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ScienceIamA scientist who has spent my entire career studying terrible diseases - Ebola, smallpox, rabies, anthrax and many others. I'm here to answer your questions on infectious diseases of biodefense. AMA!

Apr 19th 2017 by Poxdoc • 37 Questions • 71 Points

My short bio: I was born in 1942 in the village of Barta, then Romania, now called Plavnia in Ukraine. My father was drafted into the Romanian Army (then allied with Nazi Germany) in 1942, eventually coming home after the Battle of Stalingrad, only to be drafted again in 1944 but this time by the Red Army after the Russians took the Romanian region of Basarabia.

We were now part of the Soviet Union. I grew up in a house with my Mother and Grandparents. I had a total of 7 brothers and sisters, 3 of whom eventually succumbed to hunger and diseases around 1946, when the Soviets started taking all our food to send back to Russia. My Grandpa also died of hunger when he refused to give up his horse. Back then we relied on roots and small rations of soups as everything was for the collective.

In 1956 I finished 7th grade in the local school. I wanted to study, but everything was far away, we had no roads and no chance to reach any other schools so I started learning how to sew from my neighbor in her improvised shop. This unfortunately didn't help our condition as I couldn't earn any money with my skills.

Once Stalin died, a lot of deported men and women where allowed to go back to their homes, and in 1962 I met one of those men, who wanted us to marry. We did, but I set a condition: I would only become his wife if I we moved to his village, Cuza-Voda, since they had a high-school and I could study 3 more years.

Having finished high-school, I moved to the capital city of Moldova, Chisinau, to become a pharmacist while my husband studied in the Music Collegium. We eventually moved back Cuza-Voda, had a daughter and lived through the Soviet Union, after which our country became the independent Republic of Moldova in 1991. It is indeed weird to see all these countries named in such a small region; now imagine having 3 different identities throughout your life: Romanian, Soviet and Moldovan.

My family was always very patriotic and I'm a big History and Geography fan. It'd be my pleasure to answer any questions you might have.

My Proof: This is me with my Granddaughter, who is helping me with this AMA and translating things to English: Last summer, and this is us now.

Q:

What are some uncommon ways for a disease to spread?

A:

Bill, what was it like collaborating with Tyler, the Creator for the theme song for the new show? What made you choose him initially? Do you have an ongoing friendship with him?


Q:

In those tough times, was there anything that brought you happiness? Some moments that was enjoyable?

A:

Good question. None of them seem too weird to me anymore. But a couple might count. First is rabies. It is spread from the bite of an infected mammal in the saliva. The virus is specifically adapted to transmit that way, so it's not just happenstance like the bacteria that normally just live in the mouth infecting the bite wound.

The other might be a bacterium called Francicella tularensis. You can get it from the blood of an infected animal (from hunting for example). But it can infect protists in water, and you can get it by drinking that water. And you can also get it by aerosol. There was one case where a person got infected while mowing a lawn and they hit the carcass of a rabbit that died of the disease. They breathed in a tiny amount of aerosolized tissue and blood containing the bacteria and got the disease. Gross.


Q:

Oh we hang out all the time. He comes by The Planetary Society; we talk about the cosmos and our place in space.

A:

I didn't know what happiness was. I was happy when I had a little bit of bread.


Q:

He died didn't he?

A:

Thanks so much for being here. Any chance of working with Disney again on the Energy pavilion at EPCOT? Lots of people would love to see an update based on everything we know about the subject now as opposed to twenty years ago - especially if you had something to say.


Q:

Of all the years you've lived through, which has been your favorite, and why?

A:

I believe so.


Q:

Not my choice. Please ask the Disneynians to refresh the ride. It was a fun job. It was sponsored by Exxon, while they still owned a division that made bearings for wind turbine generators, and before their climate denial documents from 1977 were discovered and published in the New York Times. I'd love to do a new show though.

A:

Good years were when I had my grandchildren, when I had goats, sheep and turkeys and I made cheese. I had land and worked it but now I'm old things are harder for me, but still I'm happy because I'm proud of my grandchildren who are studying.


Q:

Why are people in Japan more conscious of not spreading their germs/sickness/diseases to others compared to the USA and Europe?

A:

Bill, What are your thoughts on Elon Musk and what he is doing for the scientific world through Tesla and SpaceX?


Q:

Thank you for your answer! Two more questions, if you have time.

  • What is your favorite kind of cheese, both to eat and to make?
  • What are your grandchildren studying?

(also, greetings from Colorado!)

A:

Good questions. Most people think it is part of their society. They tend to be more polite and think of how their actions impact others, in general. This is probably due to the fact that they have lived in high population density centers a lot longer than many other areas, and so there is selective pressure to think that way in order to better get along. We're not there yet.


