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UF psychologist offers tips for sticking to your New Year’s resolution

16 Jan
Rachael Holt is a sophomore majoring in journalism at the University of Florida. Her interest in sleep medicine comes from her father who is the director of a sleep clinic in her hometown of Tallahassee, Fla. Rachael is passionate about writing and hopes to use her communication skills to  become a teacher one day.

Rachael Holt is a sophomore majoring in journalism at the University of Florida. Her interest in sleep medicine comes from her father who is the director of a sleep clinic in her hometown of Tallahassee, Fla. Rachael is passionate about writing and hopes to use her communication skills to become a teacher one day.

Don’t be one of the 92 percent of Americans who give up, it only takes 3 weeks to make something a habit!

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By:Rachael Holt

GAINESVILLE—Each new year, 45 percent of Americans resolve to break old habits and establish new ones, according to research by the University of Scranton. Creating a routine is never easy, whether it’s honing study skills or losing weight, yet only 8 percent of Americans call their New Year’s resolutions a success.

University of Florida students and Alvin Lawrence Jr., psychologist and clinical assistant professor of the UF Counseling and Wellness Center, offer tips to those who may be struggling.

When forming a new pattern, make the change in increments, Lawrence said. Some people do better with drastic changes, but not everyone can quit cold turkey. Think of what has worked for you in the past.

“I’m a big believer in some is better than none,” Lawrence said.

Stacy Fistel, communication sciences and disorders junior, favors a drastic change for her New Year’s resolution. Fistel is determined to do yoga every day of 2014 after she took her first class on vacation during winter break.

Fistel is partial to the Vinyasa classes at the UF Southwest Recreation Center and said if she can’t make it to the gym, she finds time to stretch in her apartment.

Adam Fox, fitness supervisor at the UF Southwest Recreation Center, said that making a schedule is what keeps him motivated. That, and the three alarms he sets to get up and work out at 6 a.m.

“Creating a new habit is hard because you’re breaking an old habit,” Fox said.

Students that skip a day of working out tend to overexert themselves to make up for lost time, Fox said. It is better to cut the workout short and make your focus getting back on schedule.

Losing weight was ranked the top resolution for 2014 in the US study.

For those trying to drop those extra pounds, skipping desert may not be so easy. Go for a walk during the extra minutes after dinner when chocolate seems most seductive.

“When you’re trying to break a habit, I always encourage people to think about what you’re going to do instead,” Lawrence said.

It is important to fill the empty space with constructive action.

Lawrence estimates the average time to form a habit is three weeks.

If you find yourself struggling with a new resolution, remember: don’t sweat the small stuff. Find what motivates you, make a schedule and stick to it.

“Just get out of bed and do it anyways,” Fox said.

UF Robotics team looking to launch robot into space

12 Dec
My name is Lawrence Chan I'm a journalism junior at the University of Florida. I enjoy writing writing about advances in technology and computers. I also cover student organizations on campus who focus on technological developments.  I like to write about how new technology is being implemented into society and how consumers should react to recent developments in computers or gaming. My eventual goal is to become a writer for a technology publication such as CNET news, GameInformer magazine or Wired. I profess that much of my interest in technology stems from the everyday use of technology for entertainment through video games and heavy use of my own 10 lb. computer. Currently, I am attempting to better establish myself as a writer and gain a better insight into the industry I love.

My name is Lawrence Chan and I’m a journalism junior at the University of Florida. I enjoy writing about advances in technology and computers. I also cover student organizations on campus who focus on technological developments.
I like to write about how new technology is being implemented into society and how consumers should react to recent developments in computers or gaming.
My eventual goal is to become a writer for a technology publication such as CNET news, GameInformer magazine or Wired. I profess that much of my interest in technology stems from the everyday use of technology for entertainment through video games and heavy use of my own 10 lb. computer.
Currently, I am attempting to better establish myself as a writer and gain a better insight into the industry I love.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By Lawrence Chan

GAINESVILLE—The University of Florida’s Gator Robotics team is aiming high and working to launch their new robot into space.

