This song could go viral

Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis (VEE) is not often referenced in song, but The Crab Hole Mosquito Blues has just been released online in text and audio in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, charting the spread and control of the disease, which affects horses and people.


An alphavirus, such as VEE (Center for Disease Control)

The song describes the discovery that Deinocerites pseudes, the crab hole mosquito, found along the Pacific coast of Central America was a vector for the VEE virus.  Scientists at the Middle America Research Unit (MARU), Ancon, Panama Canal Zone wrote the song during an outbreak of VEE that affected Central America, Mexico, and the USA. The scientists managed to characterise the spread of different antigenic forms of equine and associated human disease throughout the Americas.  The research by MARU and others led to the development of an effective vaccine, allowing the disease to be controlled.

They wrote the song for the international Workshop-Symposium on Venezuelan Encephalitis Virus sponsored by the Pan American Sanitary Bureau, Pan American Health Organization, World Health Organization, in Washington, DC, September 14–17, 1971. The bluegrass song is arranged for a US jug band song, featuring a guitar, kazoo, whistling, blowing air across the mouth of a 1-gallon glass jug, scraping of a scrub brush on a metal washboard, and the "hambone" (or rhythmic slapping of hands on arms, hands and legs).

The song makes reference to the fact that the US and the Soviet Union military had considered using VEE as a biological weapon, but that this was eventually abandoned.

Does virus research feature much in songs? A search of CAB Abstracts shows that Zenobia Chan explored the issues of songwriting and dengue fever, as a way of helping students to memorise symptoms in a Lancet paper. At a much less sophisticated level, PutnamPig’s “Swine Flu Song” on Youtube defends pigs against unfair stigmatisation over H1N1 and related diseases.

'The Crab Hole Mosquito Blues' by Karl M. Johnson, Douglas F. Antczak, William H. Dietz, David H. Martin and Thomas E. Walton appears in Emerging Infectious Diseases 17 (5) (2011).

The audio track is available on a podcast:

Essay: composing a song to teach about dengue fever. Z. Chan, Lancet, 2006  368 Special Issue pp. S22- S23

One thought on “This song could go viral

  1. Martin July 3, 2017 / 1:41 pm

    Thanks, the writer is obviously an absolute genius, the works good, but too good 🙂

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