Q:

He and is companies are shaking things up in a great way. Some disclosure, he served on the Board of The Planetary Society for a while, but has had to recuse himself as SpaceX became Yuge. (I gave him a ride to the airport once.) The Tesla outperforms conventional gas-powered cars (as does my new all-electric Chevy Bolt). If the reused lower stage of the Falcon rockets proves profitable, it will change space exploration in great way. Go Elon! (He's an immigrant to the U.S., bt-dubs.)

A:

After slaughtering a lamb, we take the gall and let it ferment. We use it afterwards for making goat and sheep cheese. That's my favorite. Do you know how to milk a sheep? You have to milk it from behind, under their tails. We often mix goat and sheep milk.

My granddaughter is in Germany and my grandson is in the USA.


Q:

God that seems scary. Do you get extra vaccines to make sure that if a monkey does chew your suit, you're a bit safer?

A:

Hi Bill, thanks for doing this - I've got a question, I know that maybe it's not specifically in your field, but I would still appreciate your thoughts as someone trying to "save the world".

To what extent do you envisage automation replacing common jobs anytime soon, on a large scale? If this is accomplished do you think it will be a current player (amazon/google/tesla), something completely left-field no one expected, or a community effort from thousands of small to medium sized enterprises working together?

Thanks!


Q:

do you want the union with romania?

A:

No, because there are no vaccines for BSL-4 agents. But, there are filters between the suit and the air hose that are designed to catch anything that gets into the hose.


Q:

Self-driving vehicles seem to me to be the next Big Thing. Think of all the drivers, who will be able to do something more challenging and productive with their work day. They could be erecting wind turbines, installing photovoltaic panels, and running distributed grid power lines. Woo hoo!

A:

Da!


Q:

Is it normal to have red patches on your testicles?

Asking for a friend

A:

Bill, Should I continue being a paramedic or just go for it and try to become an emergency department physician?

Edit: spelling. The ambulance gets bouncy and I got a 911 call as soon as I typed this.


Q:

What has been the most difficult time in your life? Especially since you have lived through so much.

A:

Probably, but your 'friend' should show them to his doctor and ask. Please don't send the pictures to me!


Q:

Go for it! People seldom regret what they do; they, or we, regret what we don't do!

A:

When I finished school and I didn't have where to continue with my studies. I was too young to go anywhere, we where 'naked' (didn't have any clothes) and bad food. I started to go to another village but coming back hungry through the snow was too difficult. Everything felt hopeless then.


Q:

What are some ways diseases are spread by animals and plants to humans? Which disease are these and does this happen in the USA and what is done to stop and prevent it?

A:

First, thanks for making science class so great in middle school. I still have that theme song stuck in my head.

What is our worst case scenario assuming nothing gets done to save the world and what does the timeline look like? How much is my life going to be affected? My kids? I know we need to do something, but what if it doesn't work out?


Q:

Please share with us a nice wholesome Moldovan recipe? :)

A:

There are way, way too many diseases that spread from animals to humans (zoonotic diseases) to list, even in the US. But, probably the hardest ones to stop are the insect-transmitted diseases, for examples Zika virus. We try to prevent this through education (what areas are at risk, how to prevent mosquito bites, what you should do if you think you have been infected, etc) and through 'vector control', meaning spraying for mosquitoes, draining or emptying standing water breeding areas, etc. It's a multi-prong approach.


Q:

The quality of life for people everywhere will go down. There will be less food and less clean water available in the developed and the developing world. It's reasonable that this will lead to conflict: more violence, more war. Here in the super-developed US, people will have to abandon homes in Miami, Galveston, Norfolk, and other coastal towns. It will lead to defaulted mortgages and people looking for jobs inland. Where will those jobs come from? Sooner we get to work the better.

A:

Take a three month-old chicken that you raise yourself, you fry onions, put some carrots and then the pieces of the chicken. Take some home-made red pepper paste and two or three spoons of flour. Add some water just to cover the meat and let it simmer. At the end add some parsley and some dill. Serve it with mamaliga (polenta), salt and pepper. Serve with kompot.


Q:

Does studying terrible disease have an impact on your personal life?

A:

Hey Bill, what's your take on our chances of becoming a multi-planetary civilization in the foreseeable future?


Q:

What life advice do you have to give to a young person?

A:

Well, it does make for excellent cocktail party talk, even if people do tend to take a step back from me when I tell them what I do. I sometimes have to work very long hours or get called in on the weekends when there is a problem. And I tend to be hyper aware or sick people and sources of contamination around me. But, no, not much.


