Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tropical Paradise with Tropical Parasites

By Brian Folt

    Last fall I kicked off my third year of graduate school at Auburn University, during which I was pitted against a series of tests for the semester. Fortunately, I made it through the semester alive, and the department gave me the green light to get to work out in the field. So, I packed my bags and made power moves to move down to Costa Rica. Field season, babyyy! 

    So now I’m back at La Selva Biological Station, a research site in Costa Rica that we’ve blogged about a time or two. Simply put, La Selva is a special place: an extremely diverse Caribbean lowland wet forest, the home of a flagship tropical research station, a place where diverse nature and science converge. In addition to avoiding the sub-zero temperatures currently bursting pipes across the United States, I’ve been busier than a peccary in mierda working in the forest, selecting field sites, setting up plots, and solving problems. I’ve been enjoying adjusting away from the groove and grind of living in an Alabama college town, to the activity and dirtiness of a field season.

Wet boots and socks are a staple
when working at the rainy La Selva.
    I like to think I’ve been logging a good bit of field time, and there are a few ways to evaluate this. For one, I’ve already filled out an entire field notebook with research data and observations, which means I’ve been putting in some solid work. Another measure is that my rubber boots are dying, both bearing open wounds in the form of holes from long kilometers in the forest. A third gauge might be that my body is currently decorated with a substantial number of scrapes, bruises, insect bites, chigger welts, and what not. As the Costa Ricans say: ¡Pura vida! 

    At some point a few weeks ago I developed an itchy rash of sorts on my upper leg…fairly sizeable, think along the lines of poison ivy. This sort of situation is more or less standard around here though, so I didn’t put too much thought to it and just kept grinding. Then a strange thing happened when the rash started moving. 

    Over the course of a few days, the reticulated pustule patches were snaking in a consistent linear pattern down my thigh, and the itchiness was fierce. These observations were a bit more concerning, and I felt sick to my stomach thinking that these patches might be more than just a reaction to a nasty plant. So naturally I snapped an iPhone picture or two, and I sent a message to the family doctors. 

    “Hey dudes-- Check out the attached picture; I’ve got some suspicious rashes creeping down my legs. Any clue what the #$%^&* is going on here?” (The family doctors being my two older brothers.)

“Whoa, cool! Cutaneous larval migrans! Yeah—hate to break it to you, bro, but you’ve got worms."

To be continued...

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