New Test Can Differentiate Between Tick-borne Illnesses

iStock
iStock

Time is of the essence in diagnosing and treating Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Fortunately, one new test may be able to help. A report on the test was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Ticks and the diseases they carry are on the rise. One 2016 study found deer ticks—the species that carries Lyme disease—in more than half of the counties in the United States.

The two most common tick-borne illnesses in the U.S. are Lyme disease and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). Although their initial symptoms can be the same, they’re caused by different pathogens; Lyme disease comes from infection with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. We don’t know what causes STARI.

"It is extremely important to be able to tell a patient they have Lyme disease as early as possible so they can be treated as quickly as possible," microbiologist and first author Claudia Molins of the CDC said in a statement. "Most Lyme disease infections are successfully treated with a two- to three-week course of oral antibiotics." Infections that aren't treated can lead to fevers, facial paralysis, heart palpitations, nerve pain, arthritis, short-term memory loss, and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

But to date, scientists have yet to create an accurate, consistent early test for Lyme disease, which means people must often wait until they’re very ill. And it’s hard to test for the STARI pathogen when we don’t know what it is.

One team of researchers led by experts at Colorado State University was determined to find a better way. They realized that, rather than looking for pathogens, they could look at the way a person’s body responded to the pathogens.

They analyzed blood samples from patients with both early-stage Lyme disease and STARI. Their results showed that while all patients’ immune systems had mounted a response, the nature of that response was different.

"We have found that all of these infections and diseases are associated with an inflammatory response, but the alteration of the immune response, and the metabolic profiles aren't all the same," senior author John Belisle of CSU said.

Two distinct profiles emerged. The team had found physical evidence, or biomarkers, for each illness: a way to tell one disease from another.

Belisle notes that there’s still plenty of work to do.

"The focus of our efforts is to develop a test that has a much greater sensitivity, and maintains that same level of specificity," Belisle said. "We don't want people to receive unnecessary treatment if they don't have Lyme disease, but we want to identify those who have the disease as quickly as possible."

Turn Your LEGO Bricks Into a Drone With the Flybrix Drone Kit

Flyxbrix/FatBrain
Flyxbrix/FatBrain

Now more than ever, it’s important to have a good hobby. Of course, a lot of people—maybe even you—have been obsessed with learning TikTok dances and baking sourdough bread for the last few months, but those hobbies can wear out their welcome pretty fast. So if you or someone you love is looking for something that’s a little more intellectually stimulating, you need to check out the Flybrix LEGO drone kit from Fat Brain Toys.

What is a Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit?

The Flybrix drone kit lets you build your own drones out of LEGO bricks and fly them around your house using your smartphone as a remote control (via Bluetooth). The kit itself comes with absolutely everything you need to start flying almost immediately, including a bag of 56-plus LEGO bricks, a LEGO figure pilot, eight quick-connect motors, eight propellers, a propeller wrench, a pre-programmed Flybrix flight board PCB, a USB data cord, a LiPo battery, and a USB LiPo battery charger. All you’ll have to do is download the Flybrix Configuration Software, the Bluetooth Flight Control App, and access online instructions and tutorials.

Experiment with your own designs.

The Flybrix LEGO drone kit is specifically designed to promote exploration and experimentation. All the components are tough and can totally withstand a few crash landings, so you can build and rebuild your own drones until you come up with the perfect design. Then you can do it all again. Try different motor arrangements, add your own LEGO bricks, experiment with different shapes—this kit is a wannabe engineer’s dream.

For the more advanced STEM learners out there, Flybrix lets you experiment with coding and block-based coding. It uses an arduino-based hackable circuit board, and the Flybrix app has advanced features that let you try your hand at software design.

Who is the Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit for?

Flybrix is a really fun way to introduce a number of core STEM concepts, which makes it ideal for kids—and technically, that’s who it was designed for. But because engineering and coding can get a little complicated, the recommended age for independent experimentation is 13 and up. However, kids younger than 13 can certainly work on Flybrix drones with the help of their parents. In fact, it actually makes a fantastic family hobby.

Ready to start building your own LEGO drones? Click here to order your Flybrix kit today for $198.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

The Right Way to Clean Your Face Mask

Properly cleaning your face mask is important to keep it free of infectious material.
Properly cleaning your face mask is important to keep it free of infectious material.
mikography/iStock via Getty Images

In an effort to slow the transmission of coronavirus in public settings, health officials are advising that people unable to practice social distancing wear a cloth face mask. While not as effective at filtering respiratory droplets as medical-grade masks, cloth masks are still recommended as a practical preventative step.

Like all apparel, masks get dirty. They absorb sweat and germs, and they need to be cleaned. But how?

According to National Geographic, the best way to clean a cloth face mask is to take the same approach as the rest of your laundry—toss it in the washer. Laundry detergent is effective against coronavirus because the pathogen is encased in a layer of oily lipids and proteins. Detergents and hand soaps contain surfactants, which reduce the surface tension of the fatty layer. The surfactant molecule is attracted to oil and grease on one end and water on the other. The end that disrupts the oil bursts the coronavirus envelope apart. Tiny pods of surfactant called micelles trap and wash the remnants away. It’s this activity, not the water temperature, that kills the virus, though using a higher dryer temperature can destroy most microorganisms that might be lingering.

Bear in mind there’s a recommended way to take off your mask. Make sure your hands are clean, then pull it off using the straps behind your ears. This avoids contaminating the mask—and your face—with any pathogens that might be on your hands.

Medical-grade masks are trickier, as they’re intended to be used only once and can’t stand up to a wash cycle. If you have an N95 or paper mask, you can set it aside for several days, at which point the virus is likely to become inactive. But keep in mind that health officials still aren’t entirely sure how long coronavirus can persist on surfaces, and it’s possible for a mask to collect particles over time, increasing the viral load.

But what about the rest of your clothes? Experts say not to worry so much about disrobing the minute you get home. The coronavirus likes moisture and dries out quickly on fabrics. You need to be careful with the material covering your face, but the rest of your outfit can wait until your regularly scheduled laundry appointment.

[h/t National Geographic]