Q:

Infinitesimal. If you think you want to live on Mars, try living in the dry valleys of Antarctica for a few years. And to play fair, you have to bring your own air to breathe. Inhaling the local atmosphere on Mars would kill you in an instant. You'd never go outside, not really. You'd live in some dome, and when you go out, you have to be in a spacesuit, which is just another dome, only really tight fitting. Oh, and there is absolutely nothing to eat.

A:

Have a strong will. Don't want to much. Go ahead and study and take the best from life. I had a goal my whole life: to work and have a family and a good education.


Q:

Have you done TV and Radio interview in the past?

A:

Hey there Bill!

Was curious, what was your favorite episode of the old Bill Nye the Science Guy show? There must have been one episode you did that stood out to you more than others.


Q:

What is the best thing about living in Moldova?

A:

Yes, quite a few.


Q:

Nope. When you get your job as a dancer on broadway, don't ever tell people who your favorite dance partner is. Otherwise, you won't get a chance to dance with anyone else. There is something in every episode that I just love. The spit take in Ocean Life cracks me up as does the screaming skull I'm holding in Bones & Muscles. And, who doesn't love passing out in a fighter plane pulling 7.5 g's?

A:

We have very good climate, good soil and very welcoming people. Come and visit!


Q:

Thanks for the AMA, I hope this makes a little sense.

Do you have any specific or general insights or directions of interest regarding big picture evolution/biology or astrobiology/biogenesis that flow through your own specialization but are further inspired by recent exciting advances and trends in microbiology, viruses, genetic and epicenter sciences etc..?

A:

In your opinion, why are so many eager to discredit climate change brought about by human activities? What are the most obvious signs that they are ignoring?


Q:

Hello! If you could go back in time and stop anything, anything at all, what would it be?

A:

Those are outside of my core areas of expertise, but I am very interested in astrobiology especially. And that specifically crosses my areas in two ways: first is concerns about alien pathogens infecting humans, and the other is in us contaminating alien environments with our microbes and thus confounding our search for life. I'm not all worried about alien microbes - their biology is likely to be so very different from ours that there will be no real chance of an infectious relationship. The second is very real and is why NASA goes through extreme measures to sterilize spacecraft that are going to land places.


Q:

The fossil fuel industry has successfully introduced the idea that ±2% is somehow the same as ±100%. Just as the cigarette/cancer deniers, did, only global and affecting billions rather than millions. Sooner we embrace renewable energy sources, the sooner we can bring the military home and be energy independent. Let's go!

A:
  1. When the Soviet Union collapsed, I would unite Moldova with Romania.

Q:

How is the lab culture in a BSL-4 lab compared to other labs?

A:

We've heard the chant of your name even wayyy over here in New Zealand. :) Just a small question. Favourite astronomy point in the night sky?


Q:

Hi! Do you have any regrets? Or anything you would have done if you had the chance?

A:

Yes. It's a smaller group. Everyone does everything, down to mopping the floors and handling the trash - no janitorial service in a BSL-4 lab. And that includes most equipment maintenance, since it is a process to decontaminate equipment out of the lab for service. People are generally really good about watching out for each other. And because of the space suits and hearing protection, it's more isolated and 'quiet', which can be really nice.


Q:

Thanks for your support. I don't have a favorite (favourite). Saturn is beautiful. And, I am fond of the Earth's Moon.

A:

I would've liked to study further. For now, I would like to have more work, have a better sight, sew more! laughs and take care of my great grandchildren. (Comment from granddaughter: she can never stay still!)

Edit: I would've liked more children.


Q:

Thank you for this AMA! It's fascinating stuff!
I have a couple of questions.
First, what would be the best way to educate someone who is either on the fence or misinformed about vaccines?
Second, what has been your proudest moment as a virologist?
Third, what has been your career goal?

A:

Hey Bill,

What are your thoughts on animal agriculture and the promotion of a vegan diet as to reduce our impact on climate change?


Q:

Thank you for doing this AMA. What is your sweetest memory?

A:

First, I wish I knew a good answer for this one. I think it depends on what they perceive the issue to be with vaccines.

Autism? That has been thoroughly debunked, the paper withdrawn, the author's medical license taken away and convincing proof put forward as to how he made up the results on behalf of a law firm prosecuting vaccine injury cases.

Bad reactions? The vast majority of vaccine adverse reactions are due to allergic reactions. Doctors monitor for these and can intervene if necessary.

Vaccines cause allergies? There is no evidence whatsoever that childhood vaccines, or any others, cause allergies later in life. Anecdotal, but I have received more vaccines than most people realize exist and I have no allergies. This effect is simply not true.

