6 Things You Might Not Know About Ebola

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There's been a new outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Eleven people have been sickened by the disease, and one has died. Here are some things you might not have known about Ebola.

1. THERE'S MORE THAN ONE KIND OF EBOLAVIRUS.

Five species of Ebolavirus have been identified, each named after the place they sprung up: Ebola (formerly Zaire), Bundibugyo, Sudan, Taï Forest, and Reston. All but one—Reston—arose in Africa. The Reston subtype is named after a town in Virginia where an outbreak occurred in 1989, followed by incidents in Texas and Pennsylvania; all three were tied to infected monkeys exported by a single facility in the Philippines. All Ebolavirus species affect people and nonhuman primates—monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees—but Reston doesn't cause detectable disease in humans.

2. EBOLA HIJACKS THE IMMUNE SYSTEM.

Researchers are finding out just how clever Ebola is. One key to its lethal success is the stealth way it shuts down immune system defenses, the same way an air force will disable air defenses before sending in the bombers. Ebola obstructs parts of an immune system that are activated by molecules called interferons. These interferons have a vital role in fighting Ebola, usually with scorched-earth tactics such as apoptosis, or cell self-destruction. A 2014 study found that Ebola disables signals the cells use to defend against its attack using a protein called VP24, which binds to a specific protein that takes signaling molecules in and out a cell's nucleus. Blocked from communication, the cell can't call for help or get the order to self-destruct. The virus then hijacks the cell, uses it to make more viruses, and spreads them to more cells. It also produces ebolavirus glycoprotein, which binds to cells inside blood vessels, increasing their permeability and leading to leakage. This contributes to the catastrophic bleeding characteristic of late-stage Ebola infection.

3. BATS ARE THOUGHT TO BE THE KEY HOSTS OF EBOLA.

CDC illustration of cycle of ebola infection from bats to humans and animals

Scientists believe that Ebola's natural host species, or "reservoir hosts," are bats. Infected bats can pass the virus to other mammals, including rats, primates, and us. No one is sure how people first became exposed to Ebola, but the best guess is that monkeys were the conduit. Local hunters in Africa likely became infected while butchering the animals. Anyone who became sick likely infected their family and, if hospitalized in an unsanitary facility, other patients. When the illness spreads from person to person, it does so through direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is sick with or has died from Ebola.

4. MEDICAL DETECTIVE WORK IS THE ONLY WAY TO STOP AN EBOLA OUTBREAK.

It takes the investigative skill of a homicide detective to stop an outbreak. Professionals call it contact tracing. Here's how it works: Ebola victim A is isolated and interviewed. Anyone who had close contact with A is put into quarantine for 21 days. If they exhibit no symptoms, they're free to go when the three weeks are up. If they come down with Ebola, they become victim B, and another contact trace begins. If the investigators miss anyone, the outbreak will continue.

5. HAVING MALARIA AND EBOLA AT THE SAME TIME MAY HELP PEOPLE SURVIVE.

Researchers analyzing the the 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa made a surprising finding: patients who had an active malaria parasite infection were actually more likely to survive the Ebola virus, and by a significant degree. While just over half (52 percent) of Ebola patients not infected with malaria survived, those co-infected with malaria had a survival rate of 72 to 83 percent, depending on their ages and the amount of Ebola virus in their blood. The researchers aren't yet sure why, but the prevailing theory is that malaria somehow modifies the immune response to Ebola by toning down a phenomenon called the "cytokine storm"—the body's own response to an Ebola infection, which inadvertently kills the host while attempting to eliminate the pathogen. If malaria can dampen this response, infected patients may have a better chance of surviving.

6. IF YOU'RE A SCIENTIST, YOU CAN ORDER EBOLA ONLINE.

We do not yet have a vaccine or antiviral drug to treat Ebola, but many scientists are working to find one. One source is the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)'s BEI Resources, which gives research facilities access to microbiological materials called reagents that can help them develop diagnostics and vaccines for emerging diseases, including Ebola. Scientists must be registered with BEI to request materials. Reagents are not active viruses, so they can't spread; on the biosafety level, or BSL, scale—which ranks the severity of infectious disease and sets required safety protocols for working with them in a lab—the Ebola-related reagents are considered BLS 1—the lowest risk. (Live Ebola virus is BLS 4—the highest.) Ordering is limited to one Ebola-related reagent at a time, and can be ordered only twice per year.

Can Watching the Super Bowl Give You a Heart Attack?

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With the clock nearing zero, the 2006 divisional round playoff between the Indianapolis Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers looked to be over: It was the fourth quarter, with one minute and 20 seconds left, and the score was 21-18. Pittsburgh held the lead and, by all appearances, was about to score again.

Pittsburgh's offense lined up on the Indianapolis 2-yard line and handed the ball to future Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis, a cannonball of a man who famously went by the nickname "The Bus." Nearly everybody assumed Bettis would pound the ball through the goal line. Instead, Colts linebacker Gary Brackett forced a fumble. The Colts picked up the ball and nearly ran it back for a touchdown. For Steelers fans, it was a sudden and heartbreaking turn of events. Literally.