After an ill-timed mechanical failure at last year’s NASA Robotic Mining Competition, UF’s team, NASAbotics, is once again preparing for an interplanetary mission.

During last year’s competition the team’s robot failed to function entirely due to a problem with the communication array failing to register the signals from the command team. As a result, the robot failed to function during judgment.

Evan Brady, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering junior and mechanical project head for NASAbotics, said he isn’t letting last year’s mishaps get him down. His team is starting from scratch to produce a new-and-improved robot.

“Plainly, our robot worked last year but did absolutely nothing,” Brady said.

“Our goal this year is to fix him up and upgrade him better than before.”

Next year’s competition runs from May 19 to  May 23 and will invite university teams across the nation to build and design mining robots for possible application into a NASA lunar walker.

The goal is for teams create a robot that can collect at least 10 kilograms of very fine, potentially hazardous sand that simulates what would be found on another planet in 10 minutes, said Brady who has been UF’s team leader for two years.

The winning team receives the Joe Kosmo Award for Excellence and a $5,000 team scholarship. Startup funding granted by institutions like the NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium and student governments has amounted to about $7,000 so far.

“We’re already finished designing the new robot,” said Kevin French, electrical head of the NASAbotics team

French said all that is left is to order the parts and test their stability before they can start manufacturing the new robot.

“Our goal this year is to have him operational by the end of the fall semester,” French said. “At the moment we’re still waiting on some of the parts we ordered to arrive, but once they’re here we can start putting it together and be ready by the competition.”

Video by: Lawrence Chan

Editor’s picks for 2013

2 Dec

banner_final2.jpgI know we still have a month left in 2013.

But with finals and holiday break coming up, I felt it would be appropriate to make a “Best of” post highlighting some of my favorite posts. Since a majority of the blog is written by me, I feel this aggregation serves as a reflection on the type of science writing I have done and the posts I enjoyed the most. But, I’ve also had some amazing guest bloggers this year and will also be including some of their posts as well. So check out the stories below in case you missed them! Thank you to all my loyal followers.

P.S. Once my thesis is over, expect big things!

Best of Layman’s Terms Media, 2013 (no particular order)

Breast cancer vaccines are nothing new: By Dorothy Hagmajer   “Am I going to die?”  That was Susan Foster’s first question when her doctor told her she had breast cancer.Continue reading

Science in the city: 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.—> Continue reading

Eat, love and die. The short, but meaningful lives of love “bugs: Miss Plecia is all dolled up. She has been stuffing herself full of organic material and nectar in her swampy-syle pad for the past 20 days with hopes of finding her lifelong mate.—> Continue reading

What exactly is pus? Find out in 15 seconds.Wendy Corrales joins us this week to explain the gross, gooey liquid that plagues teenagers–pus!—-> Continue reading

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

Scientist uses Instagram videos to explain anatomy concepts in 15 secondsI am always looking for people who share a passion for science and genuinely want to get others excited about it too, which is one of the main reasons I’m studying science communication. While I was in D.C. for the Science Online Climate Conference, I stayed with my friend Steph who introduced me to Wendy Corrales via Facebook. She showed me her videos and I was cracking up.—> Continue reading

UF researcher says T cells the answer to cancer vaccines: John “Bobby” Goulding, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine at the University of Florida, is in a scramble to help create safe and effective vaccines to prevent and fight human respiratory viruses.—>Continue reading

Rebecca Burton is the founder and editor of Layman's Terms Media. Started in 2011, this blog has been used to exercise Rebecca's love of science writing. These posts were selected based on how much was learned throughout the writing process, or the stories that were simply the most fun.

Rebecca Burton is the founder and editor of Layman’s Terms Media. Started in 2011, this blog has been used to exercise Rebecca’s love of science writing. These posts were selected based on how much was learned throughout the writing process, or the stories that were simply the most fun.

