27 Mar 2020

Epidemics, Smallpox, and William Osler

By Gillian O'Reilly

These days, our minds are on epidemics (the rapid spread of disease to a large number of people in a given population within a short period of time) and pandemics (disease epidemics that have spread across large regions or worldwide).

One of my current projects is a book about the brilliant Canadian diagnostician and medical
educator Dr. William (Willie) Osler. Born in 1849 when people still thought diseases were
caused by bad air, Osler lived through the huge changes brought about by the discovery of
germs. There are several stories of his encounters with smallpox during his career.

Photo of William Osler from 1881 used with permission
of the Osler Library for the History of Medicine

In the nineteenth century, smallpox was a terrifying disease, often fatal. Survivors were left with bad scarring or blindness. Symptoms were fever, a rash, and characteristic pustules all over the body. Once diagnosed, smallpox patients had to be quickly isolated from other patients in a separate ward or hospital.

Vaccinations, successfully tested in 1796, had replaced variolation (an earlier form of inoculation used in Asia and Africa for centuries). Over the nineteenth century, widespread vaccination, sometimes mandated by law, had reduced the number of infections and deaths, but there were still regular outbreaks where vaccination rates were low.

In the spring of 1872 after his final year of medical school, Willie worked briefly at a hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. There he encountered a rare case of smallpox and drove the dying patient to mayor’s home to force the authorities to provide proper isolated accommodation for the man.
Quarantine poster image used with permission 
of the Osler Library for the History of Medicine
Montreal was one part of Canada where vaccination rates were low. Willie was teaching at McGill University during the smallpox epidemic of 1875-1876 and he took time to work in Montreal’s smallpox hospital, earning $600. Although he had been vaccinated (like all his siblings), he caught a mild case of the disease.

In those days, medical students learned mostly from lectures, rarely seeing patients or working in a lab. One of Willie’s innovations as a teacher was to make sure that his students had microscopes, so they could see and understand the diseases they were studying. The $600 he earned went to pay for microscopes.

Willie was one of the founders of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. When it opened in the fall of 1893, he at last had the medical school he wanted – a place where learning, hospital work and research were intertwined and where students could learn by doing. Willie led a weekly general clinic at the hospital, where he and students would see patients. 

By then, some diseases had become rare enough that many doctors and students had trouble diagnosing them. One resident proudly displayed what he thought was an interesting case of chicken pox to Osler and 30 or 40 students and doctors. When he threw back the sheet, a horrified Willie exclaimed, “My God, Futcher, don’t you know smallpox when you see it?” The patient was quickly isolated, the ward quarantined for six weeks and the students and staff hurriedly vaccinated.

In 1980, smallpox became the only human disease to be declared eradicated, thanks to a worldwide vaccination program in the 20th century.

More on William Osler and the history of medicine can be found at The Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill  https://www.mcgill.ca/library/branches/osler

The Osler Library Instagram page at https://www.instagram.com/oslerlibrary/  has a good drawing of emergency smallpox vaccinations being performed on American-bound trains from Montreal.

19 Mar 2020

International Forest Day Twitter Party!

Saturday is UN International Day of Forests!

As Sci/Why readers might know, my newest children's science book, The Boreal Forest: A Year in the World's Largest Land Biome, will be published on April 7, 2020. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, all of my in-person book tour events have been cancelled through early May. But that doesn't mean we can't celebrate - or help our kids learn at home! And so...
Here's everything you need to know about my International Day of Forests Twitter Party!

When it is?

Saturday, March 21, from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM Eastern Time.

Do I have to have a Twitter account?

Nope! Twitter is 100% public and free. You can view all of the content I will be posting - fun facts, cute photos, links to resources - on my Twitter page:

Lindsey's Twitter Feed

Note, you will need a Twitter account to enter the giveaway. More on that below.

Will any other authors be there?

I am so please to announce that kid lit creators Darren Lebeuf and Carmen Oliver will be special guests at this event! You can follow all of their posts here:

Darren's Twitter Feed

Carmen's Twitter Feed

I'm on Twitter: how can I participate? 

Like, tweet, comment, retweet! The more the merrier.

#IntlForestDay is the official hashtag for the UN event. You can also email forest-themed photos to IDF@fao.org for possible inclusion in the UN's official Day of Forests gallery.

And, of course, you can enter to win the giveaway!

How can I enter to win the exclusive Day of Forests Prize Pack?

