Thursday, June 7, 2007

A Look Back

At the beginning of our project and research, back in the day before our green light approval, we developed an essential question. It went something like this:

What social, economic, or environmental factors cause the sub-Saharan African "Meningitis Belt" to have large epidemics of Meningitis which rarely occur in first-world countries?

After days of hard labor and blogging, can I answer my own question? Well, yes. I believe I can.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the funding for medical treatment and meningitis prevention is not available. People do not have easy access to vaccination, and cannot pay for it. Once infected with meningitis, it is more difficult to recieve treatment in the Meningitis Belt than in wealthy nations. People live in less sanitary conditions and in closer contact with one another. The Meningitis Belt's dry weather and dust storms weaken immune systems, making the disease even more easily spread.

That is my short and not-so-sweet answer to our Essential Question. For more information, read the blog.

The Project Progress

Miles has built an absolutely awesome larger than life syringe. Once it is painted realistically, I will have to concentrate on not fainting anytime I am near it. Today, I am bringing in the finalizing materials (sand paper, paint, etc.). I also bought some clear sticker paper that I thought maybe we could print the text onto. I know typing it would be better than my handwriting.

I have started thinking about the text for the measurement lines, but I need to decide on a format with Raya before I write it.

Also, if you're reading Raya's blog too, I want to assure you that falling off my rocker isn't a very long drop.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Rest of Them Questions

There are people I know who actually use 'them' incorrectly, like in my title. I also have family that says worsh instead of wash.

Back to the Questions:

What is the known background/history of the disease?

Meningitis was first recorded after an outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland in 1805. The causative bacteria was not discovered until 1887. Since then, epidemics of meningitis as well as sporadic cases have occured world wide. The Meningitis belt has epidemics most frequently.

What are the symtoms?

Symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck, and nausea. In the "advanced" staged of the disease, bruising on the skin is common and seizures may develop. ( The directors of Health Promotion and Education)

How does it affect humans?

Bacterial Meningitis has lead to a vaccine, which people are highly encouraged to recieve. Humanitarian aid groups work to vaccinate people in poorer nations. Epidemics plague entire populations. This question is confusing, just like my answer.

On the cellular level, how does it 'work'?

Although I'm not certain, I believe that when the bacteria infects the meninges, the body's attempt to combat the bacteria causes swelling. This leads to the symptoms as well as the possible long-lasting effects (brain damage; death).

Who does it affect?

The sporadic cases in the first- world affect people living in close contact (college students, children in day care). On the global scale, people in third-world countries are more likely to get the disease, especially those living in the Meningitis Belt in sub-Saharan Africa.

How is it aquired?

The bacteria that cause meningitis are not uncommon. They are often present in the nose or throat without causing any harm. Occasionally the bacteria break through to the meninges. This causes an initial case of meningitis. Meningitis spreads through respiratory droplets of infected persons. (Merck

How is it percieved by the public?

I haven't been able to find a strange social connotation for Meningitis.

Can it be prevented?

Several preventative vaccines are available for meningitis. Epidemics of meningitis can be prevented with early treatment and preventative vaccines and treatments for those who are at risk.

Religious/Social Institutions: This section of questions, about the way religion and the disease collide did not apply to Bacterial Meningitis (as far as I or my partners could tell). As for social institutions, there has been a big push recently for college students and younger adolescents to get vaccinated and humanitarian groups support vaccination and education about Meningitis worldwide.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Project Questions

For this project we were given a list of questions to direct our research in addition to the two essential questions. Here they are with their answers. My goal here is to know the answers to the questions, so I was not careful in my paraphrasing and there is very little analysis.

How was the disease discovered?
Menincococcal Meningitis was first described in 1805, when an outbreak spread through Geneva, Switzerland. The bacteria which caused this outbreak was identified in 1887. (This information is from the WHO's website :

What are the social connotation for the disease? How have these evolved over time?

In my research, I have not found information regarding a public attitude or social connotation regarding meningitis. In the meningitis belt, especially during an epidemic, nearly everyone is susceptible to the disease. In other areas, cases are more sporadic and the disease doesn't seem to receive much attention from the public at all.

Why are some cultures better equipped to combat the disease?

As I have said in previous posts, richer areas can afford preventative measures and treatments. This stops the disease early and prevents epidemics. In poor areas, there is less access to treatment, and less access to preventative vaccines. In the African Meningitis Belt, unstable conditions and an inconvenient climate make combating Meningitis much more difficult.

How has the disease changed or evolved over time?

Although I have been unable to find a history of the disease, I know that treatment, prevention, and prognosis have changed. Before anti-biotics, most people who contracted bacterial meningitis died of it. Those who did not die suffered permanent damage. With anti-biotics, meningitis patients can be treated with anti-biotics and make a full recovery. Also, there are preventative vaccines now which are recommended for the people who are most at risk.

Who has access to the drug?

The vaccines and anti-biotic are more readily available in the United States and other wealthy nations. It is possible, however, to get treatment (anti-biotics) around the world.

What impact does location in the world have on: a) exposure to the disease? b) conditions that cause it?

