2011 In The Rear-View Mirror: What You Liked

Happy New Year, constant readers. It seems to be impossible to get past Dec. 31 without a year-end list of some kind, and in the past 48 hours, many, many science bloggers have responded to that impulse by listing their own favorite posts or the ones they liked best that were written by others. (There’s a huge and growing round-up at John Rennie’s Gleaming Retort, and honestly, if you didn’t know about it because you weren’t already reading him, you should fix that. Make it a resolution.)

Always ready to be an iconoclast, I thought I’d change up the listage a bit. So here’s a recap of what your favorites were, based on how many comments each post received. It’s not a perfect measure of popularity — a number of posts had low comment numbers but big RTs and Facebook likes — but it’s a useful indicator of what topics moved you to outrage or appreciation, or spurred a desire to share your own experience too.

My quick analysis: You’re  very angry about failures in food safety, you’re alert to quirky discoveries, and you’re not going to let me talk smack about your pets.

Out of 107 posts in 2011, the top 10 by comment count are:

10. 25 Dead From Melons: FDA Points To Packing Facility (56 comments): A deep dive into federal inspectors’ testimony regarding the conditions at the plant that was the source of last autumn’s Listeria outbreak in cantaloupe, which killed 31 and made 146 ill — the most deadly foodborne outbreak on record in the United States.

9. What Vaccine Refusal Really Costs: Measles in Arizona (57 comments): I run the numbers on a 14-person outbreak that started with one unvaccinated Swiss tourist visiting an ER, and ended up with 8,321 people being tracked down by health authorities, 15,120 work-hours lost to healthcare workers being sent home, and $799,136 spent to contain the disease.

8. How Much Is A Drug-Resistance Death Worth? Less Than $600 (57 comments): Another economic-analysis post, based on research by Superbug friend Dr. Eli Perencevich of the University of Iowa. He compared federal grant money for HIV/AIDS and for antibiotic resistance and found that, for every AIDS death, the government awards $69,000 in research funds; for every death from antibiotic-resistant organisms, no more than $570. Guess which illness kills more Americans? Not AIDS.

7. Antibiotics: Killing Off Beneficial Bacteria… For Good? (58 comments): A look at new research which contends that when we take antibiotics, we permanently disrupt the gut microbiome — the vast, diverse community of bacteria that form a second immune system in our intestines — and may set ourselves up for allergies, depression and obesity lifelong.

6. Resistant Salmonella: Deadly Yet Somehow Not Illegal (59 comments): As 36 million pounds of ground turkey got recalled for the presence of multi-drug resistant Salmonella, I drilled into the federal regulations that should have prevented its distribution — and revealed that, since Salmonella isn’t technically an “adulterant,” no one legally did anything wrong. Which turns out to be a good thing for meat processors, because by federal records, ground turkey routinely contains a lot — a lot — of resistant Salmonella.

5. 30 Years of AIDS, And How It Began. (Part 1) (61 comments): An excerpt from my 2004 book about the federal Epidemic Intelligence Service, re-telling the 1981 identification of the first five cases of what would come to be known as AIDS — and an arrow to my heart, that so many of you cared to read and comment. I was a student when AIDS started, and a lot of my close friends died, quickly and very badly. I’ve never forgotten, and I’ve never stopped wanting to tell people what it was like.

4. Fecal Transplants: They Work, The Regulations Don’t (83 comments): Medicine struggles to keep up with Clostridium difficile, C. diff — the incredibly stubborn, recurrent, drug-resistant intestinal illness that ruins the lives of thousands of patients each year. Turns out the fix might be, not an expensive new drug, but an old, simple and dirt-cheap procedure that can be done in a doctor’s office, or even at home if you can defuse your ick factor — but that may have to remain a home or underground procedure, because regulators can’t figure out how to license it.

3. Antibiotics: Connected to Obesity, Diabetes and Stroke? (110 comments): I compare maps of high antibiotic use with maps of high incidence of stroke, diabetes, obesity and heart disease, notice they line up, and ask what on earth is going on. In the comments, you had a lot of smart things to say.

2. Sleeping With The Enemy: What You Get From Your Pet (114 comments): A recap of research showing how many diseases are passed from our domestic animals to us when they lick us, we smooch them, or we share a bed.

1. Like Down With Dogs, Get Up With Fleas. And Plague (168 comments): The story of two mysterious cases of bubonic plague in a woman and her teenage son in rural Oregon, and how they were traced to fleas that the family dog picked up when the dog romped through prairie-dog burrows. Featured my by-far favorite, put-it-on-a-T-shirt comment of the year: “Mrs. McKenna should stop writing about science and go make her husband a sandwich.”

(NB: Not Mrs. McKenna. Just for accuracy’s sake. Though, to be fair, Mr. Superbug does like sandwiches.)

Stick with me in 2012, constant readers: We have lots more to talk about. I plan on sandwiches for everyone.



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