Contest Begins: March 21, 1:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Contest Ends: March 21, 4:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Contest Rules:
  • One prize pack will be awarded, including 1 copy each of:
  • There are two ways to enter!
    • ONE entry for each account that retweets the opening contest post, which will appear on Lindsey's feed at 1:00PM
    • ONE entry for each account that tweets using #KCPKidsLoveTrees
  • Entries must be received during the contest period
  • Canadian and US shipping addresses only
  • No purchase necessary
  • Note: Creation of multiple accounts for the purpose of entering a contest is a violation of Twitter Rules – anyone found to be using multiple accounts will be disqualified.
Note, the Day of Forests Twitter Party prize pack is different than the forest-themed giveaway I'm running on my website - it's just for people who participate in the Twitter event. If you don't want to be on Twitter, check out Forest Fridays posts on my blog for other ways to win! Those posts are also a great source of homeschooling content, FYI.

Remember, you can't catch a virus from Twitter - this is the perfect bookish/educational activity for anyone in self-isolation or who's social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hope to see you there!

18 Mar 2020

Free Homeschooling Resources for Isolating Families

Hey, people who read Sci/Why website! We've got new resources added to this post.

With the coronavirus pandemic, nearly all the schools, libraries and museums are closed for most of our readers. Here are some free online resources that will be useful for families who are doing some homeschooling, or just want to have interesting things to do. If you have more free online resources to recommend, please share them in the comments below.

Due to the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus, Binogi will open up its content to all Canadian teachers, students, and parents to provide remote teaching and learning throughout spring 2020. This platform looks terrific! We learned about it from this article at Sooke Pocket News. The article explains more about Binogi and their learning program, with links to Binogi's website, so check it out.

There's a page of resources for educators at the website for Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory, which you can find at this link.

Remember, if you're a family with kids home from school, you might have no need to set up formal homeschooling lessons! It's probably best to start with a wander through these amazing books and videos, to find what is interesting for you. Maybe you will read through an entire unit and learn a formal lesson, or maybe you'll find that it's animal webcams that make your family happy about science. There's no wrong answer.

Our own LE Carmichael has just launched a new book, The Boreal Forest. Check out our Sci/Why blog at this link for the post she wrote about her event  If you're missing the public library or bookstore, she says: "Click over to Youtube to enjoy this video of me reading from The Boreal Forest on #IntlForestDay" 
Here's the link for that reading! 

Here are some great comments on writing about science for young people, from Sci/Why's own Joan Marie Galat, who wrote on this topic for Edmonton Public Library. Click here for a link to read what she and several other Canadian writers have to say about researching and writing our books!

Now that we're all practising social distancing, we can't go to libraries or museums. Though many of us can go for a walk to a park or beach or hiking trail, some people don't have that option for a field trip. Here's a link found by Sci/Why's own Margriet Ruurs, which leads to over THIRTY virtual field trips you can take on a computer. You and your kids can visit animal webcams, the Louvre and other museums, or even Mars! Just click on this link:

If you're into the space program or astronomy, the NASA website at http://nasa.gov will lead you to an amazing amount of science and space program resources you can read, download, and more. NASA also has a Kids' Club (click here for the link) with games, stories, calendars, and more.

Remember that Canada's National Film Board has over 400 Canadian films in English and in French available for anyone to watch online at http://nfb.ca .

If you or your child are a high school student in Canada, do not panic about school credits for graduation! Every province in Canada is working on this issue, and there will be a way to ensure students can finish school credits. E-mail your school and your province's Ministry of Education to learn what is being done in your area.

There is particularly good news from Alberta on this matter, from Alberta Distance Learning Centre which has resources used by many Canadians across the country and around the world. Their website is http://adlc.ca and they have 300 courses being used, 200 of which are online. They advise other distance learning programs nationally. They are used to hearing from parents and school boards.
Click here for a link to an article by CBC News about this amazing distance learning centre, and what they're doing to help students who had not planned to need to study at home.

I'll add right now the particularly bad news that the Alberta government had JUST announced they were reducing funding this year for the Alberta Distance Learning Centre and CANCELLING it entirely. If you're living in Alberta, let your government know what you think of cancelling this excellent and cost-effective education program, which is a major employer for the town of Barrhead as well as employing many teachers and tutors who work online.

Scholastic Books is promoting their Learn At Home website (click here for the link) which has learning content for children from pre-Kindergarten to Grade 6. There are five days' worth of materials, with more on the way.

Abdo Digital Publishing has sent out word that they are making their digital library FREE for people to download and use from their website, http://abdodigital.com. This American publisher has resources including books in Spanish as well as English.
They have both an Elementary Digital Bookshelf for pre-Kindergarten thru Grade 8 at this link
and a Secondary Digital Bookshelf for Grades 5 through 12 at this link

As their note today said:
To help stop the spread of COVID-19, schools and libraries are closing across the country. ABDO wants to ensure that readers everywhere continue to have the opportunity to learn and grow during this unprecedented event. Our digital products are available for free now through June 2020.

