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Friday, June 26, 2009

Human Nature (and snails)

Schistosomiasis may not kill you. But it sure doesn't make life all that enjoyable.

A waterborne parasitic disease, schistosomiasis affects nearly 200 million people worldwide, primarily in developing nations. Its treatment is a research focus of Justin Remais, director of the Rollins School of Public Health's Global Environmental Health Program, and an assistant professor at the school.

Remais was the featured speaker at Faculty Destinations: Boston, Thursday, June 25, and his address brought a freshness to the sometimes over-analyzed subject of climate change. He also connected that change to his own, innovative work on schistosomiasis in China, which really personalized it.

I was paying total attention to his every word, and I wasn't the only one. There were lots of "oohs," "ahhs," and "wows" from the crowd.

You can't get schistosomiasis (sometimes called "snail fever" since thumbnail-sized snails are the parasite's hosts) from drinking contaminated water. You get it from touching contaminated water. If you are unlucky enough to do that, the parasite infects you by burrowing into your healthy skin. Yuck. Then it messes up your internal organs, but won't necessarily kill you. The disease is treatable with medication, but it's not a pleasant affliction to have by any stretch.

But if Remais has his way, millions of people can avoid this terrible disease.

You can read more about Remais' fascinating work here.

We had a great crowd of nearly 30 (pretty good for a summer day in Boston without rain ... the first in nearly two weeks, I'm told). Guests traveled from as far away as Providence, RI. We had several current students who brought their parents, and alumni not just from RSPH, but from Oxford College, Emory College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Law.

It was great seeing such a vibrant mix. The crowd was one of the most responsive I've seen. Following Remais' address and Q&A, guests lined up to talk with him afterward. We stayed in the meeting room some 45 minutes past our planned completion time.

I hope we don't have to pay extra.

Anyway, the excitement of our guests is just one of many things I'll remember from this trip.

Another thing I'll always remember really doesn't have anything to do with the event. I'll always remember I was in Boston when I heard Michael Jackson died (and Farrah Fawcett, too). My mom always tells me where she was when she heard President Kennedy was assassinated (and where her parents were when Pearl Harbor was attacked).

My tragedy signposts, and those of my 30-something generation, have been the Challenger explosion (high school journalism class ... doubly haunting since I went to high school near Tampa, FL, and we could step outside and see the aftermath) and 9/11 (the University Communications office at Emory).

Now, I'm not sure the death of an entertainer (albeit one as marvelously talented yet dreadfully tormented as Jackson) necessarily approaches the tragedies above, but at least in my mind it's going to be prominent. When I heard Michael Jackson died, I was setting up our literature table, getting ready for the event. The reception was in a neat, bar/meeting area in the hotel called Il Barista. It's an image that will stick in my mind for some time. I think it's because was I was doing was so far outside my routine. Had I been sitting in traffic on the Connector, I'm sure I'd feel different. A bar in Boston, though? Yeah, that will be a memory with some legs.

OK, back to lighter subjects. We'll post a Boston slide show early next week and a lot more EAA news to write about. Until then, have a great weekend!

-- Eric Rangus, director of communications, EAA

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