Michaeleen Doucleff | KERA News

Michaeleen Doucleff

Michaeleen Doucleff is a reporter for NPR's Science Desk. She reports for the radio and the Web for NPR's global health and development blog, Goats and Soda. Doucleff focuses on disease outbreaks, drug development, and trends in global health.

In 2014, Doucleff was part of the team that earned a George Foster Peabody award for its coverage of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. For the series, Doucleff reported on how the epidemic ravaged maternal health and how the virus spreads through the air. In 2015, Doucleff and Senior Producer Jane Greenhalgh reported on the extreme prejudices faced by young women in Nepal when they're menstruating. Their story was the second most popular one on the NPR website in 2015 and contributed to the NPR series on 15-year-old girls around the world, which won two Gracie Awards.

As a science journalist, Doucleff has reported on a broad range of topics, from vaccination fears and the microbiome to beer biophysics and dog psychology.

Before coming to NPR in 2012, Doucleff was an editor at the journal Cell, where she wrote about the science behind pop culture. Doucleff has a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Berkeley, California, and a master's degree in viticulture and enology from the University of California, Davis.

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.

Most of the time, these bites are harmless – if not a bit uncomfortable. But if the bat carries rabies, a quick nip can be deadly.

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 a whopping 8 inches in height, on average, in the past century — the biggest jump of any other population in the world, researchers report 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.

By now we know that Zika is dangerous for pregnant women and their future babies. The virus can cause devastating birth defects.

But what about for infections after babies are born? Or in older children? Is Zika a danger for them?

So far, all the evidence suggests probably not. But there are a few caveats.

Let's start with what we know.

For months, scientists in Colombia have been working on a massive study.

They've been tracking the health of thousands of pregnant women to try to figure out key questions surrounding the Zika virus.

Now the team has published its first major findings, and they offer a glimmer of good news.

A few months ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a startling map that showed the parts of the U.S. that could harbor mosquitoes capable of carrying Zika.

Many readers, including myself, thought, "Zika could come to my town! It could come to Connecticut! To Ohio and Indiana! Or to Northern California! Oh goodness!"

The map made it look like a vast swath of the country was at risk for Zika, including New England and the Upper Midwest.

Well, not quite.

Maybe it's a dive trip to Belize. Or a cruise in the Caribbean. Or maybe you've snagged tickets to the summer Olympics in Rio. If you're traveling in places where Zika is circulating, there are a few things you need to keep in mind — and bring along.

The first question is: Should you go on the trip at all?

There's a heated battle going on about the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Nearly 200 scientists signed a letter to the World Health Organization last week, calling for the games to be moved because of the ongoing epidemic of Zika in Brazil.

But many health officials — including those at WHO — say having the games in Rio doesn't pose a big enough threat to warrant moving them.

So who's right?

The last time, we heard about a "mysterious hemorrhagic fever" in a country, it was February 2014. The outbreak was in Guinea. And by the time doctors had pinpointed the culprit, Ebola was spiraling out of control in West Africa.

The situation in South Sudan today is a far cry from that in West Africa a few years ago. But it's still concerning, the World Health Organization said.

The world is not ready for the next big pandemic. That's what health officials have been saying for years. If a deadly flu strain spreads around the globe, we could be in trouble.

This week the health leaders are trying to change that. They're gathering in Geneva for the World Health Organization's annual meeting, the 69th World Health Assembly. At the top of the agenda: reshaping WHO into an agency that can take action during a health emergency instead of just giving out advice.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Six years of your life. Or 2,190 days. That's about how long the average woman will spend having her periods.

For some women, that's too many days, too many periods.

More women in their 20s and 30s are choosing contraception that may suppress their menstrual cycles, says Dr. Elizabeth Micks, who runs an OB-GYN clinic at the University of Washington in Seattle. "In general, I think views are changing really rapidly," Micks says. "That need to have regular periods is not just in our society anymore."

It's official. Zika has come to Florida.

Four people caught the virus in a small neighborhood north of downtown Miami, Governor Rick Scott said Friday. That means mosquitoes in the neighborhood became infected with Zika and spread it.

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