A Celebrity, Shigella, and an Airplane

With all the (mostly sensationalized) talk of individuals harboring Ebola traveling to the US from West Africa, I thought of an odd incident involving a sick celebrity traveler I recently heard about.

David Duchovny, the star of The X-Files (a show I predictably loved),  was recently on The Late Late Show and was recounting the story of a trip he had taken to Thailand. During that trip, he contracted a Shigella infection. 

Shigella causes dysentery--a fancy word that means diarrhea that contains pus. Often people with shigellosis will have fevers and chills as well. Shigella is a pathogen that is highly infectious as only a few organisms are required to cause disease. Fortunately, barring antibiotic resistance, Shigella is something that can be treated with antibiotics.

The story that Duchovny related (at about 3:50 in this clip) included him making so many trips to the bathroom that flight attendants suspected him of being a drug mule, prompting a full body inspection upon arrival in the US. Such an inspection of someone with explosive diarrhea is clearly a scenario ripe for contagion.

One of the fascinating aspects of Shigella is that the US military has shown interest in using bacteriophages (viruses that infect and can kill bacteria) as nutritional supplements for troops stationed in areas with a high incidence of Shigella infections. Phages are an elegant, totally targeted, therapy that avoid the issues inherent with broad spectrum antibiotics. There will be more to come on bacteriophages in the future.

As for Duchovny, I'm sure the customs inspectors found out, possibly in an unpleasant manner, that the truth was in there.