The Rochester Post-Bulletin recently highlighted Bobbi Pritt, M.D.'s, “Creepy, Dreadful, Wonderful Parasites” blog, which celebrated its 10-year anniversary in October with a parasite-themed art contest and giveaways.
Dr. Pritt, Director of the Clinical Parasitology Lab and Co-Director of Vector-Borne Diseases Lab Services in Mayo Clinic’s Department of Lab Medicine and Pathology, sat down with the Post-Bulletin to answer a few questions:
So your blog's called "Creepy, Dreadful, Wonderful Parasites." I think a lot of us understand why parasites can be creepy and dreadful—but where's the wonderful?
Well, scientifically, they're fascinating. Each parasite is a little different—you have some parasites that have male and female parts, so they can basically fertilize themselves and produce viable offspring. I guess the wonderful part is just the science—some of the life cycles that these go through. If you're looking at it like a nature show, you'd say, "Oh my gosh, that little organism is amazing!"
Your blog has a pretty impressive following. How did it begin?
I had just finished my fellowship at Mayo Clinic in clinical microbiology, and I was hired on as Mayo Clinic staff, and I got this amazing opportunity, sponsored by Mayo, to go to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and study parasitology. And I knew when I was there, I was going to be studying all of these amazing cases, and I was leaving behind a lot of colleagues, friends, and people I knew would be interested in cases. . . . So, I started (the blog) about halfway through my year in London, and then, as I met more people over there, they said, "Oh, hey, can you add me to your blog?"
I post cases that come through my laboratory, (and) I also get donations from other people's laboratories. They're all de-identified to maintain patient confidentiality. . . . It's just "Here's a picture of a parasite. What is it?" And then people have the option of writing in."
How many followers do you have? Where are they from?
Last month, I had 25,507 page-views. When I first started, obviously, it was really, really low. I remember when I first started, that I was excited when I hit 10,000. I hadn't checked in a long time. So 25,000 is pretty cool for a blog about parasites.
Most views are coming from the United States, all across the states. The United Kingdom is my second-biggest viewer, followed by India, then Canada, and then a whole bunch of other places. And that's just my blog—I also post cases on Twitter, Linkedin; I've really been expanding in the past couple of years to other forms of social media.
How do you decide which cases to use?
Well, I get total control. So I've created my own criteria. I always choose really high-quality images. I try to include a lot of common things, because I know that I actually now have teachers who assign my blog to their students, like microbiology teachers at various schools around the U.S.—maybe abroad, I don't know—so I try to make sure I include some stuff that everyone should know, even if it's the same stuff over and over again. Like, if I have a pinworm case, well, there's no reason why next year I won't put another pinworm case up because it's something people need to know. I do try to sprinkle in fun, exciting, unusual, challenging cases.
You also helped discover a new form of Lyme disease, right?
Ticks are ectoparasites, so there are all of these tick-borne diseases, and Lyme disease, of course, is a big one. Well, a few years ago, we discovered through routine testing, a patient who was infected with a form of Lyme disease that hadn't been described before. And it even has its own name—we called it after Mayo Clinic, so it's called Borrelia mayonii. Normally, Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi.
This is the second species of borrelia that is known to cause Lyme disease in the United States, and it appears to be only in Minnesota and Wisconsin, so it's pretty localized in the upper Midwest. But it actually might be a bit more severe, in terms of symptoms, than just plain-old, typical variants of Lyme disease.
How did Mayo feel about being named after the more severe disease?
Ha! Well, it actually is considered an honor. But you're right, there were definitely some people that thought, "Oh, hmm—mayonii?" But usually it's traditional to name new organisms either after someone great in the field—you wouldn't name it after yourself, it's considered bad form to do that—but you would name it after an established investigator in the field, one of the great names, or you'd name it after the place where it was first discovered.