Science Blog

Broaden view of infectious diseases

CorrespondentMarch 24, 2013 

Rebecca Kreston is a microbiologist at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. At her blog Body Horrors (, she writes about the effects of factors like geography and social behavior on communicable diseases. Follow her on Twitter as @thebodyhorrors. Questions and answers have been edited.

Q: What first attracted you to the subject of infectious diseases?

The idea that microbes and viruses are truly everywhere, whether incorporated into our DNA or living within or on our bodies, and that they are capable of causing a slew of illnesses first captured my attention. I’ve never found another discipline that has been as intellectually fascinating and endlessly interesting. Infectious diseases have determined the outcome of wars, shaped humanity and continue to influence our health and our day-to-day living. In many ways, studying pathogens and disease is very much a multidisciplinary field in which you explore history, anthropology and geography, which I also find appealing.

Q: Is there a particular disease that interests you more than others?

There’s a very cool virus called GBV-C that doesn’t cause disease in humans but has been shown to offer a protective, antiviral effect against HIV. For those infected with both GBV-C and HIV, many studies have shown that patients live significantly longer with a reduced HIV viral load than those without the GBV-C virus. Due to these surprising positive effects of being infected with both viruses at once, researchers are calling GBV-C the “Good Boy Virus.”

This unique co-infection has exciting implications for the future of HIV treatment as well as informing our understanding of the HIV pathogenic process.

Q: What can we learn by examining the factors your blog covers?

Most disease-causing microbes rely on humans to both infect and transmit disease and, while I love learning about how these diseases work, I’m most interested in the primary cause of their transmission – humans and our behavior.

Looking at our interactions with each other, the way we live and how we choose to live – whether through religion, use of technology, consumption of certain foods and so on – can lead to important methods of prevention and control of disease, which is at the very heart of public health.

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