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Science in the city

2 Oct

As many of you may know, this summer I interned at the University of Florida’s Health Science Center communications office. While most of the work there was for PR purposes, I was still able to cover some of the great research going on at UF. Below is a cover story I wrote for The Post about research going on at the UF’s Jacksonville campus. Pretty cool stuff. Enjoy!

Editor’s note: This story was originally posted in University of Florida’s Health Science Center magazine, The Post.

Researchers Fabiana Rollini and Dr. Jung Rae Cho work with Dr. Dominick Angiolillo on cardiovascular studies in Jacksonville. -Photo by Maria Belen Farias

Researchers Fabiana Rollini and Dr. Jung Rae Cho work with Dr. Dominick Angiolillo on cardiovascular studies
in Jacksonville.
-Photo by Maria Belen Farias

Amid the hustle and bustle of Jacksonville, University of Florida Health scientists are finding ways to solve some of our most challenging medical problems.

In the basement of the emergency medicine corridor of UF Health Jacksonville, Robert Wears, M.D., a professor in the department of emergency medicine, scans engineering books and medical journals, taking notes on his cluttered desk. He is carefully piecing together the historical puzzle of hospital safety.

Bridging the fields of engineering, psychology, medicine and sociology, Wears is designing an approach to eliminate hospital accidents, mistreatment and misdiagnosis.

“The way that nature has divided up her problems is not the same way the university has divided up its subjects,” Wears says. “You need a really interdisciplinary group.”

By studying hospital safety from a historical perspective, Wears hopes to devise an interdisciplinary plan to minimize harm in health facilities.

Wears is just one of the many world-renowned UF researchers who reside and study in the heart of Jacksonville. Located less than two hours from the main campus in Gainesville, UF Health Jacksonville typically has been known more for the clinical care it provides patients. But the research occurring at the UF College of Medicine- Jacksonville — basic, translational and clinical — is internationally recognized. M.D.s and Ph.D.s from around the globe collaborate to pump out groundbreaking research to improve public health and medicine. In fact, during the past five years, federal funding for research on the Jacksonville campus has grown 110 percent. Continue reading

Be swamp-conscious: Pet owners should be aware of deadly pathogen in Gainesville

30 Sep

Research corner

Research Corner is a platform for scientists to share their research and its significance through blogging. Scientists who wish to contribute to Layman’s Terms Media can simply send blog pitches to  Scientists will have an opportunity to collaborate with an editor to make sure their work is concise and understandable. Any research is welcome! 


My name is Jackson Presser and I am a master's student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment  pursuing a degree in Interdisciplinary Ecology.  I have worked in a lab for almost 3 years doing field and laboratory research on the emerging pathogen Pythium insidiosum(PI).  I think I have truly found my calling in research science.  I have never in my life been so exited/motivated to learn and expand my knowledge base.

My name is Jackson Presser and I am a master’s student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment pursuing a degree in Interdisciplinary Ecology. I have worked in a lab for almost 3 years doing field and laboratory research on the emerging pathogen Pythium insidiosum(PI). I think I have truly found my calling in research science. I have never in my life been so exited/motivated to learn and expand my knowledge base.

A researcher at the University of Florida has been conducting research on a fungal-like organism called Pythium insidiosum. Below, Jackson Presser, a graduate student at the University of Florida’s School of Natural Resources and Environment shares his discoveries about the deadly, disease-causing oomycete that can infect both plants and animals. Horse, dog and cattle owners in north central Florida should be aware of the symptoms and preventative measures they can take to keep their pets and livestock safe from a disease known as Pythiosis. 

By: Jackson Presser

Pythiosis is a deadly disease of horses, dogs, cattle and other warm-blooded animals in tropical and subtropical regions, including Florida and the southeast United States (Mendoza, 2009). The disease also infects humans in Southeast Asia and is considered a potential emerging pathogen in the United States due to its expanding geographic and the number and variety of available hosts. The organism responsible for pythiosis is Pythium insidiosum, a fungal-like organism (oomycete) that is the only mammalian pathogen in a genus of plant pathogens (de Cock et al., 1987).  Not much is known about the life cycle of Pythium other than how it reproduces in the lab.  It is theorized that Pythium uses a plant host to sustain itself and reproduce in the environment, making the pathogen “trans-kingdom,”or able to infect both plants and animals.