An outbreak can occur anywhere where people are in contact with each other. However, one is more susceptible to the disease in an area where there is less treatment. Living in close contact with others also leads to more spreading of the disease. The most recent epidemic outside of the Meningitis Belt was in Mongolia (WHO website from above). The meningitis belt in sub-Saharan Africa has large epidemics and more cases of Meningitis because of their dry climate.

How has the disease evolved due to human or animal migration?

As I understand it, Meningitis has always shown up sporadically around the world. During epidemics, the disease will sometimes spread due to travel and seasonal migrations.

How does climate affect exposure to the disease?

There is some detail about this in my previous posts, but in the Meningitis belt, dry weather and dust storms harm muccosal barriers making people less immune to the disease.

What drug is used to treat the disease?

For this project, I have focused my research on penicillin, other anti-biotics can be used. There are also preventative vaccines.

How does the drug work in regard to interaction with biological systems?

Penicillin breaks down the bacterial cell walls making it impossible for the bacteria to "reproduce." This cures the disease.

How was the drug developed?

Penicillin is derived from penicillium molds. The anti-bacterial properties of these molds were discovered long before the drug was tested. During WWII, English scientists began research into the development of the drug. Because of the high cost of research, these scientist could not get the funding they needed in England in the midst of the war. Because of this, they were forced to move their research to the United States. When the drug was first used, it was used only by the allies.

Who has access to the drug?

Although a majority of the world's penicillin is manufactured in China, the drug is available to anyone with money.

What is the cost of the drug?

According to this site,, it is about $5/bou. I don't know what that means, but all the information I found seems to say that penicillin is cheap.

Are there potentially detrimental side effects?

The most common side effects are things like diarrhea and upset stomach. However, severe penicillin allergies are not uncommon.

Are there more than one possible treatments? What are they?

Other anti-biotics can be used to treat meningitis as well. Oily chloramphenicol is often used during epidemics in Africa. Meningitis patients are also sometimes given medication for pain and fever, such as acetaminophen.

More to come...

Friday, June 1, 2007

An Apology in Advance

I know that you love my overexagerrated whiny sarcastic blogger attitude, but I feel that I may have to cut back on it now that we are deeper into the project. I will need to be working on the text for the final project. I wanted to warn you that my posts will probably be drafts for this and this might cause them to be a little less interesting. Thank you for being devoted to me, and for reading through this boring period.

A Nickel for Miles' Thoughts

Here's what Miles thinks so far:

"Whirlwind Heat is probably one of my favorite bands right now. I also like cookie dough. Now, to the project: So as you already know, we are building a penicillin hypodermic needle. We have all the supplies needed in order to complete the product. This weekend, I will be constructing the needle. It's going to be very cool and hopefully very professional. When we get back on Monday, we will be making the needle look more like it's final product stage. It's going to look really good. I'm really excited. We do need to also get what our text is going to be. I also like Frank Zappa"

A Response (I'm charging 4 cents for this):

I like cookie dough too, but I don't want my blog to be a commentary on my taste in music. I did know that we were building a needle. Thank you for getting all of the materials together. I will be bring paint in on Monday. As I said in my last post, I'm going to try to start working on the text portion of the project this weekend. Raya is planning to work on the text when she gets back also. I hope you're right about how awesome our projuct will be.

A Penny for Raya's Thought

How Raya thinks the project is going:

"Okay, this project is not going. We have all the materials and have done nothing with them. I'm not going to be here this weekend, so I'm not doing anything. Miles says we get to paint on Monday if we're lucky and I'm excited about that because I like to paint. Me and Samara still have to look for text for the measurement line thing and I'm not looking forward to that because umm, yeah. I think Samara should get a meningitis shot so her limbs don't fall off, but if her limbs do fall off, my neighbor can make her new arms and legs. When I'm in college, and I read the newspaper where the obituaries are and if Samara's name is there from dying of meningitis, I will cry because I didn't force her to get the shot. So, Samara, don't die of meningitis. Anyways, back to the project, umm, I think one day, I'm going to go to the meningitis belt and go on a safari to see zebras and elephants. Meningitis is a interesting disease. I think it would scare me if I had meningitis because I think I had the flu or something. That's why I'm going to get the meningitis shot, unlike Samara.

P.S. My thoughts are worth more than a penny."

A response for Raya: I spoke with Miles and he is planning to complete much of the construction part of the project this weekend. I offered to go help him, but he thinks that me going up there would be more trouble than it's worth. I don't think you should feel guilty about not being here this weekend since he does not need help anyway. I am bringing paint in on Monday so that we can begin painting and finalization of the "constuction phase." If I have enough time this weekend after working on my short story, I will start to write the text for the measurement lines.

I realize that not getting vaccinations is irresponsible and dangerous. I also realize that my fear is irrational. Still, everytime I know I will be recieving a shot, I get extremely anxious and tense. The feeling takes a while to dissipate after the shot. I hope that I will be able to build up the courage for the shot before I live in the dorms.

I agree that learning about Meningitis has been interesting.