The Original Guinea Pigs

We are currently doing our Infectious Diseases and Clinical Immunology theory block – which means lots of freaky latin names and difficulty staying awake in class.

Occasionally though, our class is graced by a lecturer with some spunk.

This is South Africa: needless to say, Tuberculosis was one of the first things discussed.

You know how we refer to test subjects as guinea pigs? Pretty good reason for that.

Apparently little Guineas share a whole lot of biology with humans – including susceptibility to TB.

Way back in the dark ages, transmission of disease was kind of a grey area. The pathogenesis and transmission of TB went around in circles – from being considered non-infectious, to congenital, to sexually transmitted.

Eventually somebody had a aha-moment and placed a bunch of guinea pigs in a hospital. They were not in contact with any patients, but they were in contact with the ventilation system. And not long thereafter, the little furries had all contracted TB.

Fun times. Poor little guineas (I hope they were treated), but it sure helps to know how to protect myself when examining a patient with TB.


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