Fascination with a dangerous side of nature

I wasn’t sure how to say this before. Last year, I posted a thread about The question of travelers’ diseases - General - iNaturalist Community Forum. What I didn’t say was that these are a fascination of mine.

Eleven years ago, in Namibia, I got sick and was hospitalized. Whatever it was must have been bacterial, because erythromycin worked. Afterward, I really wanted to know what I had been sick with. Since no culturing of the pathogen had been done at the time, there was no way to know for sure; but based on the suite of symptoms and how I got infected, I concluded that probably it was a virulent strain of Escherichia coli.

I was so disappointed. E. coli has a worldwide distribution. If I had to get that sick in Africa, and suffer that much, why couldn’t it at least be something distinctively African?

I was completely unaware of iNaturalist then, as you can see from the gap between the “observed” and “submitted” dates on my Namibia obsservations. But even back then, I actually thought of infectious diseases in terms of my life list. E. coli seemed like such a boring organism to encounter compared with, say, Rift Valley fever. So far, my only virus observation is of Firstpapillomavirinae, the boring ol’ common wart, and even that can’t be identified past familt because no test was done to identify which specific papillomavirus it was.

One reason that there are currently 258 observations of SARS-CoV-2, most of them Research Grade, is that people were being specifically tested for that taxon; whereas there are only 3 Verifiable observations of Influenza A (one of which was detected together with SARS-CoV-2 in concurrent testing), and only 5 of Rhinovirus, all marked Casual, because people with the flu or a cold are not usually tested for the specific viral taxon.

So, yeah, while I don’t go looking to get sick (who in their right mind would?), when it does happen, I’m always frustrated not to be tested for the specific pathogen. What a wasted opportunity to add to my iNat life list! If I have to suffer, I’d like to at least have an observation to show for it! That isn’t quite as important with globally widespread taxa like Influenza A; but if I ever contract something exotic, I want to be able to add it.

Can anyone relate? Does a dangerous side of nature hold a particular fascination for you?


Absolutely not, but I suppose that comes from knowing families who are burying children right now from hemorrhagic dengue. I hold no illusions about the very real danger such diseases pose and find the notion they might be a lark for those traveling from places that offer aggressive treatment regardless of ability to pay borderline offensive.


A little, because my father actually died of an E. coli infection. It’s surprising, sometimes, how things that we underestimate and take for granted can be so dangerous.

I’ve also always been fascinated by human and plant parasites.


No I can’t in that due to chronic illness and disability getting sick is very dangerous for me, that being said I do find them very fascinating and I find plant parasites and illnesses(etc) very interesting (Especially phytoplasma infection in Trillium). As for human diseases though they scare me a lot because of the danger they present to me and my loved ones.

Yes, I think I can identify with that. I’m one of those people with a Covid-19 observation. My attitude was ‘if I have to be infected with this horrid thing, I’m at least going to get a species out of it!’ Same if an insect bites me. I’m apparently the world’s second top observer of the mosquito Aedes annulipes (Not a huge acheivement, only 3 observations, and all from one occasion!) - It’s not that I let them bite me - I didn’t, I ran away and flapped and shouted at them! I’m a wimp and I hate the things. But when I got back home it felt like at least some compensation that I’d got good pictures of them…


[Edit]: I understand why Lucy wrote what she wrote, and it was not good for me to get snippy. It was a reaction because her words stung:

I thought I made it clear that I didn’t want to get sick. I thought I made it clear that I suffered a lot. It wasn’t a lark by any means. I’m not going to elaborate on the rest of the story here; those who know me best already know it – how shattering it was, what I was trying to accomplish in Namibia, what I lost because of the ordeal, and how it changed me. And to make all that worse, that it was (probably) such a mundane pathogen that I could have gotten in my own hometown.

