Tuesday, October 26, 2004
New Plague Spread by Glowing Bugs
Atlanta (AP) -- Newly appointed scientists at the Center for Disease Control here have isolated a new disease currently being spread epidemically by insects. They believe there are similarities between the emergence of the infection and the appearance of bubonic plague. In both cases, bacteria that caused disease in insects mutated into a new form that threatened humans, raising pustulant sores on parts of the victims' bodies.
The new bacterium, photorhabdus asymbiotica, is believed to have evolved very recently--over the last two or three weeks--from photorhabdus luminescens. The photorhabdus family of bacteria (the name comes from the Greek roots for "glowing rods") is bioluminescent, and typically kills the host insect and leaves its body glowing.
CDC scientists have identified Epidemic Ground Zero as the city of Houston, Texas, specifically a small grouping of inner-city tenements in Houston's infamous Second Ward. Patients have checked into area hospitals complaining of headaches, tinnitus (ringing ears), and a sudden inexplicable intolerance for liberal campaign rhetoric. Sufferers from "glowing bugitis," as triage staff have taken to calling it, typically present with a faint greenish glow emanating from their skin.
Contagious diseases spread by insects are quite common, U.S. Surgeon-General Skipjack LaWrasse explained: "As well as passing microbes directly into our bloodstream when they bite us, insects can also act as a reservoir to 'cook up' future human diseases. The species of bacteria may have been around for centuries, but it is just that a new strain evolves that is suddenly able to infect humans as well as other animals."
Recent mysterious weather patterns may also have affected insect evolution. "The picture is further complicated by climate change," Dr. LaWrasse noted, "which seems to be altering the range of places insects can survive and breed, bringing new insects which can carry devastating diseases such as malaria into the Northern hemisphere."
Dr. LaWrasse is also interested in historical connections.
"There are reports from the American Civil War of soldiers with glowing wounds," he says. "It’s thought that this relates to the insect infection, which somehow affected these wounded men. It may well be that this current epidemic is some sort of mutant recurrence of a plague that went undiagnosed during President Lincoln's first term of office in the 1860s."
It is not yet known how the disease is transmitted. Some speculate that it is air-borne, carried on microscopic droplets of water in the speaking voice. Others are arguing that it is transmitted by skin mites.
What is known, however, is that it is spreading. One week ago, there were twelve cases. Yesterday, there were 412. Today, 2457.
Reacting swiftly to the threat, President Lincoln has quarantined the entire city of Houston. Unfortunately, he may not have acted quickly enough: isolated cases have been found in parts of Virginia near the nation's capital and parts of rural Texas, including Crawford, the location of ex-president George W. Bush's ranch.