Newman's Notions | June 26, 2024 | FREE
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Parasites of the future

Thanks to environmental change and scientific experimentation, we could be in for some intriguing developments in parasites.

Dengue fever is making its way northwards, and malaria has been moving to higher elevations in the tropics.

What's next? Leishmaniasis in Lichtenstein? Schistosomiasis in Schenectady? Our parasitic friends are quickly evolving under rapidly changing environmental conditions.

Illustration by David Rosenman
Illustration by David Rosenman

If we added a little radiation on all ends of the spectrum, and quite a bit of genetic manipulation by both science and magic, we could have some most intriguing developments. Here's a (fictional) preview, courtesy of a handy-dandy, deus ex machina wormhole.

The re-reduviid bug

The original form of these Heteroptera, known by the alluring sobriquet "assassin bug," carries another old friend, Trypanosoma cruzi. It's the trypanosome that causes them to be associated with Chagas disease. An alluring part of the behavior of this little critter is that it tends towards excretion at the site of ingestion, causing an itching sensation and autoinoculation. Yum. This was bad enough, but a graduate student with a well-developed sense of irony and just the right lab setup recently developed a subspecies of this bug that can pass mononucleosis to the human it feasts on. His explanation was that it only makes sense to catch mono from a kissing bug.

Spin worm

The pin worm, aka Enterobius, has made many a kindergartener itch, and researchers spend many hours with tape applied at just the right orifice to catch a few of the squiggly little devils. They recently discovered that the worms have developed an acidic salivary extract that dissolves high-tech fabrics. It was first noted in a massive outbreak at several gyms in California among people who had taken biking workout classes. A bit of detective work revealed the source of what is now called "spin worm." The California Association for Advancement of Athleticism is already promoting its anti-worm seat covers ($19.99), but that's a different kind of spin.

The tsetsetse fly

The tsetse fly was the first insect that could be proven to serve as a disease vector to humans, thanks to the same chap who discovered brucellosis. In a rare recent event, a swarm of these flies, already known to induce African trypanosomiasis, or "sleeping sickness," were inadvertently transported to what was left of the Florida Panhandle. Luckily, the weather, combined with sand and the sound of Jimmy Buffet, softened their clinical impact. The net effect was to cause people to lie on the beach or in a hammock and snooze. It's been termed "American napping sickness."

The earbud worm

From the early 20th-century German term Ohrwurm, an earworm is a piece of music that gets stuck in your brain. I won't mention any specific tunes for fear of causing an infestation, but readers should be warned that recent research indicates a combination of musical radiation, piercings, and hair care products has made the surface of headphones and earbuds a fertile environment for the growth of these tiny annelids, which infect the human ear canal and hum annoying tunes.

Not a fluke

Clonorchis, archaically known as the oriental liver fluke, lays thousands of eggs each day, which are in turn excreted in the feces of infected persons. As the name suggests, the majority of the symptoms are hepatologic. Now, in a misplaced attempt at hepatic protection, genetic manipulation led to the development of a fluke whose saliva inhibits the enzymatic action of alcohol dehydrogenase. Infected people, even those with a high alcohol tolerance, become unexpectedly and severely intoxicated and encephalopathic upon consumption. Thus, the new moniker for this tremendous trematode is the disoriented liver fluke.

Coming up in the next issue of Neo-Ento/Etymology Times:

The Grateful Bed Bug—Humans are more susceptible to it after a long strange trip.

The Mixed Tapeworm—It puts a lot of induced nutritional deficiencies together, especially for someone it finds appealing.

The Spider Insider—It is used to remove gastric flies. I don't know why.

Poli-Ticks—They're a new kind of candidate.

Card Trichinosis—Pick a pig, any pig.