What’s for dinner? Island fish, brah: Study shows Hawaiian restaurant menus hold clues to reef healthMost of us look at menus simply to make a quick decision about what we are going to consume in the near future and at what price. We then give it back to our server and the menu is most likely forgotten. –> Continue reading

Abusive mothers’ DNA and the economy could share the blame with Florida DCF for recent child deaths: The Florida Department of Children and Families has been under fire for the past couple of years for failing to stop child abuse and neglect, resulting in thedeaths of seven childrenwho the department said were in “no immediate danger.” —> Continue reading

Wearing goggles to surf: Kook status or Florida Red Tide?: I took a deep breath in. Smelling the saltwater has always been my ritual before starting the process of unloading my surfboard. But, this time I did not feel refreshed or enlightened by the beach breeze. My eyes started to water.—> Continue reading

Native Florida wildlife caught on camera: By Michael Stone Wildlife photographer Michael Stone, a graduate student in science/health communications at the University of Florida, posts the different species and subspecies he sees in his online catalog.—> Continue reading

Great whites use stored liver oil to power through ocean “road trips”Bears, sea lions and whales rely on their external blubber to power through hibernations and migrations. For them, a little extra flab is crucial to their survival.—> Continue reading

 Sea turtles are Gulf travelers, scientists sayGulf Loggerheads were always thought to be homebodies. After the females nested, they would make a home at their local beach. They would never travel too far from familiarity.—> Continue reading

AAV: from ‘Almost A Virus’ to ‘An Awesome Virus’: In 1965, adeno-associated virus (AAV) was discovered while hitching a ride into the cell with adenovirus, which is a virus that causes the fretted pink eye, cold sores and sore throats.—> Continue reading

The Skinny on Good Fats and Bad Fats: How both will affect your health: By Megan Khan Karen Diet trends come in waves. One decade we see the rejection of carbohydrates, and we shun animal products the next. Some of you reading this right now may remember the low fat craze of the 90’s–it was then that fat got a bad rep. The reputation has stuck so much that “fat” is now considered an insult.—> Continue reading

Will tiny drones cure Floridians’ cynicism toward hurricanes? Most residents of Florida–a state constantly pummeled by tropical storms and hurricanes—have become overly cynical of the often hyped-up weather news warning that the latest tropical action in the Gulf of Mexico or off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean could be deadly. —> Continue reading

Croaking Cuban frogs Create Competition in South Florida: Southern Florida, particularly the more metropolitan areas such as Miami and Ft. Lauderdale are definitely not known for being quiet areas. The constant honking of horns, people yelling in multiple languages and bold headlines of bizarre news events make South Florida a melting pot of noise. —>Continue reading

Why Nemo would face an inevitable mid-life crisis: A finding Nemo 2 would not be Disney friendlyIf you’ve seen the movie Finding Nemo, and didn’t like it–shame on you! Pixar movies always have the right amount of humor, recognizable voices and great graphics that make them appealing to both children and adults. Their sequels are almost always just as profitable as the originals, and they’re ability to make animation seem like reality is superb! But, although I love this movie, there are serious factual flaws.—>Continue reading

Monkeys in Florida? iPhonatography from a jungle in Central FloridaAs I pondered ideas on what to do on Memorial Day Monday, I decided I needed to explore the land-locked area of Florida I often complain about, being a spoiled coastal girl who is accustomed to living near a beach. A friend mentioned a trip he took where he saw wild monkeys on an island in the middle of Silver River, near Silver Springs, Fla. After doing some preliminary research (mainly hear-say from Gainesville locals) I found out that  Silver River was the filming site the early Tarzan movies. Some of the monkeys escaped, bred and hence that is why there are wild monkeys in Florida.—> Continue reading

