This Podcast Will Kill You
This Podcast Will Kill You
Exactly Right
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This podcast might not actually kill you, but it covers so many things that can. Each episode tackles a different disease, from its history, to its biology, and finally, how scared you need to be. Ecologists and epidemiologists Erin Welsh and Erin Allmann Updyke make infectious diseases acceptable fodder for dinner party conversation and provide the perfect cocktail recipe to match
Ep 60 Giving birth to "The Pill"
Well, TPWKY listeners, it has been a heck of a year, and it’s not even over yet! But one thing has come to an end: our third season. Given the profound implications these next couple of months will have on the future of health and security in the United States, for our season finale we chose to cover a topic that’s near and dear to our hearts and minds: birth control. Have you ever thought to yourself, “I know this IUD/patch/pill prevents pregnancy, but how exactly does it do that?” or “How on earth did someone come up with this pill and then get it legalized?” If so, you’re in luck. In this episode, we walk through the basics of how the most common hormonal contraceptives work and then journey through the history of the various birth control movements in the United States. Finally, we wrap up with some of the latest developments in birth control technology (male hormonal contraceptives, anyone?) as well as the major legal decisions impacting access to birth control. We want to thank all of you fantastic listeners who have been with us through this wild year. You have made it all worth it! And fear not - we’ll be back with season 4 before you know it. Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the first episode drop of the next season! See for privacy information.
Oct 13
1 hr 33 min
Ep 59 Thalidomide: Justice Delayed, Justice Denied
The story of thalidomide is often employed as a cautionary tale - why testing a drug’s safety during pregnancy is crucial or why it’s important to choose the right animal models. Or it’s framed as a success story for drug repurposing or regulation. But those tellings often gloss over the darker lesson of thalidomide: that for some companies, the bottom line is more important than human life. This week, we explore all elements of this infamous drug. We start by examining what we know about how thalidomide causes the severe congenital malformations it’s associated with, and then we dive into the deep, dark history of the drug, complete with a full cast of villains and heroes. Finally, we discuss thalidomide’s controversial comeback as a treatment for myeloma and complications of leprosy. Get out your angry hats for this one, people, because you’ll find yourself asking along with us, “why are humans the way we are?” See for privacy information.
Sep 29
1 hr 32 min
Ep 58 Guinea worm: (Almost) Ancient History
You’ve heard about smallpox, and you’ve learned about rinderpest. Now it’s time to meet what may be the third disease to ever be eradicated: dracunculiasis, also known as Guinea worm disease. In this episode, we take you through the absolutely remarkable life cycle of this not-so-little worm and the nitty gritty of the havoc it wreaks on a person’s body throughout its journey. Then get out your TPWKY bingo cards, because the history of Guinea worm includes not only mummies and historic papyri but also ancient Rome and fun etymology. To bring us up to speed on the current status of Guinea worm today is Sarah Yerian, Senior Associate Director of the Guinea Worm Eradication Program at the Carter Center. Sara discusses not only how the reduction in prevalence of dracunculiasis has been achieved but also the challenges that remain to finally relegate this worm to the history books. To learn more about the Guinea Worm Eradication Program at the Carter Center, check out the website or follow them on social media: @CarterCenter. You can also find the link to our firsthand account here. See for privacy information.