Trying to describe herd immunity and why an ever-growing population of unvaccinated people puts at risk a larger and larger swath of people is difficult.

There are some good resources out there that are easy to under stand. This web site talks about the lowering of morbidity and mortaility by vaccines. And this is a simple short discussion from the CDC about what would happen if we stopped vaccinating.

As for my proudest moment as a virologist, I think that was spread out on my work on an antiviral drug called Tecovirimat, a drug that works against smallpox. I ran the drug screening effort that found this drug when I was at USAMRIID. Then later at other jobs, I ran the animal studies that showed that it could protect animals against poxvirus infections even when they were really, really sick. This drug got Emergency Use Authorization and was given to a small child who caught the vaccinia virus from his service member father on accident after he was vaccinated with it and was about to die. Tecovirimat saved the boy's life. It is now part of the Strategic National Stockpile to be used in the event of smallpox being reintroduced.

As for my career goal, well, I'm pretty much doing it right now!


Q:

Plant-based diets are the future. I look forward to food preparations that are not "derivative bits," as we say in comedy writing. Instead of "coconut bacon," for example, I hope there is just delicious stand-alone coconut preparations. Cooking is a competitive business. I look forward to the emergence of new plant-based dishes.

A:

Sweetest memories are with my grandchildren. Seeing them singing and playing music with my husband. I've always really enjoyed sewing, so every time I've finished a piece, I feel a lot of satisfaction.


Q:

What disease/toxin scares you the most and why?

A:

Mr. Nye, How tall are you?


Q:

QUESTION: If there was one thing you could say to the youth of today, what would it be?

Thanks for taking the time out of your day to do this. Much love from California.

A:

Scares me personally? Probably Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus. It kills about 60% of those it infects and most of the survivors end up with permanent brain damage. There is no treatment and only an experimental vaccine that very few people ever get. It's normally transmitted (here in the US) by mosquitoes, but you can also aerosolize it and breathe it in and get it that way, hence why we study it for biodefense. Very nasty.

For others? Rabies. 100% fatal once it gets into the central nervous system. We have a vaccine, but it is not very good and is very expensive to make. But it is simply a brutal disease.


Q:

183

A:

(This is her granddaughter now. She couldn't believe she got greetings from California, thanks a lot!)


Q:

What method of treating infection will replace Antibiotics if we were to enter a 'Post Antibiotic Era'?

A:

Where do you shop for ties? I grew up in a bow tie family. I want a Bill Nye Science Guy Signature Bow tie!


Q:

Greetings from Florida! The Australia of the United States.

A:

I wish I knew. I wish anyone knew. Right now, nothing. And that is scary.


Q:

Check out Nick Graham. com. Consider buying our ties!

A:

I know Texas but I've never heard of Florida. Is it Trump's? I know he has a lot of money somewhere.

Edit: I have a map of the United States, I wish I was closer and further from Russia.


Q:

Since BSL-4 is dealing with the most dangerous diseases, do you have to be vetted to make sure you're not trying to make a biological weapon? Because if someone bad were able to get into a BSL-4 area, that wouldn't be good, too say the least.

A:

Hey Bill,

Do you think your TV show has helped or hurt the messages you're trying to spend? Does your reputation make people listen or tune out?


Q:

What was the worst thing you experienced and what was the best thing you experienced in life?

A:

Not just BSL-4, but BSL-3 as well, and even BSL-2. But yes, in order to work with the most dangerous pathogens and those with the greatest potential for misuse, you have to be vetted. I and my staff have high-level security clearances, go through psychological evaluations, random drug tests and a bunch more. We also work in 2-person teams to help prevent bad actors. It's not certain, but it helps.

After the insider who we think sent the anthrax letters, we take this threat very seriously.


Q:

I hope people coming of age have a respect for the process of science in part because of my show(s). If not, I guess I've failed, but I did and continue to do my best. Checkout Bill Nye Saves The World, which starts on Friday on Netflix. There are 13 episodes. Binge 'em, and turn it up loud!

A:

Hunger and cold was the worst that's ever happened. We didn't know about candies like now, there was nothing to buy. The best thing was when my daughter was born after seven years of trying to get pregnant.


Q:

Are there biological toxins that have been created by man just for the sake of biological warfare? If so, are there instances where they have been "released" to collect data on the infectious outcome?

A:

Hi Bill!! You're doing great work.

My questions for you are:

What is your favourite element and favourite subatomic particle?

What scientific mystery do you most want to solve?


Q:

What are your feelings towards Romania ?

A:

No, not really. We're not good at developing things like that from scratch yet. Nature has done a much better job than we can at making really toxic toxins. The neurotoxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum is literally the most toxic substance ever discovered. i have held enough of that toxin in my hand to kill every person on the planet, it's that toxic.