When did eating become so confusing? Tips to simplify your diet: By Megan Khan Karen There are hundreds of diets that are said to make you healthier than you have ever been, rejuvenate your body, avoid certain cancers, help you fit in your high school jeans and the list goes on. From the Atkins diet to the current “juicing” craze, we are fed heaps of “truths” about certain diets that are usually based on a tiny kernel of truth and a whole lot of anecdotal “evidence.”—> Continue reading

Warning: Smoothies can cause sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgiaIt’s that time of year again. Summer. Hot. Humid.The urge to swap that hot coffee for a refreshing smoothie may overcome you. But beware, drinking cold drinks can cause a condition called sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.—> Continue reading

What do hula-hoopers, big-wave surfers and composers have in common? A state of “flow”For those of you who do follow my blog, you may have realized I’m a pretty big hoop enthusiast, who also enjoys an everyday runner’s high. Although the physical benefits of running and spinning a circle on various parts of my body may seem obvious, it’s the mental state I’m in when I go on a 5-mile run, or do a freestyle hoop-dance to a 10-track playlist that brings me back after a long workday.—> Continue reading

Be swamp-conscious: Pet owners should be aware of deadly pathogen in Gainesville: By Jackson Presser 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. —> Continue reading

To study or to sleep? A college student’s dilemma

27 Nov
Rachael Holt is a sophomore majoring in journalism at the University of Florida. Her interest in sleep medicine comes from her father who is the director of a sleep clinic in her hometown of Tallahassee, Fla. Rachael is passionate about writing and hopes to use her communication skills to  become a teacher one day.

Rachael Holt is a sophomore majoring in journalism at the University of Florida. Her interest in sleep medicine comes from her father who is the director of a sleep clinic in her hometown of Tallahassee, Fla. Rachael is passionate about writing and hopes to use her communication skills to become a teacher one day.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By Rachael Holt

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that not enough sleep is bad.

We’ve all looked at ourselves after a desperate all-nighter.  Pale, pimple-dotted skin and baggy eyes are common symptoms of sleep deprivation.

But, did you know that staying up too late studying for your next anatomy exam can actually hurt your grade?

According to studies conducted by the University of Florida and the National Sleep Foundation, sleep deprivation has a negative effect on health, fact retention and the ability to focus. Continue reading

UF research group played role in discovery of Higgs boson

15 Nov
Brooke Baitinger is a junior studying journalism at the University of Florida. Writing is her passion, but she has always appreciated science, so she was excited to combine the two interests for Layman's Terms Media. In her spare time, she likes to ride horses and explore what the world around her has to offer.

Brooke Baitinger is a junior studying journalism at the University of Florida. Writing is her passion, but she has always appreciated science, so she was excited to combine the two interests for Layman’s Terms Media. In her spare time, she likes to ride horses and explore what the world around her has to offer.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

 By: Brooke Baitinger

If you have ever taken a science class, you were probably frustrated with the concept of mass when your professor told you that particles have it, but could not tell you why.

The same question puzzled scientists everywhere until physicists Peter Higgs and Francois Englert proved the existence of the Higgs boson particle, a particle that gives mass to other particles when they pass through its field.

Without the mysterious Higgs field spreading across the universe, particles would simply wander about in space, instead of joining together to make atoms, which are the building blocks of life. Because of this, the news media gave it the controversial name of “The God particle.” Although Higgs was not the first scientist to theorize about the field, he was the first to suggest the mechanism to detect it: the Higgs boson particle.

Higgs and Englert first theorized the existence of the Higgs boson nearly 50 years ago, and began conducting experiments to prove it shortly after. In October, they received official recognition for their work in the form of this year’s 2013 Nobel science prize win.

But Higgs and Englert were not the only scientists who celebrated their win.

A team of UF researchers called the High-Energy Experimental group played a significant role in the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment, or CMS, an international experiment conducted to discover the elusive Higgs boson particle.

It was one of the largest American teams on the experiment, consisting of about 40 people, including professors, post docs, research scientists and graduate students.