Sep 15
1 hr 9 min
Ep 57 Herpes: Stop the STIgma
The harm caused by herpes simplex viruses (HSV) 1 & 2 often arises not from the pathology of the viruses themselves but rather from the stigma and shame associated with a positive diagnosis. In this episode, we attempt to lay a clear foundation for understanding not only how these viruses work but also what occurred to change the perception of them from “innocuous infection” to “dreaded disease”. Starting us off with his firsthand account is the incredible Courtney Brame, founder and host of Something Positive for Positive People, a non-profit organization and podcast that aims to provide community support, healing resources, and educational discussions around positive HSV and other STI diagnoses as well as larger issues in sexuality and physical and mental health. We then dive into the meat of the episode, tackling such questions as “how do these viruses hide out in your body?”, “what kind of treatment is available?”, “where did these viruses even come from?” and “why is there such a huge amount of stigma and what can we do about it?”. To help us address this last question is our other fantastic guest, Dr. Ina Park, Associate Professor, University of California San Francisco School of Medicine and Medical Consultant, Division of STD Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We chat with Dr. Park about her new book, Strange Bedfellows, when to have “the talk” with your kids, and how we as individuals can break down some of the shame surrounding a positive STI diagnosis. To learn more about Something Positive for Positive People, head to the website or check out the SPFPP podcast wherever you get your podcasts! You can also follow Courtney on Instagram: @honmychest. And don’t forget to pre-order Dr. Ina Park’s upcoming book Strange Bedfellows: Adventures in the Science, History, and Surprising Secrets of STDs, expected February 2021. You can find out more about Dr. Park and her work on her website or by following her on Twitter: @InaParkMD or Facebook: Ina Park. See for privacy information.
Sep 1
1 hr 25 min
Ep 56 Sickle Cell Disease: Invisible Illness, Enduring Strength
Neglected and ignored by the medical establishment throughout most of its history, sickle cell disease remains one of the most common (and commonly misunderstood) genetic conditions in the world. In this episode, we break down the myriad effects that one nucleotide substitution can have on the human body and discuss the basics of what it means when blood cells sickle. Continuing with the theme of the seen and unseen, we then turn to the history of sickle cell disease, a history of long-standing injustice and the unending fight to raise awareness and provide support for those impacted by the condition. And as always, we wrap up with a discussion on the current global status of sickle cell disease and some exciting new treatment options on the horizon.  We are so honored and thrilled to be joined this episode by not one, not two, but three incredible guests! You’ll hear first from Marsha Howe and Sharif Tusuubira, who share with us some of their firsthand experiences living with sickle cell disease. And then in our current status section, Dr. Megan Hochstrasser from the Innovative Genomics Institute walks us through the mind-blowing genome editing approaches being used to treat genetic conditions such as sickle cell disease. You can follow Marsha on her website for her non-profit organization and blog “My Life With Sickle Cell” as well as through her social media channels: Twitter: @MarshaMLWSC,  Instagram: @marsha_h181, Facebook: Marsha Howe. And make sure to check out B Positive Choir too! Twitter: @bpositivechoir and Instagram: @bpositivechoir. Learn more about Sharif Tusuubira’s amazing advocacy efforts on his website and through his social media channels: Twitter: @tkksharif, Instagram: @tkksharif, Facebook: Sharif Kiragga Tusuubira. You can also watch his 2017 talk in Washington, DC as a Mandela Washington Fellow. And to learn more about the futuristic-sounding research being done at the Innovative Genomics Institute (including using CRISPR to develop a faster, cheaper coronavirus test!), you can follow Megan (@thecrispress) and IGI (@igisci) on Twitter, or head to their website. See for privacy information.
Aug 18
1 hr 59 min
Ep 55 Rocky Mountain spotted fever: The tick must be destroyed!
Despite what its name might suggest, the story of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) takes us far beyond the jagged, snow-capped peaks of the western range. From the Bitterroot Valley to southeastern Brazil, it is a story filled with equal parts tragedy and discovery, as the researchers desperate for answers fall victim to the very disease they seek to prevent. In this episode, we dive into the dark past of this deadly disease, first exploring the biology of the teeny tiny organism that wreaks such devastation. As always, we follow that up by tracing the history surrounding this much-feared infection and its role in the creation of one of the world’s leading infectious disease laboratories. Finally, we end with the current status of RMSF, which (spoilers) isn’t as bleak as you might think, thanks once again to antibiotics. Tune in to hear why we’ve been excited to research this episode since the very beginning of the podcast. See for privacy information.
