Monthly Archives: January 2011

Did Darwin Die of Chagas’ Disease?

From The Voyage of the Beagle:

We crossed the Luxan, which is a river of considerable size, though its course towards the sea-coast is very imperfectly known: it is even doubtful whether, in passing over the plains, it is not evaporated and lost. We slept in the village of Luxan, which is a small place surrounded by gardens, and forms the most southern cultivated district in the Province of Mendoza; it is five leagues south of the capital. At night I experienced an attack (for it deserves no less a name) of the Benchuca, a species of Reduvius, the great black bug of the Pampas. It is most disgusting to feel soft wingless insects, about an inch long, crawling over one’s body. Before sucking they are quite thin, but afterwards they become round and bloated with blood, and in this state are easily crushed. One which I caught at Iquique (for they are found in Chile and Peru) was very empty. When placed on a table, and though surrounded by people, if a finger was presented, the bold insect would immediately protrude its sucker, make a charge, and if allowed, draw blood. No pain was caused by the wound. It was curious to watch its body during the act of sucking, as in less than ten minutes it changed from being as flat as a wafer to a globular form. This one feast, for which the benchuca was indebted to one of the officers, kept it fat during four whole months; but, after the first fortnight, it was quite ready to have another suck.


Is Infertility a Public Health Problem? The Responses


I received two comments on the post on infertility and public health, one pro, one con, both from women with degrees in the health professions.


Richard – Sorry, sweetie, but yours is a much too simplistic way of viewing the biological imperative to bear a child. Approximately 7 million Americans are currently experiencing infertility (1 in 8 couples). The causes of infertility are many (not just ‘advanced maternal age’): structural, Endometriosis, DES, low sperm count, tubal disease, DES exposure, STD’s, stress and who knows what else.
You say that “loving a child is the easiest thing to do – THINKING that you need to create something in your genetic imprint is egotism in the highest degree…” I would say that I love my child beyond all measure, and, at times, it isn’t easy to love her. Read Winnicott, or, how about “The Monster Within: The Hidden Side of Motherhood” by Barbara Almond. Nevertheless, regardless of the ambivalence many parents feel about their children as they raise them, women AND men dream of being parents from the time they themselves are children. It’s one of the “high dreams”, if you will. We are, as a species, inherently both selfish and compassionate, fearful and capable of tremendous love (was just listening to a great program on Wisconsin NPR about this!). Is it sheer egotism to want a child who has your husband’s nose and musical abilities and generosity, or to hope that your child has your hair color and artistic eye or love of mathematics? Why judge this so very harshly? Carrying and bearing a child is also the high dream of most little girls and one of the supreme joys, as far as I’m concerned, that anyone can possibly experience. It carries with it, great risks (although, thankfully, not like it used to a mere 100 years ago), as does parenting ones own biological child.
When my husband and I found out that I was “infertile”, I wasn’t particularly surprised. But I was devastated, as was my husband. I read everything I could, I joined a support group, saw a therapist a couple of times who specialized in infertility. I had to dig as deep as I could about what was important to me. I had actually always been open to the idea of adoption whether or not I had “my own” children, but I was also very aware of the stories of friends of my parents who had adopted children; not one of them had escaped unscathed – meaning, there had been serious and heart-breaking issues with each of these families. I knew if we were to adopt we could be inviting any number of “extra” risks that we might not have encountered had we had biological children. It’s my experience that most couples are very, very thoughtful about the issues and options that arise when they are faced with infertility disease.
Should insurance companies be forced to cover fertility treatment? Should insurance companies be forced to cover impotency? or diabetes? or bipolar disorder? Should they pay for birth control? or substance abuse treatment? Is infertility a public health issue? See;; “Carolina Papers International Health: A Global Perspective on Infertility: An Underecognized Public Health Issue.
In closing, let’s ponder the idea of whether unmitigated sarcasm (“sarcolepsy”) should be considered a public health liability. I love you, my friend, but I think you are being a poop-head and rather mean-spirited to boot.


From Lynn Williams, RN-P

My feeling has always been that undergoing fertility treatments instead of adopting a child is like buying a dog or cat from a breeder instead of adopting one from a shelter. Shelling out big bucks for a “purebed” animal or for a mini-me, when there are so many homeless creatures, human and non-human, languishing in shelters and hellish third world orphanages, is, as you put it so well, egotism in the highest degree. The fact that the earth’s resources are already stretched to the limit makes this practice indefensible, and asking taxpayers to foot the bill is outrageous. I would like to see a 5-year global moratorium on human reproduction. Just about every social problem I can think of would be, if not resolved, at least palliated by such a measure.