The CMS experiment was conducted at the Large Hadron Collider facility in Geneva, Switzerland, and involved accelerating particles to near light speeds, essentially recreating the Big Bang, in which the Universe began expanding rapidly and energy was converted into various subatomic particles such as protons, neutrons and electrons that would eventually form our galaxy, our solar system and our planet.

By recreating the Big Bang, scientists were able to produce different particles, one of which was the Higgs boson.

“It is very rare to produce a Higgs Boson. Much less than one in one trillion collisions gives you a Higgs particle,” said Darin Acosta, the deputy physics coordinator of the collaboration and a UF physics professor.

Guenakh Mitselmakher, another UF physics professor, led the international group. He said that they are pleased about the discovery because it justifies what the team has been working on for the last 20 years.

“This is one of the biggest scientific events of the last 50 years,” he said. “The theory not only tells us which particles exist but also how they interact. The universe would not exist as it is now without the Higgs boson,” he said.

Acosta said that the discovery provides insight into something the scientific community was previously unable to explain.

“We had theories for how the forces in particles work but we couldn’t calculate the mass. The Higgs field explains why particles have mass, so it means we understand something new about the universe,” he said.

UF contributed to the construction of the experiment by building detectors, electronics and overseeing machine operation.

“It’s not something you just order at Walmart and turn on,” Acosta said. “It’s called commissioning. You have to make sure things are working properly.”

Graduate students were heavily involved with commissioning the machine. They produced the electronics for the muon detector and also dealt with data analysis once the detector had been operating long enough to produce results.

Matthew Snowball will be the first of three graduate students to defend his dissertation on the Higgs boson in the spring of next year.

“I was lucky enough to be the first person to see the Higgs mass peak, as well as make several of the plots used in the Higgs discovery paper from CMS, published in July 2012,” he said. “It was extremely gratifying as it was the culmination of several years of little sleep and lots of hard work.”

CMS is the most expensive experiment ever built. The Higgs particle quickly became one of the most significant theories in the physics community when it first emerged on the scientific scene nearly 50 years ago, Mitselmakher said.

“I’m not sure there was a typical day during research,” Acosta said. “It was lots of graduate students submitting computer jobs to thousands of computers, making plots and presenting them at a working meeting. Eventually certain meetings became very exciting when you would start to see a signal coming out of your plots where there wasn’t one before.”

As for the team’s next step, it hopes to find a needle in a haystack.

“We didn’t stop,” Mitselmakher said. “We are upgrading the detector now. This accelerator allows us to produce every particle, but the problem is to find it [a new particle] among zillions of other particles.”

The machine was turned off for refurbishing in February 2013, and is scheduled to turn back on in 2015 so scientists can further their research.

“We found one particle and that is what was predicted by the theory,” Acosta said. “We hope there is more to find because we have many more questions. We need to see if this is the only Higgs boson, or are there others at different masses?”

 

Hypnosis and therapy help school-related stress, experts say

8 Nov
Craig Kissoon is a sophomore majoring in journalism at the University of Florida. He is an avid writer and has blogged for the Independent Florida Alligator. After taking two psychology courses in high school, he became fascinated by physiological psychology and how peoples’ thoughts and attitudes can affect their physical wellbeing. He believes working with the mind and the body is the key to achieving optimal health. He plans to pursue an outside concentration in psychology. He hopes to become a writer or to work in advertising or public relations after graduation. He would like to combine his passions for communications and psychology by writing about mental healthcare and treatments.

Craig Kissoon is a sophomore majoring in journalism at the University of Florida who has blogged for the Independent Florida Alligator. After taking two psychology courses in high school, he became fascinated by physiological psychology and how peoples’ thoughts and attitudes can affect their physical wellbeing. He believes working with the mind and the body is the key to achieving optimal health. With an outside concentration in psychology, he hopes to combine his passions for communications and psychology by writing about mental healthcare and treatments.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By Craig Kissoon

Imagine retreating into a moment of pure relaxation where work and classes were nothing more than distant concerns.

