Michaeleen Doucleff

Michaeleen Doucleff is a reporter for NPR's Science Desk. She reports for the radio and the Web for NPR's global health and development blog, Goats and Soda. Doucleff focuses on disease outbreaks, drug development, and trends in global health.

In 2014, Doucleff was part of the team that earned a George Foster Peabody award for its coverage of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. For the series, Doucleff reported on how the epidemic ravaged maternal health and how the virus spreads through the air. In 2015, Doucleff and Senior Producer Jane Greenhalgh reported on the extreme prejudices faced by young women in Nepal when they're menstruating. Their story was the second most popular one on the NPR website in 2015 and contributed to the NPR series on 15-year-old girls around the world, which won two Gracie Awards.

As a science journalist, Doucleff has reported on a broad range of topics, from vaccination fears and the microbiome to beer biophysics and dog psychology.

Before coming to NPR in 2012, Doucleff was an editor at the journal Cell, where she wrote about the science behind pop culture. Doucleff has a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Berkeley, California, and a master's degree in viticulture and enology from the University of California, Davis.

Last summer Felicia Keesing returned from a long trip and found that her home in upstate New York had been subjected to an invasion.

"There was evidence of mice everywhere. They had completely taken over," says Keesing, an ecologist at Bard College.

It was a plague of mice. And it had landed right in Keesing's kitchen.

It was a balmy Sunday evening in early 1999, and Dr. Kaw Bing Chua hadn't had lunch or dinner.

There wasn't time to eat. Chua was chasing a killer. And he thought maybe he had finally tracked it down.

He slid the slide under the microscope lens, turned on the scope's light and looked inside. "A chill went down my spine," Chua says. "The slide lit up bright green, like bright green lanterns."

Welcome to the bat cave. No, we're not talking about the secret headquarters of a superhero.

This is Gomantong — an ancient cave carved out of 20 million-year-old limestone in the middle of the Borneo rain forest in Malaysia. It's part of a vast network of tunnels and caverns. And it's the perfect hideout for bats.

Up at the top are millions of bats. Literally millions. They hang upside down all day long from the cave's ceiling, sleeping and pooping.

Pygmy elephants. Monkeys with noses the size of beer cans. And a deer so small you could cradle it like a baby.

And right there, sitting on a leaf, is the strangest bug we've ever seen.

"Check out the size of it," says virus hunter Kevin Olival as he picks up a ginormous roly-poly. "It's the size of a ping-pong ball!"

If you're a germaphobe, make sure you're sitting down.

Back in 1999, a woman in California cleaned up rodent droppings in her home. Two weeks later, her liver started failing. Then she started to bleed internally — a hemorrhagic fever that would kill her. Eventually doctors found a new virus in her body, which very likely came from a rat.

This year we've learned an amazing amount about Zika — how it damages developing brains, how it spreads through sexual contact and where in the world (and the U.S.) it's hiding out.

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When Ebola struck West Africa a few years ago, the world was defenseless. There was no cure. No vaccine. And the result was catastrophic: More than 11,000 people died. Nearly 30,000 were infected.

Now it looks like such a large outbreak is unlikely to ever happen again. Ever.

The world now has a potent weapon against Ebola: a vaccine that brings outbreaks to a screeching halt, scientists report Thursday in The Lancet.

Bacteria are way smarter than we give them credit for.

No, I'm not talking about "brain smarts." Bacteria don't have neurons.

I'm referring to "chemical smarts": the ability to make, break down or gobble up whatever compound they want. Even if they've never been exposed to it before.

Scientists have found a superbug — hidden 1,000 feet underground in a cave — which is resistant to 70 percent of antibiotics and can totally inactivate many of them.

Frequent removal of pubic hair is associated with an increased risk for herpes, syphilis and human papillomavirus, doctors at the University of California, San Francisco, reported Monday in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.

The World Health Organization announced Friday that it no longer considers the Zika epidemic a public health emergency of international concern.

But Zika's threat to pregnant women and babies is not going away anytime soon, the agency says. Instead, the virus is now a chronic problem, says the WHO's Dr. Pete Salama.

Optimism. That's what we could all use right now.

So here at Goats and Soda, we're going to give you a whole heaping tablespoon of it. And we'll do it by answering a question from a reader named Ian Matthews that seems to bring the opposite reaction: "How can we stop the spread of antimicrobial resistance?"

As it turns out, the answer has a surprisingly positive message.

People and leprosy go way back. Way, way back.

"It's been around for at least 5,000 years and probably longer," says Stewart Cole, who directs the Global Health Institute at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

One mutation. A simple tweak in the Ebola gene — a C got turned into a T. That's all it took to make Ebola more infectious during the West Africa epidemic, scientists report Thursday.

Two studies, published in the journal Cell, found that a single mutation arose early in the epidemic. It allows Ebola to infect human cells more easily than the original version of the virus — way more easily.