Pythium insidiosum is common in stagnant, swampy water (lakes/ponds with water temperatures ranging from 68F-95F) worldwide, and the very type of water that is a staple of Gainesville and surrounding areas.  Pythiosis affects its host depending on how it is introduced. Dogs, horses, cattle and other mammals can be infected simply by wading or drinking water that has been tainted with the infection.  Since Pythium cannot penetrate healthy tissue the exposed area must already have an area of broken skin.  Once infected, death will result if left untreated.

Pythium insidiosum’s ideal living conditions:

Here is the map of the lakes sampled The colors just represent the different genetic clusters. Red is cluster 1, Green is cluster 3, Blue is cluster 4.

Here is the map of the lakes sampled
The colors just represent the different genetic clusters. Red is cluster 1, Green is cluster 3, Blue is cluster 4.

  • The organism favors water temperatures of 75 degrees Fahrenheit or more. They can be found at lower temperatures, but detection rate declines significantly with temperature below 75 degrees Celsius.
  • Water can be murky or clear.
  • Warmer water and more available sunlight favor the reproduction of the organism.
  • Reeds, lilies and grasses are preferable.
  • Dark, thick, muddy soil is best
  • Agricultural runoff seems to help with population density.  For example,  the more remote the body of water the less chance of finding the organism.


Symptoms can vary depending on where the animal is infected. Some of the most common symptoms include skin lesions that do not heal, or gastrointestinal problems such as loose stools, vomiting or loss of appetite.


Currently there are several forms of treatment available, all of which have varying degrees of success.  There is no guarantee that treatment will be successful, even in humans.  Currently the best form of treatment is prevention. Researchers advise pet owners to keep animals out of the water during the warm spring and summer months.  If exposure does occur, wash the infected area thoroughly with bleach spray, and plenty of soap and water.  If symptoms progress, owners should seek veterinary care right away.


  • We thank Dr. Barbara Sheppard in the College of Veterinary Medicine for clinical isolates.
  • This research is funded by the Emerging Pathogens Institute and UF Office of Research.


  • De Cock, A. W. A. M., et al. Pythium insidiosum sp. nov., the etiologic agent of pythiosis. J. Clin. Microbiol. 25 (1987).
  • Mendoza, L. in Oomycete Genetics and Genomics: Diversity, Interactions, and Research Tools (eds K. Lamour & S. Kamoun) (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009).
  • Mendoza, L., Hernandez, F. & Ajello, L. Life cycle of the human and animal Oomycete pathogen Pythium insidiosum. J. Clin. Microbiol. 31, 2967-2973 (1993).
  • Schurko, A. M. et al. A molecular phylogeny of Pythium insidiosum. Mycol. Res. 107, 537-544 (2003).


Contact information:

Jackson Presser


What’s the deal with Dengue Fever? If you live in Florida, don’t ignore.

27 Aug

Summer Science explained:

Summer Science explained is a new blog series on Layman’s Terms Media. Each week, phenomena that are unique to summer time will be broken down and explained. I am currently taking suggestions for topics, so if there is something you’ve always wondered about feel free to contact me and pitch an idea!



Mosquito-borne disease advisory

As a Floridian I have somewhat become immune to the feel of a mosquito bite.

The annoying quick itch sensation is quickly thwarted by the thoughtless reflex of my hand slapping the affected area and then quickly scratching up and down for a few seconds. After that, I pretty much forget about the bite.

When going on my evening runs, I usually plan to wear bug spray and then realize I have none. I really haven’t ever bought any. As far as I can remember, I only wear it if someone who has it offers it to me. This person is usually not from Florida and probably read/heard about our horrible mosquito problem prior to residing.