With stress levels and responsibilities rising for college students in Gainesville and across the country, experts are recommending mind-body therapies for students suffering from stress-related problems.

A University of  Florida study, recently published in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine, found that hypnosis and therapy may benefit patients suffering from functional bowel disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome.

The lead authors of the study Oliver Grundmann, a clinical assistant professor at the UF College of Pharmacy, and Saunjoo Yoon, an associate professor at the UF College of Nursing, reviewed 19 clinical trials to examine the benefits of yoga, hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and biofeedback in treating these disorders.

Functional bowel disorders occur when the stomach and bowels are not working properly and include symptoms such as stomach pain and bloating.

Yoon said the results of the study, while promising are not conclusive. More studies are needed to better show the advantages of this kind of therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of talk therapy where a therapist challenges their patients’ negative thoughts, helps patients feel more positive about their condition while hypnotherapy aims to reduce pain. The results of the study showed hypnotherapy had an immediate effect on abdominal pain while cognitive behavioral therapy was able to lighten mood and change bowel symptoms.

Amanda Lawson-Ross, a counselor at the UF Counseling and Wellness Center, said she was not surprised by the results of the study.

“The whole premise is there is a mind-body connection,” Lawson-Ross said. “Stress can agitate abdominal problems.”

Lawson-Ross said when people are stressed, they enter flight-or-fight mode and blood flows from their abdomen to larger muscles. Their bodies release hormones, and their digestion shuts down, she added.

Keeping calm regulates the body when people are stressed, Lawson-Ross said. She said she has helped people with irritable bowel syndrome reduce migraines, muscle tension and nausea.

“Hypnosis is a great way to alleviate stress,” Lawson-Ross said.

During hypnotherapy, patients listen to practitioners who help them focus inwardly on a calm or positive moment or setting. Lawson-Ross compared hypnosis to meditation in its ability to help people achieve deep relaxation.

“Anxiety is the most common concern,” Lawson-Ross said. “You have great, bright students who want to do well.”

Lawson-Ross said she notices a lot of students come to the CWC during exams and drop/add period. People might be dismissive of mind-body therapies and alternative medicines because they do not pay attention to mind-body connections, often for the sake of convenience.

Anxiety is the most common concern, said Amanda Lawson-Ross who is a therapist at the University of Florida Counseling and Wellness Center. She said she sees a lot of students, usually around exams and drop/add period. She listed a few of the services the center offers to UF students. An online anxiety program Biofeedback Individual therapy Group therapy Couples therapy Information about these programs and how to join them are available at the University of Florida Counseling and Wellness Center’s website.

Anxiety is the most common concern, said Amanda Lawson-Ross who is a therapist at the University of Florida Counseling and Wellness Center. She said she sees a lot of students, usually around exams and drop/add period. She listed a few of the services the center offers to UF students.
An online anxiety program
Biofeedback
Individual therapy
Group therapy
Couples therapy
Information about these programs and how to join them are available at the University of Florida Counseling and Wellness Center’s website.

“People want a quick fix,” she said.

Kathryn Broker, a senior geology major at UF, said she would never use hypnosis as a therapy treatment.

“I’m a very scientifically minded person. If I had any type of physical condition, I would rather use Western medicine,” Broker said.

Broker said she was hypnotized before.

“You become eager to please whoever is giving commands,” she said of her experience.

Kyle Burns, a junior international studies major at UF, said he was surprised by the results of the study but felt it made sense.

“I’m too stubborn,” Burns joked when discussing whether or not he would be receptive to hypnotherapy.

Some students said they are open to the idea of mind-body therapy.

“I don’t find [the study’s results] surprising,” said Sara Ladwig, a junior telecommunication major at UF. “If you feel like something can help you, it can.”

Ladwig added she is a perfectionist who tends to get nervous about a bunch of different things. “I do better if I can relax.”

Freshman Amanda Beauchamp said hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy is worth a try.

“I think it’d be interesting to see if it would work for me. I’d look forward to doing it,” she said.

