SciBites: Week of May 22nd

SciBites: Week of May 22nd

Ethiopian children have misconceptions about foot disease, study finds

Some people are genetically predisposed to develop podoconiosis, a noninfectious disease of the lymph system that results from prolonged exposure to irritant mineral particles in soil, resulting in severe swelling of the feet and legs. An estimated 1.5 million people live with podoconiosis (also known as nonfilarial elephantiasis), but it is preventable by washing exposed feet and wearing shoes.

However, a new study in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases shows that children in families affected by podoconiosis hold many misconceptions about it. Of 117 children interviewed in southern Ethiopia, many incorrectly listed exposure to dew or pond water, snake bites, worms and more as risk factors. The concept of genetic predisposition was also unclear, as many believed the disease was transmitted by sharing shoes. Many children had a clear understanding of symptoms and that wearing shoes is protective. However, they identified key barriers to adopting preventative measures, such as access to soap and shoes.


Some grizzly bears forage along Canadian railways

Grizzly bears may face a growing risk of being hit by trains in Canada’s National Parks, as spilled grain, rail-killed animals, and vegetation that favors light and disturbance may attract more bears to railways. In a new PLOS ONE study, researchers investigated these attractants. They fitted 21 bears in Banff and Yoho National Parks with GPS-enabled collars, analyzed their hair and collected 230 samples of bear scat during a three-year period.

Nineteen of the collared bears used railway tracks at least once, but only four used the tracks more than a fifth of the days they were monitored. Hair analysis showed no link between railway use and levels of certain nitrogen and sulfur isotopes, suggesting lack of a consistent railway food source for the bears. However, body size seemed to impact consumption, with large bears consuming more animal protein. Scat found near the rail was more likely to contain grain and ungulate hair. Grain consumption increased in the fall — a period of higher energy demand and fewer alternative food sources for grizzlies. The large variation in how bears used the railway surprised the researchers, who recommended continued diligence in removing grain and dead animals from railways to prevent bear deaths.

Image: Maureen Murray


Tora A, Tadele G, Aseffa A, McBride CM, Davey G (2017) Health beliefs of school-age rural children in podoconiosis-affected families: A qualitative study in Southern Ethiopia. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 11(6): e0005564.

Murray MH, Fassina S, Hopkins JB III, Whittington J, St. Clair CC (2017) Seasonal and individual variation in the use of rail-associated food attractants by grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) in a national park. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0175658.


Sara Kassabian is the Social Media Programs Manager at PLOS, where she spends a lot of time writing and editing content for different digital platforms, as well as managing social media strategy and editorial operations for the PLOS Blogs Network ( Sara is a former journalist who completed her MS in Global Health at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), where her research focused on the prioritization of maternal and newborn health in global health policy. She can be reached by email at and on Twitter @sarakassabian.

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