On November 23rd, I received an email from Sokoine University. The laboratory at the School of Veterinary Medicine, where the fecal samples from the neonatal livestock were being analyzed for infection with Cryptosporidium parvum and Giardia, had some news. Here is an excerpt:
“The fecal sample size didn’t reach 310 as you said. There is only 231 fecal sample, and 179 samples out of 231 are done, and all have shown negative results.”
Wow. After reading that email, I didn’t quite know how to react. A review of the literature on Crypto and Giarida in Africa undertaken by a professor at UC Davis had revealed minimum prevalance rates of 30%. That means that 3 out of 10 animals are infected with Crypto. In my study, based on the lab analysis in November, we had 0. 0% prevalance. Essentially, the hypotheses, that neonates are suceptible to infection, were wrong. They are not. Apparently they’re immune supercows and shoats with special powers to ward off water and fecal borne pathogens. They’re steel.
I was mildly devastated, my mind frantically darting about my survey-based dataset looking for another angle. I have some pretty good preliminary figures for diarrheal disease prevalence, so began plans to do risk factors for diarrheal disease, which theoretically could be anything, and quite frankly could be caused by anything. Almost out of money, and running very short on time, there just wasn’t much I could do. There was however some hope that the remaining samples might tell another story. Crypto and Giardia can be seasonal, and HALI Project researchers have had most success identifying the protozoal pathogens in the rainy season. Most of my previous samples were collected in the heart of the dry season, but the later samples were taken during the beginning of the rains. I held out hope.
But alas. Fate was visited by a death angel, and I was dealt a nerdy death blow. On December 2nd, I opened up my email inbox and read the following from Deana, the HALI Project coordinator. She had been in Tanzania for about a month, and was kind enough to check on things in the lab with my samples.
The Crystal Ball…
There were other samples left in the office (I assume samples in addition to the 231). It appears that the panya (rats) have eaten however many fecal samples in addition to the 231 were in that box. I am really sorry – this is quite bizarre; we have other fecal samples stored one shelf above yours that are completely untouched by the panya.
Rats ate my samples. And not just any samples. Rats ate my fecal samples preserve in 2% buffered Formalin. They essentially consumed embalmed feces. Shit mummies. And they enjoyed ’em enough to keep on eating bag after bag. So, not only did I have no worthwhile results from the study to date, I also had no more samples. All of the survey work conducted after I left Tanzania by my hardworking crew was for naught. They would have to be re-collected to approach the 300 samples we needed for our target study size, a process that would take at least another 3 weeks. Now I was really screwed. And so apparently was Sokoine, as they await the apocalypse rendered by rodents…Enter the Rat King.
But then, on December 7th, I received a third email, again from Deana. She had generously offered to re-examine a small subset of my samples under the microscope to confirm the absence of Crypto and Giardia and to at least put some sense of confidence in the purely negative results. And now the grand unveiling:
On Friday and Saturday, Julius and I re-ran the DFA assay on 30 of the 231 neonate fecal samples tested to date.
- 4/30 of these samples were positive for Giardia, with many cysts seen on two of the slides
- 2/30 samples examined were positive for Cryptosporidium, with many oocysts seen on one slide
Given these findings I suspect there are more positive samples and I recommend re-testing the rest of the samples.
Eureka! Such news turns a nerd’s day around and puts the verb smile back into physiological relevance! Whiskeys all around! Candy for the babies and sodas for the baptists! Porn for the adolescents! It’s a grand day….
And so I wait. I wait for the retesting of samples, for the recollection of samples, and for news of the rats. I wait for their grotesque emergence as proteges of Master Splinter, spewing protozoal cysts and worms out of their eyes, ears, and keysters in a violent eruption of doom for mankind. These rats are not to be taken lightly. I suggest a surge at Sokoine. Rat day. Every able man with a machete, club, net, and backpack sprayer full of cyanide. Death to Rattus norvegicus!
Will there be resistence?