Snow Day, Part 2: Selling your body for science, five inches, and slutty first graders.

I’m just hanging out in a hotel in Bethesda waiting to see if the vaccine worked.

Wait, don’t go. Allow me to explain.

Malaria is terrible and it kills 500,000 – 1,000,000 people each year, mostly in the under-developed, warm-climate regions of the world.

There are measures to take to prevent and cure the disease, but parasites in the wild quickly develop resistance to these drugs which target the blood-stage of the infection, rendering both prophylactic and curative measures ineffective.

In addition to poverty, malaria education is significantly lacking in many of the endemic areas, and both of these factors greatly contribute to the inability of worldwide efforts to control it. A current focus of the global eradication initiative is the development of a vaccine that can completely prevent transmission of the disease by generating potent and long lasting immune responses against the parasite early-on in human infection. This is what I work on at my job when there isn’t any snow on the ground.

Currently, the most successful vaccine undergoing clinical trials is RTS,S, a protein subunit vaccine that protects about 50% of volunteers from malaria challenge. This challenge involves an inoculation of malaria parasites via bites from infected mosquitoes into vaccinated or unvaccinated (control) volunteers (if you can really call us that; we get paid nicely for our time). At about 8-9 days post-challenge, all subjects are checked into a local hotel to be monitored daily for the development of parasitemia in their blood. Once parasites are detected, volunteers are treated with chloroquine: a drug that is effective in eliminating the common laboratory strain of the malaria parasite from an infected individual’s red blood cells.

In the wild, resistance to chloroquine was discovered in the 1950’s and has since, along with the introduction of other antimalarial drugs, resulted in multiple drug-resistant strains of malaria. Notwithstanding, the laboratory strain of Plasmodium falciparum (the most dangerous strain of human malaria) remains susceptible to the neutralizing mechanism of most antimalarials and chloroquine is therefore perfectly capable of treating the volunteers in just a few doses, often before any malaria symptoms are experienced. Backup drugs are available if chloroquine is not well tolerated.

Me, I’m at day 12.5 post-challenge as of 7 pm Monday night, while the mean onset time of detectable parasitemia, as indicated in a recent study, is about 12.9 days post-challenge.  Hence, all will be revealed soon.  Not too long ago, I encountered a colleague in the hallway who had recently come down and is now being treated. Her assessment of the symptoms- not favorable. Fortunately she, along with the rest of us test subjects, is in good care owing to the fact that our clinical trials staff does such a great job of detecting infection early.

While my co-worker is in the control group and was guaranteed to get malaria at least to some extent, I received a vaccine expected to protect about half of those immunized, and I have been dutifully keeping up on my vitamins and exercise in hopes that it will help keep me protected. But in truth, it is all futile as my fate was determined within an hour after being bitten by those god damned mosquitoes. Now that the time has arrived, it’s a weird feeling knowing that I can become stricken with P. falciparum at any moment.

But it’s totally safe.

Surely safer than being anywhere near the roads when there is any snow in this damned inept and useless part of the country.

I’m speaking of the D.C. Metropolitan region.

A place that REGULARLY experiences snow, yet somehow never seems prepared.

This locale, where once again, the government was shut down due to winter weather. Not only that, but 4/5 of businesses nearby my hotel are closed for the day. It stopped snowing at noon. The fucking BANK was closed. We got five inches.

In the big picture, maybe it’s not a big deal. I mean it’s one day and nobody around here does much anyway. But to use inclement weather as an excuse to stay home just seems so lame, especially when, by now, this city should know how to handle it. Some claim that it’s all in fear of the other “stupid people on the roads”, but stupidity is ubiquitous and certainly not exclusive to one’s bubble of existence. But when a bank is closed because of five inches of snow: that is just unsatisfactory.

I had the misfortune of meeting a few people today in the hotel lobby, many of which were delighted about this so-called winter weather emergency. To tell the truth, it was embarrassing trying to explain the tradition. Some folks that I met from Michigan were quite amused with a certain rear-wheel drive Cutlass that wasn’t performing so well on the slopes of Bethesda. Another family was unhappy about not being able to find food whilst their three year-old daughter was angrily shouting “I DO NOT WANT TO GO POOPOO, I DO NOT WANT TO GO POOPOO.”  I too, was in no mood for a poopoo as I had yet to find somewhere to get lunch.

Later, from another corridor I overheard a brother and sister, probably around 8 and 6 respectively, playing an imagination game, when the little girl began repeating a phrase I never thought I’d hear a 6 year-old deliver: “I wanna be slutty, I wanna be SLUT-TAY!” she cried out in her best attempt to mimic Nicki Minaj or who-the-fuck-ever she got that from. Dear parents, children are like parrots. They will repeat in public what they hear at home. Come to think of it, I don’t know where the parents were while these kids were playing porno.  Perhaps doing the same?

I don’t think I knew the word slutty, or anything that wasn’t related to dinosaurs, when I was that age. But alas, the times change so quickly. What will our grandchildren think that we are overly curmudgeonly about? Children expressing their pornographic fantasies?

Adults whoring their immune systems to pay for their next meth fix?

Or the capital of one of the most powerful countries in the world shutting down over five god damn inches of snow.

M

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