stds and miiiind control

yes, you read that right: sexually transmitted diseases.

my other favorite topic, after inbreeding/altruism and all that, is viruses or microbes or parasites that control your miiiind — like (you’ve prolly read a lot about) toxoplasma gondii. or even greg cochran’s gay germ theory.

peter frost had an interesting post up a couple of weeks ago that i’ve been meaning to draw attention to (so, here i am now, drawing attention to his interesting post!) about bacterial vaginosis and how that might potentially alter people’s behaviors. long, but interesting, story — go read it, if you haven’t already!

which reminded me of what i’ve thought about once or twice: if i were a sexually transmitted virus/microbe/parasite (or even one that wasn’t sexually transmitted), how would i gain control of my host so as to ensure he (or she) spread me about? if it were me, i’d go for the nervous system to mess up the person’s behavior.

like cupid’s disease has done maybe? from oliver sacks [taken from here]:

“A bright woman of 90, Natasha K., recently came to our clinic. Soon after her 88th birthday, she said, she noticed ‘a change.’ What sort of change? we queried.

“‘Delightful!’ she exclaimed. ‘I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt more energetic, more alive — I felt young once again. I took an interest in the young men. I started to feel, you might say, “frisky” — yes frisky.

“‘This was a problem?’

“‘No, not at first. I felt well, extremely well — why should I think anything was the matter?’

“‘And then?’

“‘My friends started to worry. First they said, “You look radiant — a new lease on life!,” but then they started to think it was not quite — appropriate. “You were always so shy,” they said, “and now you’re a flirt. You giggle, you tell jokes — at your age, is that right?”‘

“‘And how did you feel?’

“‘I was taken aback. I’d been carried along, and it didn’t occur to me to question what was happening. But then I did. I said to myself, “You’re 89, Natasha, this has been going on for a year. You were always so temperate in feeling — and now this extravagance! You’re an old woman, nearing the end. What could justify such a sudden euphoria?” And as soon as I thought of euphoria, things took on a new complexion…. “You’re sick, my dear,” I said to myself. “You’re feeling too well, you have to be ill!”‘

“‘Ill? Emotionally? Mentally ill?’

“‘No, not emotionally — physically ill. It was something in my body, my brain, that was making me high. And then I thought — goddam it, it’s Cupid’s Disease!’

“‘Cupid’s Disease?’ I echoed, blankly. I have never heard of the term before.

“‘Yes, Cupid’s Disease — syphilis, you know. I was in a brothel in Salonika, nearly 70 years ago. I caught syphilis — lots of the girls had it — we called it “Cupid’s Disease.” My husband saved me, took me out, had it treated. That was years before penicillin, of course. Could it have caught up with me after all these years?’

“There may be an immense latent period between the primary infection and the advent of neurosyphilis, especially if the primary infection has been suppressed, not eradicated. I had one patient, treated with Salvarsan by Ehrlich himself, who developed tabes dorsalis — one form of neurosyphilis — more than 50 years later.

“But I had never heard of an interval of seventy years — nor of a self-diagnosis of syphilis mooted so calmly and clearly.

“‘That’s an amazing suggestion,’ I replied after some thought. ‘It would have never occurred to me — but perhaps you are right.’

“She was right; the spinal fluid was positive, she did have neurosyphilis, it was indeed the spirochetes stimulating her ancient cerebral cortex.
_____

so, the treponema pallidum bacterium had gotten into this lady’s brain (neurosyphilis) and made her frisky. does it do that to other people as well? making its hosts frisky might help t. pallidum to spread. hmmmm. the herpes simplex virus, too, travels along nerves. hmmmm.

i only ask because, in this day and age of hook-ups and what not, a lot of people have stds (1 in 6 americans between the ages of 14 and 49 have genital herpes). are these infections altering people’s behaviors? making them even more promiscuous?

just wondering.

(note: comments do not require an email. she may look clean – but.)