Not surprisingly, governments and a few other rogue individuals or groups have tried to use that and other toxins for biological warfare or biological terrorism. We certainly don't do any open-air tests of those kinds of things anymore for multiple reasons. But, back in the days of the offensive biological warfare programs in the US and USSR, yes, they tested biological weapons and toxin weapons in releases to collect data. Now, we can do that much cheaper and safer in lab experiments to get good enough data for defensive purposes.


Q:

Favorite element? Don't have one, but I am fond of the compound water. In fact, now that I've sipped it, I don't think I could live without it. Subatomic particle? Not sure, but I'd sure like to know if there are particles associated with dark matter. Darkons?

A:

It's my home country. I've always wanted us to be one whole country, I grew up with Romanian radio and even during Soviet times I was dedicated and aware of everything that was happening in Romania, educated my children and grandchildren with a love towards the Romanian Nation and they've now regained their romanian citizenship.


Q:

Would you then say it's something of a miracle that one of those old tests didn't run amok and end up as a global disaster?

A:

Bill Nye! My AAAS membership led me to the IDP Career Test at ScienceCareers.org. I am 27 years old and am finally considering a college education. My top result is "Science Education for non-scientists" of which I believe you have ample experience. How would you suggest entering this career field? Would any specific college major help or will any science based major suffice? Would you ever consider letting an individual, such as myself, job shadow you for a couple days? Lastly, do you plan to attend this year's StarTalk Saturnalia party? I'm also a member of the Planetary Society and have to thank you and your team for your science advocacy! I look forward to watching "Bill Nye Saves the World"; keep up the great work!

Bonus Question: Have you heard of "The Show About Science" Podcast run by 6 year old (Yes only 6!) Nate Butkus? I would love to hear you interviewed on his show! You have been an inspiration since my youth; I know you'd inspire him also.


Q:

Grandma, where is one place in the world you have always dreamed of visiting?

A:

No, not really. The bacteria, viruses and toxins that we used to use for biological weapons have been around for a very long time. If they were going to wipe out all humans, they have had plenty of time to do so. Humans have selected the most pathogenic of them, and learned how to put them in the air and keep them alive for longer, etc. But I can pretty much guarantee that there is not going to be a global plague that kills of the human species. There may be one that kills a lot of us, even a majority, but not all.


Q:

Be sure you can do algebra. It is a key to success in a technical field. I work in a writers room these days. If you want to do what I do now, look for a job as a television writer. Thanks for being a member of The Planetary Society. We advance space science and exploration. Let's know the cosmos and our place within it!

A:

I've always felt weird about people here who just wanted to go to Russia or France but I want to know Romania, such a beautiful country with lakes and forests. My husband died, with his dream unfulfilled of seeing his country from the other side of the river Prut.


Q:

Do you think the Dengue vaccine is a failure?

A:

My russian grandmother (who you sort of look like btw) lived in Russia during the blockade and had to eat glue and the soles of her shoes to survive, what is the most ridiculous thing you remember eating to satiate hunger? Also she is your age and wouldn't even understand Reddit let alone how to type a paragraph so props to you.


Q:

I thin the Dengue vaccine is a challenge. There are 4 types of Dengue, and you need to protect against them all to do much good. But Dengue is unique in that if you get infected with one type, and then get infected with a different time some time later, it makes you more sick than it would have alone. It's called antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) of infection, and that is a huge challenge to developing an effective vaccine. But, I think it's getting closer. So, yes, we have largely failed so far, but I think there is good reason to be optimistic for the future development of Dengue vaccines.

A:

I ate green berries that made me puke. I still never eat them. We ate sticks from sunflowers. I lived on the shores of a lake, but was not allowed to fish.


Q:

what is the weirdest but effective defense against an infectious disease you've seen/heard of?

A:

I lived on the shores of a lake, but was not allowed to fish.

How did they enforce this? Did they have the police or some sort of government agent watch natural resources like the lake to make sure no one used it for personal nourishment?


Q:

I can think of a bunch of weird ones, but unfortunately, none of them are effective... Stick to the tried and true.

A:

There were boats on the lake with guards watching.


Q:

are the masks typically worn in asian countries when people are sick effective or do they just encourage people to go out and about when they should be at home?

A:

imagine having 3 different identities throughout your life: Romanian, Soviet and Moldovan.

That's interesting. Do you identify with any particular one of these identities more than the others?


Q:

They have some efficacy in cutting down large droplets and in making people aware not to touch their face as often as most people do. But they do not protect against small particles or if you touch something then pull down your mask to rub your nose or something.