I understand why they wouldn’t identify the exact pathogen. Limited resources meant that there was no good reason to do that once they knew enough to proceed effectively. But imagine if you will going through a terrible illness and hospitalization, teatment, recovery, and discharge – all without ever being told a definitive diagnosis. Trying to deduce, after the fact, what you even had.

Making that deduction required being interested enough in pathogen biodiversity to try to match characteristics – just as we do when identifying any organism in nature.

Lucy, I see that you are not accepting messages, so I will post my apology here instead: I’m sorry that I was so snippy.


I just saw this! You and I are good. I took you off mute. I just needed a day to make sure I wouldn’t react because it feels a little ill at ease here right now, even with the fumigation trucks going by most evenings. (Maybe because of the trucks.)

I am sorry that my words stung. I have a hard time with the whole concept of traveler’s diseases. We do not travel. We are here and so are the diseases.

Last week we reached well over 3100 cases with no peak yet.

Be well. Stay well.

Lucy :)


I can see that. Certain vaccines are called “traveler’s vaccines” in my country because they are not routinely administered; they are assumed to be needed only by travelers. But of course, those same vaccines in the destination country would not be “traveler’s” vaccines at all, but would be of benefit to the local population.

Thank you. Now that I’m 50, I have become conscious of some, shall we say, additional biodiversity. Technically, Human alphaherpesvirus three is already on my life list – I encountered it as a child. The experience was so unforgettable that I would rather skip the sequel, even though that means forgoing the opportunity to record an observation. (Currently 9 verifiable iNat observations of this taxon, of which 7 are Research Grade; plus two additional without media.)

That is another way of saying that I got the Shingrix today.

Human alphaherpesvirus three was a common taxon in my youth; but now, since children are vaccinated against chicken pox and seniors are vaccinated against shingles, it has become rare. (Does that count as habitat loss or overhunting?) If it wasn’t an undesirable human pathogen, it would probably make the IUCN Red List. I wonder how many observations there would be if iNaturalist had been around before the vaccines came out?


I strongly suspect I had West Nile Virus several years ago after being bitten by a horde of mosquitoes while doing field work. WNV was present in my area at the time. But I was never tested so can’t say for sure.

I still haven’t tested positive for COVID. Maybe I had it and it didn’t hit me very hard. Would I post a positive test as a “life list” record on iNat? I don’t know. A close relative almost died from it and I’ve seen a lot of suffering caused by it so I don’t see it as something I might consider worthy of listing for “fun” (not the right word).


I’m not posting an Observation but in case anyone noticed I was quiet and wondered why… yeah.

My sweet son with difference is the most recent and unfortunately the most ill, confirmed today. The cases within our state continue to climb and have not plateaued. The estimates are for every case reported to IMSS or ISSTE (public health), there are ten who sought care privately (as we did).

Because I know you are fascinated @jasonhernandez74 here is the link to access the weekly governmental report; scroll down to the next to last page to see the specific local horror show, as after the general report, it is in alpha order by state.

There are four subtypes (subspecies?): (dengue, dengue zika, dengue chikungunya, and hemorrhagic dengue); we are hoping my son’s is the still difficult first, know by symptoms it is neither the second or third, and will hold our breaths throughout the febrile and critical phases that it is not the fourth. My understanding from the doctor treating him, an internist who specializes in intensivist medicine, is that it is about 50%, 20%, 20%, 10% distribution between these types.


I’m sorry to hear that. Best wishes to you and your son.


That is horrible. I hope your son is able to recover; I have never had any type of mosquito-transmitted disease but the symptoms are painful. Hemorrhagic dengue sounds awful.

Here in Michigan the first West Nile outbreak in a person happened recently, and a few horses had it a few weeks prior. There is a vaccine to keep horses from getting it, or at least to keep them from transmitting West Nile to humans, and if you have a horse you really should get it vaccinated. Unfortunately people in my area (a handful of people, not all) have really weird mindsets about their animals, and a few just flat out refuse to vaccinate them.

I guess this thread is a good reminder to keep bugspray on me at all times so that I don’t get anything.