13 Mar 2020

Wash your hands ... and DRY THEM, too.

By Simon Shapiro

We're being bombarded with the very sensible advice to wash our hands constantly. It's the first line of defense against the COVID-19 virus. And it's critical to wash properly: enough soap and water, lots of friction, spend 20 - 30 seconds (sing 'Happy Birthday' twice through) etc. But even after a diligent washing, your hands are probably not perfectly clean. After a less-than-diligent washing, your hands are definitely not perfectly clean. Drying them properly should also be part of the routine, for three reasons:
  1.  Drying your hands can remove some (or even most) of the residual bacteria and viruses.
  2. Wet or damp hands provide an environment that's good for residual bacteria and viruses (and therefore bad for us).
  3. Damp hands are more likely to transmit residual bacteria and viruses to other surfaces. 
In 2012 the Mayo Clinic published a survey of twelve studies looking at the effectiveness of different drying methods. Methods included cloth or paper towels, hot air dryers and jet dryers. (Jet dryers are the newer kind that use a strong, loud jet of unheated air).

Not all of the studies agreed with each other, but the overall conclusions are clear.
  • Towels and jet dryers get hands 96% dry in ten seconds. Hot air dryers need 40 seconds to get to that level.
  • We're usually in a hurry and don't take enough time to dry our hands. We spend 3-5 seconds on a towel and around 15 seconds on a hot air dryer. On average men are worse than women, and get to only 55% dryness on a hot air dryer; women average 68%. But both get to at least 90% using towels.
  • All methods are very effective if used properly. 
  The takeaway advice is clear:
  • Wash your hands frequently and carefully.
  • Dry them thoroughly every time. 
  • If you're using a multiple-use towel (as you likely are, at home), bear in mind that it's getting residual bacteria and viruses, so launder and change it frequently.

6 Mar 2020

Virus VS Bacteria — Know your enemy

Viruses and bacteria are the typical things that make us sick. But what are they? The first thing to know is that you can’t see them without a microscope. The second thing to know is that they find a great home in our bodies, where they can grow, reproduce, and spread to new hosts. But in the process, most of them make us very, very sick. Bacteria rots our food, too.

What do viruses and bacteria look like?

Viruses are different from bacteria in many ways, and not all viruses look alike. Bacteria don’t all look the same either. Here are some things that make them different.

the coat on some viruses looks spiky, like a ball of velcro

some bacteria have flagellum, a tail that helps them move

Size Smaller: 20–400 nm
Need an electron microscope to see them
Larger: 200–1000 nm
See them with a school microscope
Structure Protein coat only, no cell Single cell with a wall
Living/Non-Living Between living and non- Living organism
Reproduction Forces host cell to reproduce its DNA Reproduces on its own by splitting (fission)
Prevention Fight with vaccines and hand washing Fight with hand washing
Recovery from infection Heal with antiviral medications Heal with antibiotics

Images by Arek Socha from Pixabay.

How do you fight an infection of virus vs bacteria?

Viruses and bacteria that make a home in your body can make you sick. The solution for each is found right in the name: Anti-biotics fight the biotic, living bacteria. Anti-virals fight the viral infection caused by viruses. But not every virus and bacteria has a medicine to fight it.

An antibiotic cannot fight a virus, and vice versa.

Not all bacteria are killed by the same antibiotic medications.

Not all viruses are killed by the same antiviral medicines. Medicine has to be matched to the specific problem.
Amazing fact: Bacteria can catch a virus!
Some viruses can be prevented by taking a vaccine before you are exposed to the virus! Each vaccine fights a specific virus. Flu vaccines change every year to match the particular type of flu that is spreading that year, since flu (influenza) is a whole family of viruses. In Canada, most people take a group of vaccines when they are children, to prevent once-common deadly illnesses like chickenpox, measles, and mumps. When we travel to foreign places, we can take vaccines to prevent picking up viruses that are widespread there; hepatitis and malaria are common viruses that travellers get vaccinated against.

Animals get vaccinated against viruses such as rabies. Viruses and bacteria make animals sick too, but not always the same ones that make humans sick.

Your doctor will determine whether it is a virus or bacteria that is making you sick. Or it may be a different illness! They will prescribe the right medicine for the job, if that is an option.
Amazing fact: Some kinds of bacteria are good for you! Probiotics are an example of bacteria that are helpful in your stomach.