Ep 34 Cystic Fibrosis: Complete Somatic Rebellion
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 You can also find his music at and follow him on twitter @allhallowsevil.  See for privacy information.
Aug 20, 2019
Ep 33 Chytrid: The Silent Forest
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!   See for privacy information.
Aug 06, 2019
Ep 32 Ask the Erins
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! See for privacy information.
Jul 23, 2019
Ep 31 Giardia: Gerardia
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. See for privacy information.
Jul 09, 2019
Ep 30 Encephalitis Lethargica: Sleep Perchance to Dream (& Dream & Dream)
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. See for privacy information.
Jun 25, 2019
Ep 29 Aspirin the Wonder Drug: Crossover w/ IDOP
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. See for privacy information.
Jun 11, 2019
Ep 28 H. pylori: Don't try this at home
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. See for privacy information.
May 28, 2019
Ep 27 Vaccines Part 2: Have you thanked your immune system lately?
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 or wherever you are listening to this podcast! See for privacy information.
May 21, 2019
Ep 26 Vaccines part 1: Let's hear it for Maurice
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: For more information on vaccines currently in development, check out: and And, as always, you can find all of the sources we used in this episode on our website: See for privacy information.
May 14, 2019
Ep 25 Put your hands together for: Gonorrhea!
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. See for privacy information.
Apr 30, 2019
Ep 24 Zika: Rumors and Rumours
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. See for privacy information.
Apr 16, 2019
Ep 23 Opening a can of Hookworms
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 and on instagram @meramecvalleygirl See for privacy information.
Apr 02, 2019
Ep 22 Belladonna will dilate your mind: Crossover w/ IDOP
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 and follow him on twitter @indfnsofplnts! See for privacy information.
Mar 19, 2019
Ep 21 Measles: The Worst Souvenir
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! See for privacy information.
Mar 05, 2019
Ep 20 Prions: Apocalypse Cow
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. See for privacy information.
Feb 19, 2019
Ep 19 Scurvy: Thanks a lot, evolution.
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? See for privacy information.
Feb 05, 2019
Ep 18 Hantavirus: The Real Rat Race
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.  See for privacy information.
Jan 22, 2019
Ep 17 Oh No Tetrodo: Crossover w/ TBOSP
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. See for privacy information.
Jan 08, 2019
Ep 16 Scratch and Sniff Diphtheria Membrane
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. See for privacy information.
Dec 24, 2018
Ep 15 MRSA: Make Resistance Susceptible Again
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  See for privacy information.
Dec 11, 2018
Ep 14 Rabies: Don't dilute me, bro
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. See for privacy information.
Nov 27, 2018
Don't Tread on my Monkshood: Crossover w/ IDOP
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  and follow him on twitter @indfnsofplnts! See for privacy information.
Feb 27, 2018
Bonus Episode HIV/AIDS
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. See for privacy information.
Jan 30, 2018
Ep 12 HIV/AIDS: Apathy Will Kill You
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! See for privacy information.
Jan 23, 2018
Ep 11 Ebola: The New Kid on the Block
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. See for privacy information.
Jan 16, 2018
Ep 10 Yellow Fever: Is there a Hamilton song about this?
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. See for privacy information.
Jan 09, 2018
Ep 9 Tuberculosis: A Slow Burn
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. See for privacy information.
Jan 02, 2018
Ep 8 ABRACADABRA - Go Away Malaria!
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. See for privacy information.
Dec 19, 2017
Ep 7 Hit Me With Your Best (Polio) Shot
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. See for privacy information.
Dec 12, 2017
Ep 6 Plague Part 2: TGFA
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. See for privacy information.
Dec 05, 2017
Ep 5 Plague Part 1: The GMOAT
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! See for privacy information.
Nov 28, 2017
Ep 4 The Poop Show
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.  See for privacy information.
Nov 21, 2017
Ep 3 Gnarlypox
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. See for privacy information.
Nov 14, 2017
Ep 2 Skin in the Game, Horse in the Race
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. See for privacy information.
Nov 07, 2017
Ep 1 Influenza Will Kill 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. See for privacy information.
Oct 31, 2017
Episode 0 - TPWKY Season 1 Trailer
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"! See for privacy information.
Oct 23, 2017