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Fact Check: New Girl Episode Is All Fun and Games until Someone Gets Legionnaires’ Disease?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Image: Genevieve/Wikimedia Commons

The popular Fox television show “New Girl” provides laughs each week, but last night it veered a bit off course with its Thanksgiving episode. [Spoiler alert ahead – stop reading if you haven’t seen the episode yet and plan to do so.]

When Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and the gang decide to spend a “back to basics” Thanksgiving out in the woods the trip hits a hiccup when it becomes clear that the holiday food was left behind because Nick (Jake Johnson) wants to opt for hunting and foraging attempts instead.

When Jess eats the fish that Nick contributes to the dinner – a pre-dead fish he found floating in the water – she quickly becomes delirious and wanders off into the woods before taking a fall and ultimately ending up in the hospital. The diagnosis, as Nick relays it, is Legionnaires’ Disease and Giardia infection. (Also, something about a foot issue, but I won’t touch that).

Alas, for all its comedic effect, both diagnoses would likely be deeply flawed.  Apparently, she ends up in the hospital on the same day they ventured out into the woods and Jess ate the toxic fish. While Legionnaires’ Disease can produce flu-like symptoms (so that could explain fever-induced delirium), it typically takes 2-14 days after being exposed to the bacteria to get sick. That’s strike one: the symptoms showed up far too quickly. Moreover, giardia (which is actually the name of the parasite, not the diarrheal disease) takes 1-3 weeks to show up after exposure, strike two. I’m calling shenanigans on this one. You can do better, “New Girl.”

About the Author: Dina Fine Maron is the associate editor for health and medicine at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @Dina_Maron.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. tuned 1:43 pm 11/27/2013

    “Legionellosis is the medical term for the potentially fatal, acute infectious respiratory process caused by any species of the gram negative, aerobic bacteria belonging to the genus Legionella.[1] Over 90% of legionellosis cases are caused by Legionella pneumophila, the bacterium responsible for Legionnaires’ disease, also known as Legion Fever.

    However, other species include Legionella longbeachae, Legionella feeleii, Legionella micdadei and Legionella anisa. These species cause a lesser, non-fatal, acute infectious process known as Pontiac fever that resembles acute influenza. These species can be water-borne or present in soil, whereas L. pneumophila has only been found in aquatic systems, where it is symbiotically present in aquatic-borne amoebae.[2] It thrives in temperatures between 25 and 45 °C (77 and 113 °F), with an optimum temperature of 35 °C (95 °F).

    During infection, the bacterium invades macrophages and lung epithelial cells and replicates intracellularly.[3][4]

    It is not transmitted from person to person. Instead, it is transmitted by inhalation of aerosolized water and/or soil contaminated with the bacteria. Sources where temperatures allow the bacteria to thrive include hot-water tanks, cooling towers and evaporative condensers of large air-conditioning systems, such as those commonly found in hotels and large office buildings. Though the first known outbreak was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, cases of legionellosis have occurred throughout the world.[5]”
    “Patients with Legionnaires’ disease usually have fever, chills, and a cough, which may be dry or may produce sputum. Some patients also have muscle aches, headache, tiredness, loss of appetite, loss of coordination (ataxia), and occasionally diarrhea and vomiting. Confusion and impaired cognition may also occur,[11] as can a so-called ‘relative bradycardia’, i.e. low or low normal heart rate despite the presence of a fever.[12] Laboratory tests may show that patients’ renal functions, liver functions and electrolytes are deranged, including hyponatremia. Chest X-rays often show pneumonia with bi-basal consolidation. It is difficult to distinguish Legionnaires’ disease from other types of pneumonia by symptoms or radiologic findings alone; other tests are required for diagnosis.

    Persons with Pontiac fever experience fever and muscle aches without pneumonia. They generally recover in 2 to 5 days without treatment. The time between the patient’s exposure to the bacterium and the onset of illness for Legionnaires’ disease is 2 to 10 days; for Pontiac fever, it is shorter, generally a few hours to 2 days.”
    “Legionnaires’ disease usually develops two to 14 days after exposure to legionella bacteria. It frequently begins with the following signs and symptoms:

    Muscle pain
    Fever that may be 104 F (40 C) or higher
    By the second or third day, you’ll develop other signs and symptoms that may include:

    Cough, which may bring up mucus and sometimes blood
    Shortness of breath
    Chest pain
    Loss of appetite
    Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
    Confusion or other mental changes
    Although Legionnaires’ disease primarily affects the lungs, it occasionally can cause infections in wounds and in other parts of the body, including the heart.

    A mild form of Legionnaires’ disease — known as Pontiac fever — may produce symptoms including fever, chills, headache and muscle aches. Pontiac fever doesn’t infect your lungs, and symptoms usually clear within two to five days.”
    The delusions associated with fever are quite possible.
    The show uses some “artistic licence, true with regard to suddenness of symptoms. That can be aggravated by other pre-existing conditions however, to lessen a reaction to less than the aforementioned 2 days. A pre-existing allergic condition, smoking, etc. as well as the possibility of other toxins in the fish.
    Why so quick to criticize without exploring all the possibilities?

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  2. 2. Persagdomoxx 2:07 pm 11/27/2013

    I think what was said on the program was meant to be a joke and nothing more. He was not making a diagnosis nor relating true information from a doctor.
    In using off humor, which this show uses quite often, Nick was telling Jess that she was okay, nothing serious was wrong with her, no rabies ( from a dead fish??). He was also glad they were able to save her foot, which had nothing wrong with it.

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  3. 3. sauIt 10:28 pm 11/27/2013

    Wow. It’s a silly TV show. Is it really a good use of time and energy, this nitpicking? We’ve got a stalled Ice Age on our hands, due to the megalomanical machinations of an anti-natural ape which thwarts the cyclical ascension of the Benevolent Mammoth to Earth’s helm, and will stop at nothing, including the use of a giant subcrustal pop-rock of sequestered carbon timed to detonate and spew magma all over the post-monkey icy paradise postponed for now by silly babblings over sitcoms.

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