Weekly Newsletter

Human health + ticks + dogs + birds, oh my!

Here's what to know about the current bird flu strain, how tick saliva helps spread disease and why playing with dogs can do wonders for our mental health.
A starling stands on a wooden floor, as seen at eye-level through an open door.

Whether or not we like animals, we can’t avoid interacting with them. How worried should we be about the current bird flu strain? What does saliva have to do with tick-borne pathogen risk? And when do dogs provide a mental health boost? Read on. Then keep scrolling for healthcare news about Covid-19 cases, health data breaches + more.

  • The Checkup: late summer learnings 
  • Ruff Stuff: bird flu + ticks + dog love 
  • Healthcare: Covid-10 + data + penicillin

The Checkup


Color overhead photo of a Black toddler wearing a brown shirt lying on a blanket in the grass laughing and looking at the camera while holding a small flower in his hand

Ticks have *uniqu*e saliva. It glues the tick's mouth to our skin so it can suck 100 times its body weight in one blood meal. (Ew!) Tick saliva is anti-inflammatory and analgesic, making its bite itch- and pain-free and hard for (us or) our immune system to find. The saliva recomposes every few hours—just as our immune system recognizes one element, that element disappears.

The saliva helps ticks transmit more diseases than any other insect!

Here’s more from Dr. B on preventing tick bites. Dig further into this salivary cocktail at The Atlantic.

Free bird!

Color photo of beautiful and exotic African Gray parrot in veterinary clinic. In the background there is a female vet.

The current bird flu is deadlier than past strains, killing millions of birds in two years.

Only eight humans have been infected globally since 2021—they had direct contact with infected poultry + it doesn’t spread between humans. But experts are concerned. Like with Covid-19, the more bird bodies the virus infects, the more it evolves. It’s already spread to mammals (that ate infected birds), coming closer + increasing our risk.

A human vaccine can be mass-produced if needed. But fingers crossed we don’t get to that point, right?

Learn more at Vox.

Pet me!

Portrait of stylish white senior woman wearing black and white clothing and sunglasses, laughing while she holds her pet dogs while seated on a bench at home.

Now, some good animal news! Studies show that even five minutes of petting or playing with a dog can lower stress hormone levels + increase feel-good oxytocin. (Oxytocin increases in dogs, too!)

One study showed that when a dog visited students twice a week, the kids had lower stress levels + improved cognitive processing. Another showed that dog interaction reduced stress + homesickness in college students. Why? Dogs live in the moment, encouraging our sense of play + curiosity. And their furry touch can have a calming effect on our nervous system.

Learn more at NPR.

Healthcare 411

Coronavirus hospitalization tick up, prompting questions about the next Covid-19 wave (USNews). After seven months of declines, record travel has increased Covid-19 hospitalizations. Even optimistic projections show cases increasing in the fall, peaking in winter + remaining a top 10 cause of death. If you're at high risk for severe infection, it's vital to start Paxlovid within 5 days of your first symptoms. Dr. B can help!

A cyberattack has disrupted hospitals and health care in several states (AP News). A California health company with hospitals + clinics also in Connecticut, Texas, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania experienced a cyber attack last week, diverting patients elsewhere + disrupting critical care. Containing sensitive patient health + financial data, the healthcare industry has experienced the most expensive breaches for 13 years.

Penicillin shortage explained (Forbes). A surge in syphilis has triggered a shortage of Bicillin A-L and Bicillin C-R. Pregnant patients are getting preferential treatment—they're only eligible for Bicillin A-L and syphilis affects fetuses. Non-pregnant patients are getting Doxycycline. It needs to be taken 2 times a day for 2 weeks, compared to the one-shot Bicillin.

Sign up for the free Dr. B newsletter for a weekly report on the latest in healthcare + research-based advice for staying healthy and mentally well.

Related articles