When I was regularly doing field work in Costa Rica, one of my worries was that I’d bring back a tropical disease or parasite and have to teach my primary care doctors how to treat it. Of course, then I got what was probably Lyme disease in 2021 while doing field work in New York. (I wasn’t tested for it, but facial swelling followed by Bell’s palsy–when your facial muscles stop responding on one side–is apparently a pretty definitive combination.) The urgent care people felt I was disturbingly calm about one side of my face not working right and I explained that I was just glad it was something fairly common and treatable.

I don’t feel like I missed out on the chance to add to my life list, but I did take and save photos of me raising one eyebrow skeptically, because I’ve never been able to do that normally. I still sometimes use them for reaction photos. (The doctor prescribed some steroid meds that messed up my blood sugar like you wouldn’t believe, but also cleared up the palsy in a couple of weeks, so everything went back to normal.)

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Dear Lucy, how awful! I wish you and your son all the best. (Is he the one with the natural square things?)


Thank you. Yes, one and the same.

That’s horrid, I truly hope he can recover and that it doesn’t develop into the worst form of it.

The attitude towards vaccines in some parts of the US is utterly infuriating. Vaccines are miracles of medical science and there are so many people in the world suffering from diseases whose lives would be changed completely if they had vaccine access. But here people are so far removed from the horrors that exist that they’ve politicized it.

It makes my blood boil.


I think I can understand why what happened to you migth have influenced your point of view. Anyway, to be honest, I really think that there are some dangerous sides of nature that are far more fascinating than infectious diseases. I mean volcanoes, the highest mountains, vertical rocky cliffs, sea depths, beautiful and poisonous animals, solar flares, gamma rays bursts and so on…

I think you know that many “common”, usually armless bacteria can have local more pathogenic strains and/or you can find yourself temporarily in a situation with somehow lowered immune system for many simple reasons.

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I’ve only been back in the Dominican Republic a few days, but already I have seen someone who appeared to be a polio survivor. You just don’t see that in the United States anymore – there’s a vaccine for that!

Numbered epidemiological weeks. At the height of Covid, I was reading the governmental reports from the Dominican Republic. They were coming out daily, but for data tracking purposes, I was only making my spreadsheets from one day a week. I was going to try to do an analysis using Tableau to see if different provinces had different trends, but I wasn’t able to figure out how to make it work properly – Tableau seems to do unpredictable things.

There was a religious figure – a would-be prophet called the Pilgrim of Altagracia – who traveled all around “prophsying” the imminent decline of Covid. He had a retinue of disciples by the time he reached Puerto Plata. If I had been able to do my data analysis, I was next going to look at whether his arrival in a given region was associated with any spikes in cases due to the crowds gathering around him.

I was hoping that someone would expand the conversation in this way.


I may be to able to provide some trackable data when this is all over @jasonhernandez74. Or not. I cannot tell anymore.

Laboratories here work a few ways. State (public) laboratories automatically report to the state and are included in reports. Private laboratories a person can opt out (elect not to have data reported). I can see why for some things, like AIDS or a private condition or one with a stigma, a person might select that. We need more dengue resources and there is no shame in dengue in this state so we did not opt out.

Since then the government has come to spray our home no less than three times in each twenty-four hour period. Not just at dusk or later but during the day, since the mosquitoes are active then too. An elderly neighbor and her sister are both ill, too (their dengue was last week), so we live in a “hot spot”, and the dance school nearby is only half full in the evenings now.

(My son’s platelets are falling, from 157 to 109 in 48 hours. He sleeps fitfully while I do not sleep at all, only close my eyes and open them to find two hours have gone, like a power outage.)

When all this is done I will see if any insects remain in the garden. I’m scared for my little bees. I can see what is there but I am not sure how to track what is no longer there.


I recently got some blood work on doctors orders done to test for evidence of a Covid infection because possibly I’ve developed some form of long Covid. At least a new species for my profile is a silver lining