Edit: A version of this article was published in The Advertiser on September 13, 2011.
July 28th was World Hepatitis day; the day to raise awareness of hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Both are very important diseases: together they cause >1 million annual cases of liver cancer, one of the most deadly cancers. Hepatitis viruses (A, B, … G) are completely different viruses. The thing that they have in common is that they all infect the liver.
You may have heard of Hepatitis C recently, as an anaesthetist was charged with infecting 54 women with Hepatitis C in a Melbourne hospital a few months ago.
Biohazard cookies! (Cookies by James Kleinig and Gen Sinclair; photo by Thomas Tu)
The cause of Hepatitis C, the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), was discovered very recently in 1989. But since then, we’ve recognised that 3% of the world’s population have been infected with HCV. Famous patients include Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson, the infamous Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read, and stuntman Evel Kinevel.
Before this weeks post I would like to make an announcement. At this stage I am claiming victory in the debate. You can check out the results on the poll itself here. First I would like to thank myself for putting up such an amazing argument. I would also like to thank Thomas for putting up an insufficient fight, I’ll save some cake for you buddy. I would like to thank my wife and our dogs whose love and support get me throu………..<music plays me off stage>.
I don’t want to sound like I’m brave or a hero or anything but each and every day I, alongside my lab-mates aka ‘the league of extraordinary scientists’, stare down pathogens like S. pneumoniae, E. coli, S. flexneri and L. monocytogenes. We go into battle to try and work out how it is that we can tackle these bad guys on a global scale, developing vaccines and anti-microbials or simply understanding their weaknesses better.
So how do we protect ourselves from these harbingers of death in the lab? A gown, gloves and glasses when appropriate and ethanol on everything all the time to ensure it’s sterilised regularly. Really doesn’t seem like much of a barrier when I think about it.
- Thomas wearing his lab coat to protect himself from his work… Thomas. Are you in a bar? Bad Thomas!
In some cases we specifically work on weakened strains to help protect ourselves further but we do rely heavily on our ability to handle these bacteria carefully and with common sense. However, despite all the precautions we take in the lab I’m reasonably sure some of us would be carrying the bugs we work on. Continue reading