An additional reason to leave the cell phone outside the lab

English: Biosafety level 4 hazmat suit: resear...

Biosafety level 4 hazmat suit: researcher is working with the Ebola virus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some students of Microbiology might think I’m being a bit alarmist with my warnings of the dangers about bringing cell phones into the BIO230 lab. This news alert from The Atlantic should give you even more pause against bringing your phone into contact with infectious agents. Ebola hemorrhagic fever is one of those horrific diseases out of a movie: the patient rapidly begins to bleed out, and usually dies within a few days. There is no cure. The disease is considered endemic in sub-Saharan Africa, however human cases are not common, with outbreaks affecting a dozen or two individuals at a time. Transmission appears to be via infected bats, who pass it on to other mammals including humans. Outbreaks tend to be relatively limited, in part due to the awful nature of the disease: it tends to “burn out” by running out of victims.

There is a current outbreak in Uganda, with 36 people who have been infected there to date in 2012. The disease has had a 70% mortality rate during this outbreak, and appears to be ongoing. The Atlantic article above reports that a patient (who has since died of the disease) reported that his cell phone was missing on August 14th. Hospital security then traced the alleged thief, and have turned up a suspect who turned himself in to the hospital showing clinical signs of Ebola infection. It is not clear whether or not the suspect caught the disease from a phone, or by merely being in an isolation ward of contagious patients, however both scenarios are possible at this point.

BONUS: In order to get the conversation started, list some instance of a horrific disease (real or imaginary, but “real” is preferred!) from popular media.  A comment in the thread below will result in changing any 1 quiz grade to a “5”. Please note that all submissions below must be unique, so please read other comments.


BONUS: All done, Fall Break is imminent!


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on September 4, 2012, in Bonus!, Danger danger danger!. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Hey Dr S,

    Now due to my love of Zombies and being that Resident Evil is my favorite movie I am gonna have to kick this off with my favorite disease the T-Virus. If anyone wants to know more about the T-Virus or the Umbrella Corporation, the virus’s creator, they can be found on facebook. Good luck to all of the new micro students this was def by far one of my favorite classes ever!!

  2. I will toss out this week’s Season 7 premier of Doctor Who, “Asylum of the Daleks.” The Doctor’s salt-shaker shaped nemeses utilized an infectious “nanobomb” that got into Amy Pond and began to rewrite her DNA, which would have turned her into a Dalek! Yikes!

  3. Hello Dr. Singleton,
    After reading this article, I will certainly know to keep my phone and everything away from lab! I was searching on and found an intersting story about an undiagnosed mortality report from September 1st, 2012. Appearantly in Nigeria an infectious animal disease has killed approximately three hundred goats and sheep. Many of the farmers are becomming very concerned because this is the first outbreak they have experienced of this kind. The government has confirmed that all animals must be vaccinated and are now producing drugs and other medical equipment to assure that “adequate arrangements have been made to addreess the mease”. The cases reported were only outbreaks in animals however, I wonder if we might see an outbreak in humans.
    -Megan Shannon

  4. While less grotesque than some others, I’m going to have to go with the aging disease from Star Trek.

    • Ah, yes, one of my favorite episodes (Original series, not the “must never be mentioned” second season of TNG.) If I recall, Chekov was immune, due to his extreme fright at seeing the initial mummified body at the start of the episode. Adrenaline, or some such, was the treatment to the virus.

      When they trotted out a similar plot line for Dr. Pulaski to solve, I would have had to break out the bogus tag for the science in a review of the episode. Thank you for playing, Robin S!

  5. No, but I accept candy corn in lieu of extra credit.

  6. Sometimes, our own ignorance is to blame. In the 80s, there was a change British farmers noted in their cattle, which led to an attention grabbing disease: mad cow. Thousands of cows had been fed animal byproduct, containing mixed cattle and sheep meat. Infection and death spread rapidly. Hundreds of people died from consuming the contaminated meat. Overall, 4.4 million cattle were slaughtered to ensure the disease had been rid of.

    • See this post for my summary of a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy here in the United States earlier in 2012. Fortunately, it did not result in any transmission to humans (which occurs at only low frequency), however as you note, it is the way we farm that leads to it happening in the first place.

  7. Hello Dr. Singleton,

    My friend introduced me to a movie called 28 Days Later, which describes a fictional disease called R.A.G.E. causing an outbreak in Great Britain. In the movie, scientists were trying to develop an inhibitor for neurotransmitters that were responsible for anger and aggression control. One of the scientists decided to deliver it through the Ebola Virus, which then caused a mutation in the inhibitor and caused it to show the opposite effect and cause excessive anger. The outbreak occurred when a group of activists tries to free the infected primates and were contaminated with the virus.

    The mention of the Ebola virus inspired me to choose this fictional disease. Also, in my future studies class in high school, I read a book called “The Hot Zone,” which describes the origins and cases of viruses, such as Ebola and many others. It was a very interesting book and I think you would like it since it relates to many topics talked about in class.

    • I was hoping that someone would put forward the slightly fictionalized version of Ebola from the 1990s movie adaptation of “The Hot Zone.” The film was called “Outbreak” and starred Dustin Hoffman and Renee Russo.

  8. I found this horrific disease searching on google:—-aka-brain-eating-amoeba-—-kills-10-pakistan#.UHXAFLROTzI

    This disease is found in water. It is an amoeba that lives in the water in Southwest America. When people swallow this dirty water, the amoeba moves to live on the brain and affect the nervous system. When you get infected, the amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) makes the brain inflame destroying brain tissue. The first signs and symptoms usually start from the first day up to two weeks after with headaches, nausea, fevers, and vomiting. As more tissue gets destroyed by PAM, it leads to confusion, no balance, seizures, and hallucinations. This is very difficult to treat and death usually comes within a week.

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