Pilgrims and Pandemics: Hajj, Umrah, and MERS

Click here to check out my blog post for George Washington University‘s International Health Regulations Blog!

The Hajj and Umrah, the two largest pilgrimages of Islam, both take place in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This presents a public health concern, as millions of people from all over the world will be coming to the country that has reported the largest number of MERS-Coronavirus cases.

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My, what an impressive nose you have: How rats could help detect Tuberculosis

Adorable and a TB detection device!

Adorable and a TB detection device! Source: Wikimedia Commons

Dogs have powerful noses; they can be trained to sniff out anything from land mines to cancer. However, they are not the only furry, four-legged creature that relies on a keen sense of smell. The Gambian pouched rat (Cricetomys gambianus, also known as the African giant pouched rat) is a large rodent (not technically a true rat) that relies heavily on its sense of smell.

What does this have to do with Tuberculosis? TB bacterium omit a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC), which can then be detected by smell. The rats are being utilized in countries that can’t afford state-of-the-art testing methods, which can cost more than 20 USD per sample and require the purchase of tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. TB disproportionately affects resource-poor nations; more than 95% of deaths due to TB occur in low- and middle-income countries. Continue reading