“They’re out there.”
Continuing a theme from last week’s post:
The conventional wisdom for most of my life has been this way. After a week or two of temperatures in the 30s, if there are a few days of temperatures in the 40s or 50s, people are likely to go outside dressed for much warmer weather — t-shirts with no jacket, short pants, etc. Yes, it’s warmer than it was, but it’s not warm enough to go out like that. Many of them will “get a chill,” which will suppress one’s immune system for an hour or two, long enough for some virus to get a foothold. And a few days later, they’ll come down with sore throats.
I consulted many Wikipedia articles in preparing this post, and could not confirm that this actually happens. I only found one article that suggests it does.
Decades back, I did a stint as a temporary secretary at the Maryland Department of the Environment. The staff consists of scientists. One of the things they do, for example, is close certain portions of certain bodies of water to oyster harvesting, for several days after a heavy rain. (Oysters, especially raw oysters, that people eat, are a big, big deal in Maryland. They have “oyster bars.” They call it a delicacy. Myself, I don’t want to eat oysters in any form whatsoever.) You never would think about it, but the heavy rain will stir up the sediment or muck at the floor of a body of water, releasing decaying organic matter, that the oysters will take in — making them unfit to eat. After a few days, that material gets flushed out, and the oysters become safe again.
On one occasion, I overheard a phone conversation between one of the scientists and some citizen or journalist. It had been in the news, that some man, after eating raw oysters, had come down with an infection of Vulnificus, and died from it. The caller was asking whether oysters are safe to eat.
The scientist said, “Look, Vulnificus is out there. He must have had a suppressed immune system, or he would never have gotten sick. This individual could have caught the same infection just by walking past a swamp.”
Bacteria and viruses are everywhere. Normally, their populations are “controlled,” or kept in check, by various factors: cold winter air, the alkalinity of one’s skin surface, or the activity of white blood cells . This is similar to how predators (such as owls) “control” prey species (such as mice). It is good, for example, to have ladybugs in your garden, to control for aphids. Only when there is an out-of-control overpopulation of one species, in a given place and time, do they become unwelcome.
A similar coincidence of favorable factors with an absence of controls leads to things like plagues of locusts, or the superblooms of wildflowers in California.
The 2019 California superbloom
The 2019 California superbloom brought an out-of-control overpopulation of a different species: human beings. Thousands of tourists trashed and trod down the fields and highways. Local authorities have served notice that they’re not welcome back.
California’s rare flowering “superbloom” at risk of being trampled to oblivion by unruly tourists | Salon.com
Bacteria — and humans. They’re out there.