This site, written by Rebecca Kreston, “aims to explore the intersection of infectious diseases, the human body, public health and anthropology. I hope to look at the interaction of infectious diseases and cultural/social behaviors. The focus will primarily be on microbiological organisms and parasitic helminths.”
It’s a serious site written by a serious scholar, but with a light touch, or as light a touch as its morbid interests allow. Kreston doesn’t seem to be an Anthropologist by training, but she has a welcome openness to considering the culturally specific, and sensitive, factors which inform infectious disease.
One interesting post concerns itself with epidemiological issues in changing Inuit diet and preservation practices. Traditional methods of preservation included fermenting meat and fat by burying it. Recently, porous and permeable containers for this process have been replaced by tupperware and ziploc bags: ostensibly cleaner receptacles, yet ones which can promote the growth of deadly botulism. It’s a serious problem: about half of all the annual cases of botulism in the United States occur in Alaska.
Another post looks at a surprising, even shocking, connection between practices of fish consumption in Northeast Thailand, parasitic infection, and a rare form of liver cancer. While viruses such as HPV and HTLV-1 are increasingly implicated in certain types of cancer, in the Thai case it is a kind of parasitic helminth worm, a liver fluke, which acts as the proximal agent by blocking and irritating the liver and triggering inflammatory immune responses which can lead to fatal tumours.
In both these cases, there is a strong cultural component which links food practices to fatal diseases in unexpected ways. Food is such a strong cultural keystone and we can see the need for a sensitive anthropological approach to food practices to understand both the disease etiology and any potential public health remedies that might be desirable.
It’s a terrific blog which doesn’t post often, but it posts well. Each entry is well written and illustrated and contains very welcome references for each case study. In between major posts, Kreston also keeps a short-form blog which is updated more frequently (warning: gross pictures!), and she can be followed on twitter.