Watching from a bar, a diehard Steelers fan named Terry O'Neill watched the ball tumble to the ground and suddenly felt a pain in his chest. Luckily, two firefighters in the crowd helped resuscitate him.

"My heart just quit beating completely," O'Neill later told the South Pittsburgh Reporter. "For all intents and purposes, I died."

Research indicates he wasn't the first. Watching a high-stakes game could actually kill you.

A 2002 study in The BMJ, which focused on the health of English soccer fans, found that a "myocardial infarction can be triggered by emotional upset, such as watching your football team lose an important match." A 2008 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine followed the World Cup-watching habits of German soccer fans and found that watching a stressful game more than doubled viewers' chances of experiencing a cardiovascular event. A similar result was found when other researchers looked at cardiovascular deaths in the Netherlands after the country's soccer team lost the European soccer championships on a penalty shootout in 1996.

In 2011, a study published in Clinical Cardiology looked at the Super Bowl specifically and found that deaths increased after the big game in the losing city, finding an "absolute increase in all cause mortality" in people over the age of 65. The researchers argued:

"Acute risk factors usually involve some form of stress—physical, emotional, or both—that increase the sympathetic nervous system and releases catecholamines. The subsequent increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and ventricular contractility increase oxygen demand and may change the shear stress of blood against an atherosclerotic plaque, contributing to plaque fracture."

This particular study, however, has received some criticism. It only looked at mortality statistics for the 1980 and the 1984 Super Bowls, a relatively small sample. Some researchers said the study went too far in implying that the Super Bowl caused death, considering that the viewer's behavior and health history (and not the events of the game itself) could have been responsible. Super Bowl Sunday, after all, is a day filled with fatty fried foods and copious amounts of alcohol—all possible risk factors for a cardiovascular event.

As Gregg Fonarow, director of the Cardiomyopathy Center at UCLA, tells LiveScience, "It may be other behaviors associated with important sporting events rather than the stress of watching the home team lose that may explain these associations." Additionally, pre-existing conditions could be a huge contributing factor. (This was the case for our fateful Steelers fan.)

Study limitations aside, becoming invested in the outcome of a sporting match is undeniably stressful on the heart. A recent (though small) study out of Canada surveyed the heart rates of hockey fans during games, revealing "a mean increase of 92 per cent among the 20 test subjects, rising from an average rate of 60 to 114 beats per minute," according to the Montreal Gazette. In other words, people sitting and watching TV had heart rates equivalent to people undergoing mild exercise. Their heart rates only got higher when they watched games in person.

Of course, you don't have to do a study to learn that close games can cause a diehard fan's heart to pound—just go and ask one. And if they mutter, "This team is going to kill me!," kindly suggest that they step away from the TV before it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

12 Dermatology Terms Defined By Dr. Pimple Popper

Viewers of Dr. Pimple Popper's YouTube channel won't be surprised that their favorite dermatologist—whose real name is Dr. Sandra Lee—is taking the world by storm. Not only does she have an explosively fun game, her SLMD Skincare line, and a new season of her TV show, she also just released a book, called Put Your Best Face Forward: The Ultimate Guide to Skincare from Acne to Anti-Aging. Dr. Lee stopped by the Mental Floss offices to define 12 dermatological terms that you'll often hear her discuss with her patients.

1. Comedone

This word, which comes from Latin, once referred to what people in the 18th century believed were little worms in the skin. Now, Lee says, a comedo or comedone is "the medical term for a blackhead or a whitehead. It's essentially a pore that's clogged with dirt and debris, dead skin cells, oil."

2. and 3. Blackhead and Whitehead

A closeup image of blackheads on the nose.
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Open comedones are blackheads and closed comedones are whiteheads, according to Lee. "The fact that a blackhead is open means that it's more exposed to oxygen, so it oxidizes, it turns darker—that's why it looks black," Lee says. "But a whitehead has a fine layer of skin over it so it stays unexposed to the sun. It stays a whiter color."

Whether you have blackheads or whiteheads, Lee says, the treatment is similar. One route is extraction: Blackheads can be removed at home, with the aid of a comedone extractor, which is Lee's preferred method; you can get the one she uses here. "It's a Schamberg type extractor and I use it because I think it does create less trauma,” she says. "I can go around the area and just extract the blackhead like that." Whiteheads can also be extracted, but because the skin must be pierced, Lee advises having a dermatologist handle that—if you try to do it yourself, "you can traumatize your skin," she says.

There are also products that will eliminate blackheads and whiteheads—look for ones that contain salicylic acids or retinol. You can find products containing those ingredients in Lee's SLMD Skincare line.

4. Hard pop

Viewers of Lee's YouTube channel will be familiar with this phrase, "a term that I sort of made up to describe pops or procedures that I do that are a little more invasive or a little harder, a little more advanced, maybe," she says. "I usually use it to describe the surgeries we do, something that requires a scalpel, maybe some stitches, there may be some blood involved." Hard pop compilation videos on her channel feature excisions of cysts, for example.

