Guatemalan Infectious Disease: Week One Recap

Sitting on one of the many docks along Lake Atitlan during Wednesday’s lunch break
Government campaign to vaccinate locals for Rotovirus

Hello health fans! Since my last post, so much has happened in and around my research. In the past five days, I worked at three different health clinics with Drs. Sinkinson and Cereza (his wife), met with a local biological disease specialist who focuses on water borne disease, and facilitated a dry run for the cohort side of my research.

Since I have not yet explained what my research entails, let me take a moment to do so. Agents of diarrheal disease have been measured to afflict up to 80% of Mayan populations in Guatemala. According to Dr. Sinkinson, among the most common of these agents in the Lake Atitlan region are E. Coli, Adenovirus, Rotovirus, Giardia, Campylobacter, and Shigella. With my Immersion Grant, fellow pre-med student Brytani Garnett (who arrives on December 26th) and I will conduct assays of both stool samples and water samples to assess if the correlation between them might suggest a causative relationship.

We set up shop Tuesday in San Pedro, Wednesday in Santa Cruz, and Thursday in Tzasuna where we encountered a wide array of illnesses. Our days begin at the crack of dawn when we meet at the local dock to pack the “clinica mobil”, which consists of about ten suitcases filled with various medical supplies and drugs to treat the day’s patients. Once the “lancha” (boat taxi) is all packed, the doctors, their assistants (five college-aged Mayans they have trained), and I motor out to a clinic to serve anywhere from 40-50 patients in a four hour period. Many of the Mayans suffer from scabes or solar dermatitis, a sun rash that affects their lower arms and face from excessive sun exposure. Fortunately for them–and unfortunately for us–we only encountered three cases of diarrhea between the three clinics. However, Dr. Sinkinson assures me that as soon as we get the word out about the resources we are bringing to the community (set to arrive in full on Wednesday), diarrhea patients will start to emerge out of the wood works.

In other news, I met today with Teresita Flores, a local biologist who runs Laboritorio Atitlab in the neighboring city of Panajachel. Her work primarily focuses on working to provide purified and consumable water for locals and tourists. Additionally, as you can see from attached Rotovirus banner, she has assisted in preventative measures to stave off future cases of diarrhea through a government-sponsored vaccination program. After our conversation this morning, she agreed to lend our her assistance and lab space to run water assays for my research, which–after seeing her facilities this morning–will undoubtedly prove to be a huge asset over the next three weeks.

Looking ahead, we have a busy week in front of us. In preparation for initiating the full cohort study, we will be conducting a dry run on Monday and Tuesday. This will consist of analyzing two diarrhea sample and two controls to ensure the facilities are functioning properly. We will then begin gathering as many stool samples as possible on Wednesday to analyze in the lab. Assuming all goes as planned, I will have some preliminary results to share next time. Until then, I bid you all a warm hasta luego!