But, after scanning the news headlines the last few days and seeing the words “Dengue fever” populating the “most read” sections, I may have to make a run to the store and buy a bottle of repellent.

Turns out, areas populated by these pesky insects have more to worry about than bug bites and West Nile virus. Just last week there were seven cases of dengue fever outbreak in Martin and St. Lucie counties and one in Miami-Dade County.

In the 1930s dengue loved to lurk around and infect people in the Sunshine State, but because of high-tech inventions such as AC and window screens the problem was somewhat eradicated.

But, in 2009 the virus decided it wanted to go on vacation again, and chose  at least 28 people in Key West to be its rgracious “hosts.”  In 2010, it made it’s way from various mosquitoes to about 66 more people on the small island. The virus took a brief vacation, but has decided once again to wreak havoc, this time in Central Florida with the latest outbreak mentioned above.

Although dengue can potentially be fatal, most people experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, eye pain, pain of the muscles and joints (which is why it has the nickname breakbone fever) and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.

Ok so we know what dengue causes. . . but what is it? 

Dengue is an infectious disease typically transported by mosquitoes, specifically the Aedes aegypti  and Aedes albopictus species which are both common in Florida. 

Dengue fever virus is a single-stranded RNA virus that belongs to the family Flaviviridae, and is kin to other well-known viruses such as Yellow Fever and West Nile Virus.  All of the viruses in the flaviviridae use arthropods such as ticks and mosquitoes as their main vector, or form of transportation.

The virus has four known strains or serotypes (DENV-1, DENV-2, DENV-3 and DENV-4). A person who contracts one strain, and then later a different strain has a higher potential for the disease to be fatal.

It only takes one bite–by a female mosquito– to get infected, so if you’re like me and barely pay attention to bites, you may want to pay a little more attention in case you become ill.  It takes anywhere from 3 to 14 days after the bite for symptoms to show.

Once the infected mosquito bites its prey, the virus and saliva from the bite partner up to enter into the host’s white blood cells, multiplying while it moves through the body. The white blood cells then panic and produce signaling proteins to warn the body. Unfortunately these signaling proteins are responsible for most of the symptoms.

picture from Wikipedia Commons

picture from Wikipedia Commons

But, about 80 percent of those who unwittingly are chosen to be hosts for the virus are either asymptomatic or express only a mild fever.  For this reason, dengue can easily be mistaken for the flu, but a blood test can easily confirm whether you have the virus.

Currently, there is no licensed vaccine or treatment for dengue except for staying well-rested and drinking tons of fluids to stay hydrated to ease the symptoms.

What’s the scope of the problem?

If you’re reading this and think. . . 9 people out of the millions of people in the state? I get you, but a paper that appeared in Nature  in April suggests that scientists are underestimating the scope of the problem worldwide. The study says that there could be about 400 million cases annually around the globe (four times the estimate by the World Health Organization), which would make it even more prevalent than malaria.

The authors of the study suggest that even though the disease has often been referred to as a tropical disease, it has been spreading to places outside the tropics such as Portugal and Russia. One of the theories related to the unlikely spread of this disease to cooler places is climate change. Scientists say that global warming can potentially increase the spread of many infectious diseases, most of which thrive in warmer temperatures.

But, the authors also say that many of the infections go unreported, especially in overpopulated developing countries which can be prime breeding spots for mosquitoes and the virus. These countries are also more at risk because since the disease is highly infectious, it could possibly overwhelm already-strained healthcare systems.

But…don’t freak out. There are plenty of things you can do to prevent an immune system intruder.  Check out these tips from the Department of Health.  You can also check the real-time status of a disease outbreak in Florida here. 

Also, since scientists are equally intrigued with this problem, there are tons of initiatives underway around the world to once again eradicate the unwelcome disease, see below!

In Heart Of Amazon, A Natural Lab To Study Diseases

Can Genetically Modified Bugs Reduce Dengue Threat?

A Scientist’s 20-Year Quest To Defeat Dengue Fever

Dengue Re-emerges in U.S., Spurring Race for Vaccine