A:

When there was a census, I wrote I am Romanian, yet I don't see it in my official results. I've always considered myself Romanian.


Q:

How do you personally feel about the readiness state of CDC in the face of ever increasing antibiotics resistant bacteria as well as an ever increasing population density in cities?

A:

What do you most want to be remembered for?


Q:

I don't think that this is just a CDC issue at all. Multiple government agencies, at all levels, need to commit to preparedness for these kinds of things. And let's not rule out the things that doctors and the general public can do to help. Antibiotic resistance is rising faster than we can develop, test and license new antibiotics. And population density just increases the chance of spread of such bacteria. We need additional research funding for development and testing from the government. We need doctors to prescribe antibiotics less frequently and only when necessary. We need people to be aware of their health and to take steps not to spread infectious diseases (see other answers for what can be done).

The CDC generally does a great job. But they are just one group tasked with a LOT of different locations, diseases, conditions, monitoring, tracking, trending, preparing, testing, etc.

A:

That was a human who managed to achieve everything through my own work and respected everyone, just like I respect and remember my father, who was such a good example to me. In Moldova it is said that everyone should once build a house, dig a well, plant a tree and raise a child and I did all this through my own work.


Q:

How does the IIT Research Institute get Its funding for Its budget?

A:

Was there an equivalent of E Germany Stasi and neighbors spying on neighbors during USSR times? If so, how did it affect society then and how does it affect Moldovans' attitudes today? What are your thoughts on Putin's Russia?

Thank you for this AMA, hearing from people like you is one of my favorite things about Reddit.


Q:

From sponsors such as both small and large biotech companies, and also from the government. They fund us to use our facilities and expertise to test their drug or vaccine, to test detection technologies, to develop new models, to research new assays or to manufacture new materials will let others improve their research. We are a 501c3 non-profit.

A:

There where people who were saying "that guy has grains hidden!". There have been and there are still that kind of people. Even my neighbor was one of those, they had a net. You know them with how they speak and even in 2009 they where going around agitating people. On the surface you don't see them, they're normal people.

Edit. Putin laughs I have bad opinions. I don't respect him. I don't like him because he has no family. What does it mean? This age and single?


Q:

When and how did you get interesting in terrible diseases?

A:

Thanks for doing this AMA. Can you comment on how most people obtained food in the 1940s and what sort of employment opportunities were available for your brothers? Also, how many languages can you speak? Your English is quite good.


Q:

I was working on my Ph.D. in virology when I started reading more about the high-hazard pathogens, and read The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. That got me interested in these viruses and ultimately lead to my job at USAMRIID.

A:

I was very young during the hunger times, I was 5 years old. I remember when my parents found a small piece of bread, they'd give it to me and stare at me as I ate it. We struggled because we didn't want to join the kolkhoz, but were eventually forced to do so.

I speak Russian and Romanian. My granddaughter is helping with the English translation, sorry if it was not clear.


Q:

Have you studied the brain eating ameoba that enters through the nose from warm water like lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers?

A:

As the area you are from seems to have changed hands many times in your life, which country/ethnic or cultural background do you most identify with?

And also, what were some of the repercussions and effects of these territorial changes?


Q:

I have not had the chance to work on that one yet!

A:

While growing up and during my teenage years, my village was part of Soviet Ukraine so I started to identify myself with that, learning a few ukrainian words. Moving 40 km away from there with my husband meant I was now living in Soviet Moldova. It's always been hard to talk about these things because I felt restrained and had no freedom. (Granddaughter: even now it takes her time to think about these things and give a concise answer)


Q:

How do you not have nightmares from your line of work?

A:

You mentioned that you had strong feeling about when you saw the Soviet tanks come in, can you expand on that moment? When did it really set in that the Soviet Union was there to stay, or was that never really a question?

Thanks for doing this AMA and hello from Virginia!


Q:

I'm not afraid of what I do. I have a healthy respect for these organisms and what they can and will do to me if I am careless. But there is no reason to be scared of them.

A:

We were scared, we never thought it would end. I lived my whole life in the Soviet Union with fear. I am very sorry the communist regime took religion away from us. We had no hope. (Granddaugher: she looked for Virginia on her map and smiled)


Q:

In my science class, we are currently learning about genetics, is there any interesting facts about the diseases that you listed that somehow fit with genetics that I can share with my class and teacher?

A:

Is there anything you dislike about the present society, something that wasn't present in your younger days?