Aug 4
1 hr 47 min
Ep 54 Wake Up and Smell the Caffeine
Are you one of the billions of people around the world who starts your day with a freshly brewed and deliciously aromatic cup of coffee or tea or maybe even hot chocolate? Or are you caffeine-avoidant, looking on at your coffee-addicted friends with confusion and maybe even pity? In either case, this episode is for you. We are joined by the one and only Matt Candeias of In Defense of Plants to tackle the world’s most consumed psychoactive drug: caffeine. First we get a taste of the massive history of the most popular caffeine-containing beverages, then we trace what exactly caffeine does in your body after that first scrumptious sip. And finally, we explore what role this compound has for those many, many plants that produce it. We hope you find this episode as stimulating as its subject! See for privacy information.
Jul 21
1 hr 23 min
Ep 53 Radiation: X-Ray Marks the Spot
“I have discovered something interesting, but I do not know whether or not my observations are correct.” With these words, Wilhelm Röntgen introduced the world to an invisible power, a power which would in turn be used to both harm and heal. This week, we take a tour of the wide world of radiation, starting with a primer on what radiation actually is and how it works, courtesy of Dr. Timothy Jorgensen, Associate Professor of Radiation Medicine and Director of the Health Physics and Radiation Protection Graduate Program, Georgetown University. Then we discuss the nitty gritty on what radiation does to you on a cellular level. We follow that up with a stroll through some of the major moments in the history of radiation - from X-rays to atomic bombs and from radioluminescent paint to cancer treatments. Finally we wrap things up by chatting about the many amazing medical applications of radiation therapy and how you can assess the risk/benefit of that X-ray or mammogram. To read Dr. Jorgensen’s incredible book Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation, check out his website or head to our website for our full list of sources. See for privacy information.
Jul 7
1 hr 53 min
Ep 52 Rinderpest: Moo Cows, Moo Problems
The second disease ever to be eradicated, rinderpest could be the most devastating and notorious infection you never knew existed. Though its name means “cattle plague”, the deadly rinderpest virus infected hundreds of species of animals during its long reign, and outbreaks of rinderpest left nothing but famine and ruin in their wake. In this episode, we start by taking you through the biology of one of the biggest killers we’ve ever faced. We then trace the long history of this feared disease, from fire festival rituals in Russia to the imperialist exploitation of the Great African Rinderpest Panzootic of the 1890s that paved the way for European colonial rule over a large part of the continent. Fortunately, this story ends happily as only one other has done so far - with complete and total eradication. You may have started this episode not knowing about rinderpest, but when you’re done, you won’t be able to stop talking about it. Trust us. See for privacy information.
Jun 23
1 hr 20 min
Ep 51 The Path of Most (Antibiotic) Resistance
No story of antibiotics would be complete without the rise of resistance. As promised in our last episode, this week we dive into what the WHO calls ‘one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today’ - antibiotic resistance. In the decades since their development, misuse and overuse of antibiotics has led to many becoming all but useless, and our world seems on the verge of plunging into a post-antibiotic era. How does resistance work? Where did it come from? Why did it spread so far so rapidly? Is there any hope? In this episode, we answer all these questions and more. First, we explore the many ways bacteria evade the weaponry of antibiotic compounds. Then we trace the global spread of these resistant bugs by examining the major contributors to their misuse and overuse. And finally we assess the current global status of antibiotic resistant infections (spoiler: it’s very bad) and search for any good news (spoiler: there’s a lot!). To chat about one super cool and innovative alternative to antibiotics, we are joined by the amazing Dr. Steffanie Strathdee (Twitter: @chngin_the_wrld), Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences, Harold Simon Professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Co-Director at the Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics. Dr. Strathdee provides a firsthand account of helping her husband, Dr. Tom Patterson, fight off a deadly superbug infection by calling on a long-forgotten method of treating bacterial infections: phage therapy.   To read more about phage therapy and Dr. Strathdee’s incredible experiences, check out The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir.  See for privacy information.
May 26
1 hr 50 min
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