Illegal lollipops, bad teeth and a new ‘apple’!

By Siouxsie Wiles 20/11/2011

So what links illegal lollipops, bad teeth and a new ‘apple’? Viruses, of course.

First up, illegal lollipops. I’ve been wanting to blog about this story since I first heard about it a couple of weeks ago now. In case you haven’t heard, Facebook pages have been popping up for people in the USA wanting to get hold of chickenpox-infected lollipops. This is a new take on the ‘pox party’ where parents take their kids to visit friends with chickenpox in the hope of passing on the pretty contagious varicella zoster virus. Chickenpox is generally an extremely uncomfortable but not life threatening infection, at least for most kids, although it is much more serious in adults. But even healthy kids can go on to get a secondary bacterial infection which can be very serious indeed. There is a perfectly good vaccine for chickenpox but its not part of the schedule in NZ. Apparently uptake in the USA is pretty good and as a result infected kids are becoming hard to find for those parents who don’t want to vaccinate their kids. Hence, chickenpox lollipops. All you have to do is link up with a complete stranger and they will send you a lollipop licked by their infected child. Or so they claim. I’m almost lost for words. I’ll apologise for being too lazy to find out how long the virus is likely to last on a lollipop, but I don’t imagine its more than a few days. So it’s unlikely people will be getting a chickenpox-infected lollipop. But I’ll put money on the recipient getting a lollipop full of bacteria. Yuck. And it could be something quite nasty. How about the antibiotic-resistant superbug Staphylococcus aureus (also known as MRSA)? Or what about Streptococcus pyogenes which most commonly causes tonsillitis, but can cause mild superficial skin infections and life-threatening systemic diseases such as toxic shock syndrome and necrotising fasciitis (the flesh-eating disease).

The ironic thing is, the reason I’ve not been able to blog about this sooner is because I’ve been stuck in admin hell, preparing all the paperwork to import strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (the agent of TB) into our new lab. We need an import permit, a certified lab to import it into and the strains have to be labelled as a biohazard and packaged in a specific way so as not to put anyone at risk during transit. Not that those infected lollipop peddlers bother themselves with such regulations. Which is why the lollipops are probably illegal. Apparently it is a federal crime to send diseases or viruses across US state lines.

Anyone wanting to buy such a lollipop really should go and watch Contagion. Which is terrifying and fabulous. Yes, it really could be that scary. My only complaint would be that the virologists didn’t appear to balance their centrifuge. Big mistake. Very commonly made on CSI. Only they don’t show the unbalanced centrifuge screaming in protest before the rotor spins off and punches a whole through the machine. To be fair, I think the modern machines have a safety mechanism that stops them if they sense they are unbalanced but if you want to see what can happen have a look here. Apart from that, Jude Law and his awful teeth (and even worse Australian accent) was pretty funny as the internet crazy spouting pseudoscientific nonsense and peddling his ‘cure’. The film also has my favourite quote of all time:

“A blog is not writing. It’s graffiti with punctuation’

So says crusty old virologist Prof. Ian Sussmann (played by Elliott Gould). Hilarious.

And speaking of virologists, it turns out that Steve Jobs replacement at Apple, Arthur Levinson, started out as a virologist before ditching academia for biotech.

I think that’s enough virology for one day.

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