Another letter from a bitten reader

Reader SM writes:

Hi I am happy to have found this post. I was bitten by what looked like an assassin bug in 2003. It was an experience that I will never forget. I was walking across a lawn at Fresno State University in Southern California when this bug leaped out of the grass and onto my leg. It had very strong muscles in its legs because I couldn’t shake it off. I had to pluck it off and it took some effort on my part. It had a similar coloration on its edges to a bee. My leg soon began to swell to an incredible degree I am a fairly slim woman and if you had looked at that leg alone you would honestly think I weighed 300 lbs at least. I fell asleep under a tree from exhausted after this happened and I think I recall that it was painful as well. The swelling did go down and by the time I went to the doctor there was little more than a little scar where the insect had bit me. My doctor wouldn’t test for Chagas and told me I was fine. This upset me but I just accepted what he said and went on with life.

I do have many health problems, pre-dominantly headaches, migraines, pain in my joints and back, lethargy/fatigue, intolerance to heat, depression, anxiety, acid reflux, allergies and sinus problems, and incontinence. As well as a whole host of skin rashes including a red rash on my face that looks like lupus but has been diagnosed as rosacea so far.

Any feedback would be appreciated.

We will be getting some opinions and responding soon. However, unless you’ve been in Latin America, it is nearly inconceivable that you have Chagas’ disease.

FluView from the CDC

Did you know that you can track track the activitiy of Influenza-Like Illness (ILI) right here at the CDC’s website?

Also, check here for more information.

Is Infertility a Public Health Problem?



At least not in most of the United States.

A Little Background

Yesterday, I was listening to the radio and there was (yet!) another interview by a talk show host, who was (yet again!) sucking up to her interviewee on the subject of infertility and medical intervention to correct what is a normal state on the spectrum of infertility, especially in women who for whatever reason of their own choosing, have decided to delay child-bearing.

I was calling in (yet again!), with the hope of asking whether it can be justified  to require  insurance providers to pay for these treatments( in the 14 states that require health insurance to pay for fertility treatments ). For the umpteenth time, I sat on hold, and my question never managed to make it on air.

Many people close to me have availed themselves of assisted fertility. I love these people, I think that their children are wonderful, and they appear to be marvelous parents. I do not wish to jeopardize my relations with these people, but an inability to confront differences on matters of public policy don’t bode well for countries like ours (cf. Mitch McConnell, Collected Works).

I went home and posted my comments on line, in far blunter words than I would have ever used on air or in conversation with a woman who has struggled with this problem.

In any case, here are the comments as they were posted online.

I think that I am done listening to Radio _____. Listen to ______’s self-entitled mewling about how she somehow deserved to have a baby was more than I could take. I wish for once a radio talk-show host would just once bring up the the fact that MA insurance policy holders are paying for these infertility treatment ego trips. Nor do they ever point out the difference between having a baby and raising a child.
Loving a child is the easiest thing in the world to do–thinking that you need to create something with your genetic imprint is egotism in the highest degree. We can all aspire to things–parenthood, musical genius, a job in the NBA. Sometimes biology doesn’t cooperate, and that, as my parents told me, is life. That adoption is seen as a second best choice for these people makes me doubt their motives in parenting.

I am looking forward to your comments.

Results of The Assassin Bug’s First Year


The crazy racist nutcase who attracts the most visitors to our website.

Frankly, I would have thought that Sophia Loren seekers would far outnumber those looking for Mlle. Bardot, but apparently the public is more attracted to the outrageous than the accomplished.

In our first year, we had 23,112 hits. Our most viewed post, other than whatever was on the home page was this picture of Brigitte, with 9,585 hits. No other single post had over 1,000 hits, though the Chagas’ Disease Primers (there are more to come!) did add up to some reasonable numbers. On another positive note, the Algarrobina Cocktail post was fairly popular.

It’s been fun to write this, and I and the entire editorial staff look forward to another year of writing the Assassin Bug.

Our managing editor, pictured below , has asked me to post the following warning.

Demonstrating fine palpation technique“Now listen here! We will only continue to post  pictures of ’60s dishes if you read our public health posts!”