5. Soft pop

On the opposite side of the dermatological spectrum from hard pops are soft pops. "A soft pop is usually something that involves a comedone extractor or even your finger," Lee says. Think things like blackheads. "There's usually no blood or knicking or using sharp objects. And those are usually the most popular [videos] and really the gateway drug, so to speak, of popholicism."

6. Pilar Cyst

According to Lee, this type of cyst—which is also called a trichilemmal cyst, and is filled with keratin—occurs on the scalp 90 percent of the time, but "they can occur in any hair-bearing part of the body," she says. "It is derived from a hair root sheath, or part of the hair follicle, and it's a common growth—it can run in families, so it has a hereditary basis to it. This type of pop is really kind of cool to see visually because the wall or the lining of this cyst is thicker. It's almost the consistency of an olive." Because of this, Lee says, pilar cysts typically pop out whole, making them satisfying to see—"and satisfying for me as a surgeon, because I know I got rid of the whole thing."

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7. Epidermoid Cyst

As with pilar cysts, epidermoid cysts can occur wherever there's a hair follicle (though it comes from a different part of the follicle). They're the most common type of cyst, according to Lee. "It's essentially just a balloon under your skin," she says. "Your skin sort of gets tucked under and it's now shedding into this closed space. That's why it grows, because there's just macerated keratin under there." On her YouTube channel, Lee describes the texture as having a "'cheesy' consistency, and there can be a pungent odor."

While pilar cysts have a thick wall, the lining of epidermoid cysts is thinner. Because of this, Lee says, an epidermoid cyst "tends to break easily, and more commonly gets inflamed or infected, because if you traumatize it and it breaks under the skin it elicits a reaction from your body. Your body tries to destroy this foreign body under the skin." This also complicates matters for her, because if she leaves any bit of the cyst behind, it can recur.

8. Dilated Pore of Winer

In her book, Lee calls the dilated pore of winer "the king of the comedones." They are, she says, basically giant blackheads. "It's dilated to such an extent that it changes the topography of the skin," she says. "They're particularly satisfying to see because they're usually huge and you can't imagine someone has something this size on them, and when you remove them they often come out entirely whole."

9. Keratosis pilaris

An image of keratosis pilaris.
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Colloquially called chicken skin, Keratosis pilaris is "a form of dry skin, it's a form of eczema," Lee says. The condition is characterized by tiny, red or brown colored bumps that typically appear on the upper arms, but it can also show up on the face, the butt, or the front of the thighs. "People don't like the appearance of it, and the feeling of it, because you see these little bumps, it's like your hair follicles are more pronounced—it's very bumpy. It's almost like a keratin plug, a skin plug there," she says. "It's really a self conscious thing—you don't want to wear things that bare your arms or your shoulders because you feel like people can see it, and also when people rub up against your skin, it doesn't feel soft, it feels prickly."

To get rid of the bumps, Lee says, you should use products that exfoliate your skin. "My skincare line, SLMD Skincare, has products specifically designed to help exfoliate the skin and to help improve this feeling, this roughness that you feel," she says. You can find them here.

10. Lipoma

In the season two premiere of her TLC show, Lee removes 68 lipomas from a patient's forearms. "A lipoma is a collection of benign fat cells in that space in us that has fat, it's called the subcutaneous space," she says. "I say it's as if one fat cell decided to divide upon itself and create its own little utopia under the skin, because a lot of times it's sort of walled off and separate and looks different than the regular fat under the skin."

According to Lee, lipomas are benign, and "they don't have to be removed, but they are bothersome to people because they can grow to pretty big sizes and really be a source of embarrassment," she says. Her patient had familial multiple lipomatosis, which causes many lipomas to form. "She was very self-conscious about it, and that’s very understandable. Because even though they're benign, they're pretty disfiguring," Lee says. "It makes you realize how often we expose our forearms. Most of us don't even think about it, we take it for granted."

11. Steatocystoma

Fans of Lee's channel will know steatocystomas thanks to her patient Momma Squishy, who has a number of these cysts, which form in the sebaceous glands. According to Lee, steatocystomas aren't as common as pilar or epidermoid cysts. "These cysts have oil glands lining the wall of the cyst, so these are particularly satisfying to pop because they kind of come out like melted butter," she says, also comparing them to linguine noodles. "The sac is very thin-walled but very strong and so you can usually pull it out with a tweezer and forceps and take it out in its entirety."

12. Milia

An image of milia under the eye.
iStock.com/vchal

These tiny, keratin-filled cysts are "pretty common," according to Lee. "They kind of come out like little pearls. They're really pretty. They look like little birdseed, almost. We mostly get them around our eyes because it's a very thin-skinned area. They're deep enough under the skin that you can’t really squeeze them. You definitely have to nick the surface of the skin, which is again something that I don't advise a person does. They should see a dermatologist to do it. And it's nice to get them removed because they can drive us crazy. You can feel this little pebble, this little ball under your skin."

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