Saturday, August 6, 2011

Loose Lab Rat Makes Front Page: Expect the Unexpected

ARTICLE:  “New bacteria linked to ticks:  deer parasites blamed for Lyme disease cause new worry.”  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel [Milwaukee] 4 August 2011, A1+.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE:  Keep an eye on EurekAlert and be prepared to reconfigure your week so that can cover breaking news, particularly when it's of local import.

Access to embargoed scientific breakthroughs:  Priceless.


      Lead Author

1)      Were any of the 4 patients who turned up positive for the WI species also positive for Borrelia burgdorferi?

2)      Two of the 4 patients were immunocompromised.  Was the WI species more virulent in these patients?

3)      If so, might the status of the immune system predict the outcome of infection with the new species?

4)      What are the consequences of untreated infection of this new Ehrlichia species?

5)      Do you believe that co-infection with this new species and B. burgdorferi might explain some of the complications observed in some people who develop long lasting or undiagnosed Lyme disease?
6)      If a rash accompanies infection with this new species—and my understanding is that it usually doesn’t—what might that rash resemble?

7)      Why the high elevation of liver enzymes?  Does this suggest that the bacteria or bacterial toxins damage the liver?

8)      Are most labs equipped to test for this new species?  Would that amount to PCR with sequence-specific primer/probe set?

9)      How can patients request this test, particularly if a doctor hasn’t been informed of it?

10)  Can this new species be detected years after infection or is the titre likely to decrease after time?

      Outside Source 

What do these studies mean clinically for people bitten by ticks and for doctors encountering patients with certain symptoms who may have been exposed to ticks?

      Surprise Sources

Sometimes unexpected sources emerge.  A press person calls you with a patient or a technician on the other line willing to speak.  In these moments, you wing it.  Embrace the opportunity, imagine the possibilities to make your story a better one, and make it a great conversation.  These interviews will often afford you priceless quotes that end up highlighted in the story.

There is always another angle to a story--an aspect that is compelling to you as a scientist.  Your editors, on the other hand, may not see it the same way.  Learn to let go.  They know better than you, they really do.