Q:

You bet! But keep in mind that bacterial genetics are a bit different than Mendelian genetics (pea plants and such) that you are probably learning about. A great example of genetics in bacteria is antibiotic resistance. One bacterium gets exposed to a low level of an antibiotic and that increases it's chance of becoming resistant. If it does become resistant, it may be able to pass on that genetic trait (resistance) to its offspring by cell division (this is called vertical transfer). It might also be able to transfer the resistance gene to another bacteria, or even another bacterial species, by conjugation or other means (horizontal transfer). This is a great example of why we need to limit the use of antibiotics to limit the development of resistance and it's spread among bacteria.

A:

I don't like that the laws are not respected, everything is falsified. People are very greedy and materialistic. Values have shifted, even concerts and artists have nothing for the soul.

Edit: Before, the name of your family was very important. When you did something, your family's reputation was at stake.


Q:

What was your major and how did you know this is what you wanted to do on your life?

A:

When did your hunger "break"? Do you remember the first big, satisfying meal you had after being in hunger for so long? What was it and how did it feel in detail?


Q:

I majored in Molecular biology. I knew it was what I wanted to do because it was interesting and fun for me and I found that I was good at it. And then I started to learn about the virology and the high-hazard pathogens and they are so fascinating, so challenging and we need to know so much more about them that they really caught my attention. I found that my molecular biology background really trained me with an excellent set of tools to study these organisms and all work on all the associated technologies.

A:

A week after easter, we go to the cemetery to remember the dead. My grandma baked a turkey and we all ate it there and we even had enough to share with other people. Smiles


Q:

How dangerous actually is HIV?

A:

When, in your opinion, was the most terrifying time in your history for the world?


Q:

Well, that's a tough question. If you get it, it's likely to be the thing that kills you. Especially if you live in a country with poor healthcare. But in developed countries, people are living for decades with HIV just fine. It's not the certain death sentence it once was.

A:

It was very tragic when the Soviets came and took so many good and hard-working people to Siberia where they died of hunger. The deportations. This was horrible. Everything was left behind, people where taken at night in animal wagons in Siberia.

Edit: For some of them we never heard again. I also have family that I never knew where they're burried.


Q:

Is it stressful to handle dangerous diseases like anthrax and ebola or do you feel confident in the protection that you have ?

A:

I am a Welshman coming to possibly visit for the Moldova vs Wales football match in the World Cup Qualification in September. What should I look out for? And convince me to book flights 😊


Q:

Both. It can be stressful and you are definitely hyper vigilant while in the lab. It can be tiring and stressful. But at the same time, I trust in my protective equipment, the procedures and my ability. So, yeah, it's stressful but manageable.

A:

I am far from sports. What if you don't like Moldova? Should I take such a responsibility? If you have enough money and don't know what to do with it, you can come. Come!


Q:

What are your comments on Operation Dark Winter? If a similar situation did strike the United States, where it be a bio weapon developed by a certain power to attack us, or a naturally developed virus, would our health system collapse eventually after the infection rate is too high? I am very interested in this topic, and I would love to hear from a professional 's view on this. Thanks.

A:

Thank you for your stories! Do you see any countries that, based on what you've seen, appear to be headed in a negative direction? What are the warning signs they should look for?


Q:

Dark Winter was an interesting exercise. It was a best-guess scenario for a massive outbreak, in that case, smallpox. And yes, I think it modeled quite well how things would likely play out. But keep in mind that the exercise was carried out almost 16 years ago now. Things have changed a lot in many areas of healthcare and diagnostics/detection. Obviously a massive, coordinated attack in multiple locations simultaneously is far harder to defend against or respond to than a very small number of natural introductions. Even so, something highly communicable like smallpox presenting in tens or even hundreds of thousands of people around the country would very quickly overwhelm our ability to care for those people, much less the worried well and all the other people with the illnesses and emergencies that we see every day in hospitals. It would be interesting to see a similar exercise today.

A:

North Korea has a mentally-ill leader. We don't have to talk about that. I don't like Erdogan, but Turkey voted for him. My own country isn't going anywhere.


Q:

Have you ever met Dr. Ken Alibek by any chance?

A:

Very intriguing! I admire you so much for sharing your story with reddit! I am a second-generation Czechoslovakian, my mother, her sister and their parents were all born there and in 1969 when the Soviet Union invaded my grandparents wanted to do everything possible to escape. It took them a little while but managed to get to Austria to live with my grandfather's sister as they applied for their American visas. They then moved to Australia as that was the only place they would find safe passage to the U.S. but still had to wait for visas. So they stayed there for a few years, but it was much better than living under a communist regime. I can only imagine how tough that would be.

My question for you is, looking back, do you often wonder how your life would've been different if the Soviets hadn't taken over? I can only imagine how tough of a life you had to live, watching those you love suffer from huger and yourselves having to survive on the bare minimum, although it made you who you are today. You are a very strong woman and I'm glad you found your footing in life. Also, do you still live in Europe? Or did you come to America? Your English seems very well!