It's one of the biggest medical mysteries of our time: How did HIV come to the U.S.?

By genetically sequencing samples from people infected early on, scientists say they have figured out when and where the virus that took hold here first arrived. In the process, they have exonerated the man accused of triggering the epidemic in North America.

There's a heated debate in the Arctic Circle. It's about reindeer. Lots of them.

Russian health officials want to cull a quarter million animals by Christmas, The Siberian Times reports. That's enough reindeer to fill about 400 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a special travel advisory Tuesday for pregnant women — and those trying to get pregnant.

They should "consider postponing nonessential travel" to 11 countries, the agency says. These countries include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Maldives, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, East Timor and Vietnam.

Historical. A possible turning point.

These are the words health researchers are using to describe a declaration passed Wednesday by the U.N. General Assembly aiming to slow down the spread of superbugs — bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics.

"I think the declaration will have very strong implications," says the World Health Organization's Dr. Keiji Fukuda. "What it will convey is that there's recognition that we have a big problem and there's a commitment to do something about it."

From anthrax outbreaks in thawing permafrost to rice farms flooded with salty water, climate change seems to play a bigger and bigger role in global health each year.

Vampire bats are thirsty creatures. And they drink only one beverage: mammalian blood.

Each night, they hop on the ground, crawl up to an unsuspecting victim and latch onto its ankle.

Then the little critters use razor-sharp incisors to slice a deep, tiny wound into a victim's skin. As blood flows out of the wound, the bat laps it up — about a tablespoon per bite.

Most of the time, these bites are harmless – if not a bit uncomfortable. But if the bat carries rabies, a quick nip can be deadly.

A ticking time bomb. That's what some health officials say the Zika virus is in Southeast Asia.

Special K. K-land. Or even "baby food," because users sink into "a blissful, infantile inertia," the Drug Enforcement Agency says — ketamine is best known as a club drug here in the U.S.

Most recently, ketamine played an integral role in HBO's summer murder mystery The Night Of — Andrea and Naz took some and hooked up. He blacked out and awoke to find her stabbed to death in her bed. And he doesn't remember whether he did it.

Everywhere you turn, it seems, there's news about the human microbiome. And, more specifically, about the bacteria that live in your gut and help keep you healthy.

Those bacteria, it turns out, are hiding a big secret: their own microbiome.

A study published Monday suggests some viruses in your gut could be beneficial. And these viruses don't just hang out in your intestines naked and homeless. They live inside the bacteria that make their home in your gut.

Not 1,000. Not 50. Not even 10.

Zero.

"There have so far been no laboratory confirmed cases of Zika virus in spectators, athletes or anyone associated with the Olympics," the World Health Organization said Thursday on its website.

Human viruses are like a fine chocolate truffle: It takes only one to get the full experience.

At least, that's what scientists thought a few days ago. Now a new study published Thursday is making researchers rethink how some viruses could infect animals.

A team at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases has found a mosquito virus that's broken up into pieces. And the mosquito needs to catch several of the pieces to get an infection.

A series of medical images published Tuesday offer the most complete picture, so far, of how the Zika virus can damage the brain of a fetus.

"The images show the worst brain infections that doctors will ever see," says Dr. Deborah Levine, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, who contributed to the study. "Zika is such a severe infection [in fetuses]. Most doctors will have never seen brains like this before."

As expected, the Zika outbreak in Florida is growing — though how fast is still difficult to say.

State and federal health officials say mosquitoes are spreading Zika in two neighborhoods of Miami, including Miami Beach. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told pregnant women Friday not to go into these neighborhoods — and to consider postponing travel to all parts of Miami-Dade County.

When you first meet Moises Velasquez-Manoff, the first thing you notice is his hair — or the lack of it.

He's completely bald.

"At age 11, I developed this condition, called alopecia areata, where I lost my hair," says Velasquez-Manoff, a science writer in Berkeley, Calif. "It started in patches, but eventually I lost it all."

Russia is fighting a mysterious anthrax outbreak in a remote corner of Siberia. Dozens of people have been hospitalized; one child has died. The government airlifted some families out because more than 2,000 reindeer have been infected.

Officials don't know exactly how the outbreak started, but the current hypothesis is almost unbelievable: A heat wave has thawed the frozen soil there and with it, a reindeer carcass infected with anthrax decades ago.

Some scientists think this incident could be an example of what climate change may increasingly surface in the tundra.

It's official. The Zika virus has established a toehold in Florida.

Fourteen people likely caught Zika in a neighborhood north of downtown Miami, health officials said Monday. That means mosquitoes in that area have picked up the virus and are spreading it.

Zika can cause severe birth defects if a woman is infected at anytime during pregnancy.

So the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is doing something it has never done before: issuing a travel advisory to a part of the continental U.S. because of an outbreak of an infectious disease.

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