Saturday, August 29, 2009


It's T-minus one-and-a-half days till you all jump-start your sophomore years with three weeks of smallpox, and I know that all of us are super excited to spend a fun-filled three weeks with all of you!!

The very first thing you have to look forward to, as I found out today, are your "Sopho-Get-More-Out-Of-College" T-shirts, yours upon arrival at your residence on Monday! If that sounds a bit lame, consider yourselves lucky given SOCO's history of iffy apparel (two years ago you would have received a Halloween-ish themed shirt, black background with bright orange lettering, and 'Sophmore College' misspelled in brash WordArt on the front).

Alexis: glad to hear Alibek's book was your favorite. Mine too! I am currently working on a slideshow of photos I took in Zagorsk last year (has anyone else been?) to show to you all- pretty much the last place you'd look for biological weapons facilities. You'll see what I mean.

Anyway, I wholeheartedly agree with Lauren that you should all hurry on back as soon as possible. We have far too much to do and not even close to enough time to do it all! 

See you soon,

A-pox (Aaron; like Lauren and I you will also all be getting cool virological nicknames of your own soon)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Greetings, pox-stars

Hello all--

Hurry up and get here already! I can't wait for our Sophomore College class to start. I know that Dr. Bob and the other SCAs, Aaron and Josh, feel the exact same way.

I am really looking forward to getting to know you all. We are going to learn so much about variola and the interesting ways in which humans and viruses interact, from the level of the cell all the way up to the baffling global eradication of the worst scourge on humanity. In addition to mastering cool material, we've got tons of fun activities planned like field trips and infectious disease movie nights. In short, this class is going to be a blast.

So as to not be entirely non-academic, here is an interesting link I found for those of you who might be intrigued by former biological weapons programs. If you're up on the course reading then you should already be familiar with Ken Alibek's BIOHAZARD. If you want more along the same flavor, here is an interview with research scientist Sergei Popov, offering another perspective on VECTOR.

Virologically yours,

Lauren aka, "ebolagirl"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Summer of Smallpox

Hello All,

After spending so much time reading about smallpox this summer, it is hard to figure out what to write about. I guess I'll start off by saying what I have found most interesting thus far in everything we've read. I'm definitely a fuzzy, so my favorite things to read have had to do with cultural implications of smallpox, from biological warfare, to the creation of smallpox goddesses in different parts of the world. Also, after just having gone to the King Tut exhibit at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, I was excited to read that Pharaoh Ramses V died of smallpox. (Is it weird that now whenever I hear about smallpox, this horrible virus that killed so many people, I get excited????)

I would have to say that my favorite book this summer would be Ken Alibek's Biohazard. While the information from all the other books seems to mix together in my mind to some extent, Alibek's book is very vivid. I guess this is because it had a very compelling story attached to it that is entirely applicable to our world today. I was captivated the entire time I read it, and it got me thinking about current US and world politics. After Alibek mentioned the anthrax outbreak that was covered up as a "bad meat incident," I wonder whether or not swine flu, for example, was just another "bad meat incident" of sorts. I understand that this is an extreme thought, but who knows? (dun dun dun....)

Looking forward to meeting all of you and talking about the oh so exciting smallpox virus!


The vaccination scars

Every person in my family has this particular scar on his or her upper left arm. In fact, a lot of my friends who are immigrants to the US have this scar as well. After 19 years of an aloof curiosity, I was prodded by our impending global health class and smallpox reading to finally do some sleuthing about this ubiquitous mark of the foreign-born.
I was born in Vietnam in 1990. Since smallpox eradication was declared in 1979, the scar I have is probably not from a smallpox vaccination. According to what I’ve gathered, I think it’s from the BCG vaccination for tuberculosis.
Here is what the CDC says about BCG:
“BCG, or bacille Calmette-Guerin, is a vaccine for tuberculosis (TB) disease. Many foreign-born persons have been BCG-vaccinated. BCG is used in many countries with a high prevalence of TB to prevent childhood tuberculous meningitis and miliary disease.”
The difference between the BCG and the smallpox scar is that the BCG scar (top) has a elevated center, whereas the smallpox scar (bottom) is sunken into the skin with lines fanning out towards the edges.

My scar resembles something like this image pulled from the internet:

You all can definitely check out my gnarly scar soon enough!

My mom, who was born in Vietnam in 1956 — before the eradication of smallpox — has two smallpox scars on her left arm. She received both vaccinations when she was six years old. Today, her scar resembles something like this:

-Hai-y Le

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Word of the Day: pathognomonic

Hi All,
You don't know me, but I'm the creepy nth SCA that's been cc'd on most emails. I am a dedicated virophile, having taken 21 units with Bob. If you'd like a fresh perspective, I'm here for you.

Pathognomonic: pretty much only seen in that disease (another pathognomonic sign is Koplik's spots for measles)

Mulluscum contagiosum umbilicated papules

New Treatment for Smallpox?

Hey All,

For now, we rely on good old home grown (i.e. from Gilead, our northern neighbors from Foster City) Cidofovir to treat smallpox. Looks like they could be getting a run for their money from CMX001 which is now in Phase II trials. I don't know if 16.1 million dollars says anything, but it seems promising.