Michaeleen Doucleff | KERA News

Michaeleen Doucleff

It was a balmy Sunday evening in early 1999, and Dr. Kaw Bing Chua hadn't had lunch or dinner.

There wasn't time to eat. Chua was chasing a killer. And he thought maybe he had finally tracked it down.

He slid the slide under the microscope lens, turned on the scope's light and looked inside. "A chill went down my spine," Chua says. "The slide lit up bright green, like bright green lanterns."

Welcome to the bat cave. No, we're not talking about the secret headquarters of a superhero.

This is Gomantong — an ancient cave carved out of 20 million-year-old limestone in the middle of the Borneo rain forest in Malaysia. It's part of a vast network of tunnels and caverns. And it's the perfect hideout for bats.

Up at the top are millions of bats. Literally millions. They hang upside down all day long from the cave's ceiling, sleeping and pooping.

Pygmy elephants. Monkeys with noses the size of beer cans. And a deer so small you could cradle it like a baby.

And right there, sitting on a leaf, is the strangest bug we've ever seen.

"Check out the size of it," says virus hunter Kevin Olival as he picks up a ginormous roly-poly. "It's the size of a ping-pong ball!"

If you're a germaphobe, make sure you're sitting down.

Back in 1999, a woman in California cleaned up rodent droppings in her home. Two weeks later, her liver started failing. Then she started to bleed internally — a hemorrhagic fever that would kill her. Eventually doctors found a new virus in her body, which very likely came from a rat.

This year we've learned an amazing amount about Zika — how it damages developing brains, how it spreads through sexual contact and where in the world (and the U.S.) it's hiding out.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When Ebola struck West Africa a few years ago, the world was defenseless. There was no cure. No vaccine. And the result was catastrophic: More than 11,000 people died. Nearly 30,000 were infected.

Now it looks like such a large outbreak is unlikely to ever happen again. Ever.

The world now has a potent weapon against Ebola: a vaccine that brings outbreaks to a screeching halt, scientists report Thursday in The Lancet.

Bacteria are way smarter than we give them credit for.

No, I'm not talking about "brain smarts." Bacteria don't have neurons.

I'm referring to "chemical smarts": the ability to make, break down or gobble up whatever compound they want. Even if they've never been exposed to it before.

Scientists have found a superbug — hidden 1,000 feet underground in a cave — which is resistant to 70 percent of antibiotics and can totally inactivate many of them.

Frequent removal of pubic hair is associated with an increased risk for herpes, syphilis and human papillomavirus, doctors at the University of California, San Francisco, reported Monday in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.

The World Health Organization announced Friday that it no longer considers the Zika epidemic a public health emergency of international concern.

But Zika's threat to pregnant women and babies is not going away anytime soon, the agency says. Instead, the virus is now a chronic problem, says the WHO's Dr. Pete Salama.

Optimism. That's what we could all use right now.

So here at Goats and Soda, we're going to give you a whole heaping tablespoon of it. And we'll do it by answering a question from a reader named Ian Matthews that seems to bring the opposite reaction: "How can we stop the spread of antimicrobial resistance?"

As it turns out, the answer has a surprisingly positive message.

People and leprosy go way back. Way, way back.

"It's been around for at least 5,000 years and probably longer," says Stewart Cole, who directs the Global Health Institute at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

One mutation. A simple tweak in the Ebola gene — a C got turned into a T. That's all it took to make Ebola more infectious during the West Africa epidemic, scientists report Thursday.

Two studies, published in the journal Cell, found that a single mutation arose early in the epidemic. It allows Ebola to infect human cells more easily than the original version of the virus — way more easily.

It's one of the biggest medical mysteries of our time: How did HIV come to the U.S.?

By genetically sequencing samples from people infected early on, scientists say they have figured out when and where the virus that took hold here first arrived. In the process, they have exonerated the man accused of triggering the epidemic in North America.

There's a heated debate in the Arctic Circle. It's about reindeer. Lots of them.

Russian health officials want to cull a quarter million animals by Christmas, The Siberian Times reports. That's enough reindeer to fill about 400 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Historical. A possible turning point.

These are the words health researchers are using to describe a declaration passed Wednesday by the U.N. General Assembly aiming to slow down the spread of superbugs — bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics.