Q:

Yes, many times.

A:

Of course, our lives would be very different. I remember where I was when the Soviet tanks invaded Prague and I had really strong emotions. I've always admired the courage and the strong will of the czech people, as they confronted the Soviet Regime. Small pause Václav Havel.


Q:

reading this IAMA i got many interesting fact...

i got a question, if there is new virus that really deadly and really contagious like flu, how long to make the vaccine?

can govern skip the 3 year testing at animal or something?

A:

What are your favorite parts of Moldovan culture? Are there any special holidays or traditions you can tell us about?


Q:

The government does have in place ways to get vaccines or drugs to people in shorter periods of time and with less testing required. It's called Emergency Use Authorization. The government would insist on some kind of safety data to make sure that anyone receiving the vaccine or drug isn't going to drop dead. But, if the vaccine appears safer than the disease, and helps to prevent the disease, then they can let it be used. Still manufacture and testing of such a vaccine could take 6-12 months, or more.

Interestingly, the government (DARPA) is funding work to make that timeline shorter, with a goal to be from virus identification to effective medical countermeasure in just 60 days. That is a hard goal!

A:

Moldova is a country rich in tradition and people love to celebrate. We even celebrate double christmas and new year! (Granddaughter: some people use both the western and russian calendars)

Only now we celebrated the beginning of spring with mărțișor, and easter is always a big holiday that we celebrate by going to church at night and baking "cozonac" and painting eggs.


Q:

What are your thoughts on superbugs? Do you think we're going to have another Black Plague type of event soon?

A:

Have you ever travelled to North America? Is there any place you would like to visit, in Canada, the USA, or Mexico?


Q:

No, nothing like the black plague. But we are seeing now an increase in extensively drug-resistant super bacteria. People are dying of these infections when we thought they were basically gone or of no consequence. And those kinds of infections are only going to increase in the future. We desperately need more research on new classes of antibiotics along with effective policies for their use.

A:

I would like to, but it's late. I would like to visit my grandson who lives in Boston.


Q:

Are some of the pharmaceutical companies responsible for the creation of some of the infectious diseases?

A:

Can you provide context about past big changes, rise of Fascism in WW2, Communism, and the current political changes. Do they feel similar or are is it over reaction to this we are approaching some substantial turning point? Your insight and perspective is appreciated.


Q:

No. Why would they do that? Nature is far more effective in evolving infectious diseases. We are a long, long way from designing microorganisms from scratch to have specific properties.

A:

I think Putin is worse than Stalin. Maybe he doesn't bring people to Siberia. Yes, maybe people talk about Trump (Granddaughter here: she pronounces it 'Troomp'. She's very informed though) and about all the horrible things that the talks about, but he has limited power, whereas in Russia, in my opinion, there's a totalitarian Regime and Putin dictates as he wishes.


Q:

What do you think about the anti-vaccination movement? Why do you think they believe in all the conspiracy theories about vaccines causing autism/genetic mutation/neurological conditions and all that? Surely there's plenty of scientific proof that vaccines are safe and effective?

A:

What is your favorite meal?


Q:

I am a firm believer in the efficacy and safety of vaccines, in the vast majority of people, the vast majority of the time. I think anti-vaxers are mostly well-meaning people, but are usually terribly uninformed or misinformed. They don't understand the science behind it and they have been sold a bill of goods by people who say that all scientists are in it for the profit and public health be damned. That is patently false. Yes, vaccine makers are there to make a profit. But the process of researching, making, testing, licensing, manufacturing and monitoring the efficacy/safety of vaccines is a very long and very, very costly process.

Yes, there is a ton of scientific research out there that shows vaccines are safe and effective. Anti-vaxers either don't understand it or choose not to believe it. They hear a few annecdotal tails of where some child might (or might not) have had a bad reaction to a vaccine and then lump all kids and all vaccines into the same pot. They never look at or understand the others that do not have such reactions.

It is very frustrating for me personally.

A:

Mamaliga cu tocanita de miel! I actually really like soup with home-made pasta and chicken. But all food is nice.


Q:

Do you remember your first burger?

A:

We don't burgers, we eat ghiozlomele, which are actually turkish laughs. I've never had a burger and I can't because I don't have teeth laughs again.


Q:

Is your granddaughter married? May I ask for her hand?

A:

She's dating a Mexican.


Q:

How do you feel about Socialism as a system of government having seen its effects first hand?

A:

I don't like it. It's a lying system. I like bi-cameral systems like in England, not like the communist party where everyone has to raise their hand. Socialist still have communist things in themselves. Marx's theory didn't bring us anywhere.