Med Mystery: The Case of the Elusive Infection

By Ariel Bleicher and illustrated by Eleanor Davis UCSF Magazine

For 15 years, nobody could figure out what was making a young woman so sick. Then neurologist Michael Wilson, MD, tried a radical new test.

Four panel cartoon illustration: panel 1.

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Four panel cartoon illustration: panel 2.

Illustration of the male doctor in white coat looking through a magnifying glass. Text in upper right corner reads: “2017.” The panel background features a DNA strand, the body of a tapeworm, and other small creatures. The magnifying glass is focused on small creatures with text reading: “Parasites, Bacteria, Viruses, Fungi.” Two speech bubbles read: “Her case was so perplexing that the National Institutes of Health got involved. That’s when they emailed me about a new infectious disease test my UCSF colleagues* and I had developed. Standard tests look for only one infection at a time, but our test searches for thousands. It decodes pieces of DNA from a patient’s spinal fluid and then looks for matches in a database of all known infections. It’s like using fingerprints to catch a criminal.” Text below the panel reads: “*Including Charles Chiu, MD, PhD; Joe DeRisi, PhD, the Gordon Tomkins Professor; and Steve Miller, MD.”

Four panel cartoon illustration: panel 3.

Illustration of hand holding magnifying glass on a panel with DNA strands and small creatures. The magnifying glass is focused on a tapeworm’s head. Text above the head reads: “We ran the test for the woman.” Text below the head reads: “Just days later we had a match.” Text below the tapeworm reads: “She had a tapeworm!”

Four panel cartoon illustration: panel 4.

Illustration of the male doctor and the woman with a tear on her cheek, hugging her young son. Two speech bubbles read: “Luckily, there was a treatment. At long last, the end of her arduous journey was in sight.”

For 15 years, nobody could figure out what was making a young woman so sick. Then neurologist Michael Wilson, MD, tried a radical new test.

Seven panel cartoon illustration: panel 1.

500 Internal Server Error

Internal Server Error

The server encountered an internal error and was unable to complete your request. Either the server is overloaded or there is an error in the application.

Seven panel cartoon illustration: panel 2.

Three panels. Top left panel, illustration of young woman sweating and in distress with a speech bubble reading: “What’s happening to me?” Text to the right reads: “2002, Neck pain, Back pain, Fatigue, Fever.” Middle panel, right panel, illustration of male doctor in a white coat. Speech bubble reads: “She had taken antibiotics and was better...until she had a baby.” Left panel, illustration of young woman taking two pills. Bottom panel, illustration of young woman, sweating and in distress, holding a baby with a speech bubble reading: “The chills and fevers are back, and the pain is even worse!” Text to the right reads: “2006.”

Seven panel cartoon illustration: panel 3.

Three panels. Top panel, illustration of silhouette a doctor next to the woman, who is hunched forward in pain. Speech bubble reads: “We’ve tested for infections...” Text to the right reads: “2007” Middle panel, illustration of silhouette another doctor next to the woman. Speech bubble reads: “autoimmune conditions...cancers...” Text to the right reads: “2008.” Bottom panel, illustration of silhouette yet another doctor next to the woman. Speech bubble reads: “but we just can’t find the culprit.” Text to the right reads: “2009.”

Seven panel cartoon illustration: panel 4.

Illustration of the male doctor in white coat looking through a magnifying glass. Text in upper right corner reads: “2017.” The panel background features a DNA strand, the body of a tapeworm, and other small creatures. The magnifying glass is focused on small creatures with text reading: “Bacteria.” Two speech bubbles read: “Her case was so perplexing that the National Institutes of Health got involved. That’s when they emailed me about a new infectious disease test my UCSF colleagues* and I had developed. *Including Charles Chiu, MD, PhD; Joe DeRisi, PhD, the Gordon Tomkins Professor; and Steve Miller, MD.”

Seven panel cartoon illustration: panel 5.

Same illustration of the male doctor in white coat looking through a magnifying glass. The magnifying glass is focused on more small creatures with text reading: “Parasites, Bacteria, Viruses, Fungi.” Two speech bubbles read: “Standard tests look for only one infection at a time, but our test searches for thousands. It decodes pieces of DNA from a patient’s spinal fluid and then looks for matches in a database of all known infections. It’s like using fingerprints to catch a criminal.”

Seven panel cartoon illustration: panel 6.

Illustration of hand holding magnifying glass on a panel with DNA strands and small creatures. The magnifying glass is focused on a tapeworm’s head. Text above the head reads: “We ran the test for the woman. Just days later we had a match. She had a tapeworm!”

Seven panel cartoon illustration: panel 7.

Illustration of the male doctor and the woman with a tear on her cheek, hugging her young son. Two speech bubbles read: “Luckily, there was a treatment. At long last, the end of her arduous journey was in sight.”

Cover of UCSF Magazine Winter 2020: Special Issue / The Future. Collage of futuristic image of gloved hands with high-tech parts.

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