Sick in Space: Stress Compromises Astronauts’ Immune Systems

Two days before the launch of a routine space shuttle mission, a 47-year-old healthy astronaut submitted a saliva sample and ended up testing positive for the varicella zoster virus — the virus responsible for chickenpox and shingles. This was, to say the least, unexpected. Following chickenpox infection, the varicella zoster virus remains dormant in our nervous system and often doesn’t reactivate in healthy people under 60. So why would it reappear in a 47-year-old who is among the healthiest, most physically fit individuals of our workforce? Furthermore, why would it emerge before launch, before any potential dangers of space even presented themselves?

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The Usual Suspects: Pathogens That Cause Infectious Disease

We are constantly faced with news reports about infectious disease, but the sensationalism surrounding these diseases often drowns out important information. This article is the first of a three-part series exploring the basics of infectious disease, the factors contributing to disease incidences, and the steps scientists are taking to understand the origins of emerging infectious diseases.

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