Monday, April 23, 2018


From the first moment there was a being that had a skin separating it from the environment, other beings tried to get in through that skin and internal bits tried to become creatures with their own skin.  Sometimes the intruders and rebels were accommodated and sometimes they were ejected and sometimes they became “diseases.”  Often they lived in or traveled in fluids, like blood, plasma, spit, milk, semen, excretions.

“A bloodborne disease is a disease that can be spread through contamination by blood and other body fluids. Bloodborne pathogens are microorganisms such as viruses or bacteria. The most common examples are HIV, hepatitis B and viral hemorrhagic fevers.

"Diseases that are not usually transmitted directly by blood contact, but rather by insect or other vector [humans and other animals], are more usefully classified as vector-borne disease, even though the causative agent can be found in blood. Vector-borne diseases include West Nile virus and malaria.

"Since it is difficult to determine what pathogens any given sample of blood contains, and some bloodborne diseases are lethal, standard medical practice regards all blood (and any body fluid) as potentially infectious.” 

When I became the self-defined education coordinator of Multnomah County Animal Control, which had its roots in rabies control, I discovered the fantastic world of what lives in us.  For instance, one female officer’s husband had a rickettsia:  “any of a group of very small bacteria that includes the causative agents of typhus and various other febrile diseases in humans. Like viruses, many of them can only grow inside living cells, and they are frequently transmitted by mites, ticks, or lice.”  At that time (1975) they were barely perceptible, halfway between bacteria and viruses.

Rickettsia live in organs, inside cells, but they travel there through blood.  They are often the parasites of bigger parasites, like lice or fleas.  Viruses are code without cells until they too manage to get into a cell.  Code entities like HIV are not content (!) until they become part of the chromosomes, changing the life-code of the entity.  Yet how can they have intentions when they aren't even alive? 

Prions are only molecules, but they are “contagious”, transmitting their misfolding interference to other molecules so that none can function as they should.  There are also “chaperones” which help molecules fold and unfold properly.  Not on purpose -- just because they do. 

The first Alzheimer’s victims I knew were during my ministry in 1983, too early for it to be known publicly or even to have a popular name.  One was a lesbian who had helped countless people through her social work and the other was a beloved female artist.  The friends of the latter sat by her bed and read her favorite books out loud to her, in hopes that it would do something good.  It did make her smile.

We name and classify things according to what we know exists, but there are so many of these sub-detectable beings that they challenge the concept of “Life.”  And “Being.”  For every genome there’s an epigenome.  For every check there’s a balance.  For every orchestra there’s an instrument that hits a wrong note and spoils the symphony.

We’re told that the number of parasite entities in each of our bodies is equal to or may exceed the number of original cells.  We’re told that the kind of bacteria in our guts participate in what guts do with both good and bad results.  We’re told that people physically close to us gradually share all these little bits, a kind of harmony or empathy.  We live in a soup of teeny-tinies that can gang up on us.

The most ineradicable so far is the HIV chromosome intruder intent on propping open the gate to the castle so that every invader has access.  It is very hard to be objective about this, particularly since it was happenstance that it found vulnerability through a social phenomenon just becoming known, a new freedom and intimacy.  HIV had been hiding in the jungle until it found vectors who moved through the world as though it were fluid.  But surely there are other codes intent on moving into human chromosomes.  "When scientists scan the human genome, they sometimes come across a stretch of DNA that bears the hallmarks of viruses. The easiest type of virus to recognize are retroviruses, a group that includes HIV."  Most of them have no fancy names and are as old as humans, sometimes called "fossil viruses."

Now that we can detect tiny genetic codes, a dipperful of water from the ocean contains floating bits.

“There are 26 different  [standard] viruses that have been shown to present in healthcare workers as a result of occupational exposure.”  We AC people were cautioned not to give blood.  We were vaccinated against rabies, though the only sure prevention is avoidance.

“Blood for blood transfusion is screened for many bloodborne diseases. Additionally, a technique that uses a combination of riboflavin and UV light to inhibit the replication of these pathogens by altering their nucleic acids can be used to treat blood components prior to their transfusion, and can reduce the risk of disease transmission.

“A technology using the synthetic psoralen, amotosalen HCl, and UVA light (320–400 nm) has been implemented in European blood centers for the treatment of platelet and plasma components to prevent transmission of bloodborne diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and protozoa.”

Part of the answer is seeing ourselves as part of the whole.  Many things can penetrate our skins, particularly in the interface penetrable parts like lungs or eyes or guts.  Skin cannot repel radioactivity.  Life is a process and being part of the whole means interacting as well as avoiding things that we have no present defense against, like nerve gases.  Many dangers cannot be seen, particularly the ones inside us.

Penetration is the opportunity of the blood borne disease, a vulnerability, and yet an intimacy.  Our emotions — which are the interactions and reactions of our own insides — copy the strategies of bodily invaders and also the defenses against what is destructive, interfering, death-carrying.  Our deliberate and intellectual understanding and strategies are part of the busy work of our bodies in discovering invaders and pitching them out.  But we can hardly boil ourselves whole in the interest of sterilization.  Fever is as close as we get.

A friend was nearly killed by pitching moldy hay to his horses, because the entities of mold entered his lungs and began destroying him.  The doctor said it was hard to find something that would kill the mold — with genetic directions very close to human — without killing the host.  But mold is everywhere and not always seen.  You may be killed by something in your salad, imperceptible.

OSHA, which focuses on job-related pathogens, and the CDC, which cooperates with OSHA, struggle to get some kind of sense out of how we should protect ourselves.  They intellectually triage disease, trying to allot inadequate resources.  They constantly frame up advice like the “Bloodborne Pathogens Standard.”  They lecture us:  “Wash your hands!”

My mother followed all advice but still died of a white blood cell disease in her blood.  Maybe it was because she started smoking again after she was eighty.  She lived to 89 and was affronted because Reagan lived longer (93).  (She was very competitive.)  On the other hand, she didn’t have Alzheimer’s (he did) and maybe it was because of not hiding emotion.  Being Mr. Nice Guy can kill you as much as a fungus can.

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