18 Comments

  1. There was an episode of House that played on this. ;)

    I suspect that lots of infectious agents influence behavior so as to spread themselves. Flu viruses make you more social, for example. It wouldn’t surprise me if STIs make their hosts more promiscuous. When one considers the possibilities here one has to wonder just how many human behaviors are the result of zombie mind control…

    Reply

  2. @jayman – “Flu viruses make you more social, for example.”

    i’ve heard that — or i thought i’d heard that. has that been demonstrated? i couldn’t recall (and i was too lazy to google it … i must have a bug that causes laziness/procrastination (~_^) ).

    i could never get into house — and believe me, i’ve tried — ’cause i luv hugh laurie (otherwise)! (^_^)

    Reply

  3. “my other favorite topic, after inbreeding/altruism and all that, is viruses or microbes or parasites that control your miiiind ”

    Awesome. I’m also fascinated by it.
    That was a great story. Keep up the good work, if you do it half as well as the inbreeding stuff you’ll get big.

    Reply

  4. I vaguely recall reading about an artist who painted really inspired stuff with syphilis. I wonder if this sort of thing is part of the elusive environmental part of personality.

    And another thought: if sociability promotes infections, has introversion developed as a defence against it? It makes sense since influenza, which even today one of the big killers, thrives in low temperatures, and it seems like introverts are more common in northern countries.

    Reply

  5. wrt the flu, somebody sent me a link to this (thanks, somebody! (^_^) ):

    Change in human social behavior in response to a common vaccine

    PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that exposure to a directly transmitted human pathogen-flu virus-increases human social behavior presymptomatically. This hypothesis is grounded in empirical evidence that animals infected with pathogens rarely behave like uninfected animals, and in evolutionary theory as applied to infectious disease. Such behavioral changes have the potential to increase parasite transmission and/or host solicitation of care.

    RESULTS: Human social behavior does, indeed, change with exposure. Compared to the 48 hours pre-exposure, participants interacted with significantly more people, and in significantly larger groups, during the 48 hours immediately post-exposure.

    Reply

  6. Once you have heard the suggestion that Oliver Sacks makes up some of his stories, many of them seem too good to be true. Tertiary syphilis is not usually as pleasant as it was for this alleged patient.

    T. gondii is much more worrying. It allegedly makes men more aggressive, and women more promiscuous – and a third of us have it! It also slows down our reaction times, making us much more likely to have a road accident. It’s a miracle that insurance companies don’t test us for it.

    Reply

  7. @james – “Tertiary syphilis is not usually as pleasant as it was for this alleged patient.”

    no, doesn’t sound like it. =/ apparently you can have neurosyphilis early on in the infection, not just later. i was just wondering if, at any stage, syphilis — or any of the other stds — drives its host towards more sexual contact with others.

    @james – “T. gondii is much more worrying. It allegedly makes men more aggressive, and women more promiscuous…”

    well, there you go! i hadn’t heard that before about t. gondii.

    @james – “…and a third of us have it!”

    oops!

    Reply

  8. @staffan – “And another thought: if sociability promotes infections, has introversion developed as a defence against it?”

    well, that’s an interesting idea!

    you’d think with all the infectious diseases in hot climates that equatorial populations would be 100% introverts — unless something else is at play there, too.

    Reply

  9. @andrew – “I wish we could cross-reference ‘people with [specific] STIs’ with ‘people who have certain versions of the DRD4 gene’.”

    another interesting idea!

    Reply

  10. @spandrell – “Keep up the good work, if you do it half as well as the inbreeding stuff you’ll get big.”

    oh, but then i’ll have to go on a diet, and that’s never fun! (~_^)

    Reply

  11. “‘Yes, Cupid’s Disease — syphilis”

    This idea makes a scary amount of sense.

    Reply

  12. Freakin weird. I’m fine with being a slave to my own genes, but parasites too? Makes you wonder how many unknown infections you have steering your life.

    Reply

  13. @bleach – “I’m fine with being a slave to my own genes, but parasites too?”

    yup. we’re slaves to our own genes — and other organisms’ genes as well. yikes!

    Reply

  14. “I’m fine with being a slave to my own genes, but parasites too?”

    Yes, quite.

    Reply

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