Could dust bring the next pandemic as quickly as birds?

5 Nov
Calli Breil is a master's student in the science and health communications program at the University of Florida, and is planning to graduate  in 2014.  Calli is particularly interested in writing about pathogens.  You can find her at callibreil.com, on LinkedInhttp://www.linkedin.com/in/callibreil and https://twitter.com/CalliBreil.

Calli Breil is a master’s student in the science and health communications program at the University of Florida, and is planning to graduate in 2014.  Calli is particularly interested in writing about pathogens and disease.

By Calli Breil/Contributing blogger 

(blog, Twitter, LinkedIn)

Dust and dirt can travel thousands of miles, across oceans, land and just about anywhere the wind can carry them.  In fact,  50 million metric tons of dust travel from Africa to Florida every August and September.  The common equivalent to 50 million metric tons is 100 empire state buildings!

So, we get a lot of dust from Africa, who cares?

Well, if we aren’t going to worry about the potentially toxic dust, perhaps we should worry about the microorganisms that cling on to dust particles for a free trip.

People have known for many years that microorganisms can travel the world through dust plumes. But, the real question is, “What is the risk?”

Although not equivocally proven, there have been theories that the foot-and-mouth outbreak in England in 2001 could have been caused from these dust plumes.

Why could it have been the dust plumes? 

Well, that year there happened to be an extraordinary amount of dust (that could potentially carry disease) traveling to northern England.

Why couldn’t it just have been a normal outbreak of the disease? 

England hadn’t seen the disease for years.  The outbreak also happened to break out ten days after the dust plumes hit – the exact incubation period for the infection.

If you doubt how troublesome the outbreak was, just know that it cost $1 billion dollars to slaughter the animals that were (or could have been) infected, as well as the massive amounts of revenue lost.

The risk is no laughing matter.

Topsoil across the globe can carry millions of bacteria, hundreds of thousands of fungi, and millions of viruses per gram of soil.

Once this soil is tossed into the air, it is like a salad of potential harm.  After all, about 50 percent of childhood diseases are respiratory (Griffin, 2007).

Some argue (and they would be right) that we don’t actually know if these dust plumes cause disease.

It is highly speculative, because there is no concrete evidence that ties the dust plumes to a disease outbreak – just very strong correlations.  But others have been much more… direct… about their conclusions.

For example, the Guardian reported that dust storms and plumes are “thought to  be responsible for spreading lethal meningitis spores through semi-arid central-arid Africa, where up to 250,000 people, particularly children, contract the disease each year.”

The same article brings up the fair point that scientists are now believing there is a link between dust and influenza, Sars, foot-and-mouth (as I have mentioned above) and other respiratory diseases.

Fortunately, new research is trying to find what other diseases could be transmitted through dust plumes.

For example, Andrew Schuerger’s DART (Dust at Altitude Recovery Technology) has helped find that pathogens responsible for problems in wheat, cacao beans, elm, flower and fruit rots and nail infections diseases are all found in these dust plumes.  In fact, some pathogens that are seen in pulmonary infections are also found in dust.

The real question is, “Do these pathogens get us sick?”

After all, there are tons of pathogens all around us. But not all of them are dangerous.

The point is that these dust plumes could be responsible for many outbreaks that we haven’t discovered the cause of, such as the foot-and-mouth outbreak in England.  And we won’t know until scientists, like Schuerger at the University of Florida, find out what the real risk is to us, our communities and our industries.

References:

Vidal, J. (2009).  Dust storms spread deadly diseases worldwide.  The Guardian.  Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/sep/27/dust-storms-diseases-sydney

Griffin, D.W. (2007).  Atmospheric movement and microorganisms in clouds of desert dust and implications for human health.  Clinical microbiology reviews.  P. 459-477.  Doi: 10.1128/CMR.00039-06

Special thanks to Andrew Schuerger, who works in the plant pathogens department at the University of Florida, for sparing time to talk at the Science Writers Conference 2013.