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Healthy Dose of Disease

If You're Into Illnesses, These Web Sites Can Be Infectious

March 15, 2001|ROBERT BURNS | robert.burns@latimes.com

The foot-and-mouth disease panic spreading across Europe triggered Ireland to cancel a number of St. Patrick's Day celebrations set for Saturday. The idea was to slow travel in and out of affected areas, since, while people don't usually get foot-and-mouth, they can easily spread it.

On this somber St. Pat's Day, we could spill a few tears into a green beer or take a snake for a drive. Instead, though, we'll show a little unity with Ireland and dedicate this Click to diseases that can really kill a buzz.

The mother of all disease databases is, of course, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov). Spend a little time in Health Topics A to Z, and you won't leave the house unless you're wearing a penicillin suit. There's also tons of information for travelers (don't go there) and current outbreaks of things such as Ebola. There's also a hoax and rumor section, but it's small comfort, especially after looking through the journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

You might be the type who likes to see things up close. Russell Kightley Media has scientific illustrations at http://www.rkm.com.au/graphic.html. You can see the infamous Cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite that causes stomach-flu-like symptoms in some people. There are also prions, which are implicated in mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, and an illustration of how it spreads from cows to people.

More viral images, with information, comes from the Institute of Molecular Virology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (http://www.bocklabs.wisc.edu/Welcome.html). The images pale compared with the Virus of the Month Club (March is polio).

Another big disease database is from the National Organization for Rare Disorders (http://www.rarediseases.org). It also has links to support groups and other organizations.

GeneClinics (http://www.geneclinics.org/index.html) has information on genetic diseases prepared by doctors. You can wade through it just fine with a medical dictionary.

The opposite end of the spectrum comes from our friends up north. Canoe's C.Health (http://www.canoe.ca/Health/disease_indepth.html) has down-to-earth info about many medical conditions, and an herbal encyclopedia.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (http://www.niaid.nih.gov/default.htm) doesn't have a big disease database, but it has plenty of free publications.

All the Virology on the WWW (http://www.virology.net/ATVemerinf.html) braves a very perky logo in the face of Ebola. But then it has a link to the Ebola Zaire Fan Club (http://www.mindspring.com/%7Ecinque/ebola.html).

The World Health Organization's Disease Outbreak News (http://www.who.int/disease-outbreak-news) lets you keep up with latest info, such as yellow fever in Brazil. Its disease info section even has classics such as the plague.

An exhibit called "Epidemic!" from a couple of years ago is online at the American Museum of Natural History (http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/epidemic). It's especially good for those who insist on putting things in context.

Another informative viral starting place for kids is Bugs in the News (http://falcon.cc.ukans.edu/~jbrown/bugs.html), with its series of "What the Heck Is . . ." articles.

But what we'd really like to know is what the heck is up with that piece of space junk Mir? Just as we were about to pull off the safety goggles, latex gloves and surgical mask comes the news that mutated organisms will probably survive the rust bucket's reentry into Earth's atmosphere. Maybe it's time for a whole lot of that green beer.

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Robert Burns is an assistant Business editor at The Times.

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