"I think the declaration will have very strong implications," says the World Health Organization's Dr. Keiji Fukuda. "What it will convey is that there's recognition that we have a big problem and there's a commitment to do something about it."

From anthrax outbreaks in thawing permafrost to rice farms flooded with salty water, climate change seems to play a bigger and bigger role in global health each year.

Vampire bats are thirsty creatures. And they drink only one beverage: mammalian blood.

Each night, they hop on the ground, crawl up to an unsuspecting victim and latch onto its ankle.

Then the little critters use razor-sharp incisors to slice a deep, tiny wound into a victim's skin. As blood flows out of the wound, the bat laps it up — about a tablespoon per bite.

A ticking time bomb. That's what some health officials say the Zika virus is in Southeast Asia.

Special K. K-land. Or even "baby food," because users sink into "a blissful, infantile inertia," the Drug Enforcement Agency says — ketamine is best known as a club drug here in the U.S.

Most recently, ketamine played an integral role in HBO's summer murder mystery The Night Of — Andrea and Naz took some and hooked up. He blacked out and awoke to find her stabbed to death in her bed. And he doesn't remember whether he did it.

Everywhere you turn, it seems, there's news about the human microbiome. And, more specifically, about the bacteria that live in your gut and help keep you healthy.

Those bacteria, it turns out, are hiding a big secret: their own microbiome.

A study published Monday suggests some viruses in your gut could be beneficial. And these viruses don't just hang out in your intestines naked and homeless. They live inside the bacteria that make their home in your gut.

Not 1,000. Not 50. Not even 10.

Zero.

"There have so far been no laboratory confirmed cases of Zika virus in spectators, athletes or anyone associated with the Olympics," the World Health Organization said Thursday on its website.

Human viruses are like a fine chocolate truffle: It takes only one to get the full experience.

At least, that's what scientists thought a few days ago. Now a new study published Thursday is making researchers rethink how some viruses could infect animals.

A team at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases has found a mosquito virus that's broken up into pieces. And the mosquito needs to catch several of the pieces to get an infection.

As expected, the Zika outbreak in Florida is growing — though how fast is still difficult to say.

State and federal health officials say mosquitoes are spreading Zika in two neighborhoods of Miami, including Miami Beach. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told pregnant women Friday not to go into these neighborhoods — and to consider postponing travel to all parts of Miami-Dade County.

When you first meet Moises Velasquez-Manoff, the first thing you notice is his hair — or the lack of it.

He's completely bald.

"At age 11, I developed this condition, called alopecia areata, where I lost my hair," says Velasquez-Manoff, a science writer in Berkeley, Calif. "It started in patches, but eventually I lost it all."

Whatever South Korean women are eating, pass it around!

The country is having a massive growth spurt. And it doesn't look like it's slowing down anytime soon.

Women in South Korea have gained 8 inches in height, on average, in the past century — a jump bigger than any other population in the world, researchers reported Tuesday.

For men, Iranians are the big winners, gaining 6.5 inches in the past hundred years.

When you're pregnant, going to the doctors can be exciting. You get to find out if you're having a boy or a girl. Maybe hear the baby's heart beat.

But in southern Africa, many women find out something else.

Allison Groves at American University recently ran a study in a town outside Durban, South Africa. They followed about 1,500 pregnant women. The results left her speechless.

A sitting duck. That's what South America was a few years ago when Zika first struck. The continent had never recorded a case of the mosquito-borne virus. And everyone was susceptible.

"So you get this huge raging epidemic that blows through the population, usually very fast and infects a pretty high percentage of the population," says Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

This summer, it's not just athletes who are looking to set world records. Scientists are also trying to break a record — for how quickly they can make a vaccine for a new virus.

It's for Zika. And one team is leading the pack.

Over the past 70 years, the U.S. has been waging a war against a miniature menace: the New World screwworm.

The story of how we eradicated the critter has it all: triumph of the little guys, a medical treatment that uses bacon (i.e., "bacon therapy") and a new technology to wipe out horrible diseases — one that scientists are using today to try to stop the Zika virus.

The screwworm is arguably the most cringeworthy creature on Earth. Seriously, if you're squeamish at all, you might want to skip the next few paragraphs.

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