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#NPRreads: Cecil's Zimbabwe And UCLA Tracks A Superbug

#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers throughout our newsroom share pieces that have kept them reading. They share tidbits using the #NPRreads hashtag — and on Fridays, we highlight some of the best stories.

This week, we bring you three items.

From NPR's South America correspondent, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro:

When the news about the murder of "Cecil the Lion" broke, I was shocked and saddened like the rest of the Twitter-sphere. And then I saw the country where the illegal killing took place and I was less surprised. Zimbabwe, under its despotic ruler Robert Mugabe, is not a place that is run by warm and fuzzy animal lovers. This New Yorker piece does what many other articles about Cecil failed to do — it gives important context about the country Cecil was killed in.

"Four months before a Minnesota dentist killed Cecil the lion, Mugabe celebrated his ninety-first birthday with a feast of wildlife. The menu included dishes of young elephant, killed especially for a party with twenty thousand of Mugabe's supporters. Another elephant was killed so that constituents could celebrate, too. Mugabe was presented with a lion trophy and a crocodile trophy that were to be stuffed."

Mugabe, who has ruled for 35 years, has one of the worst human rights records in the world — and that is saying something. Unemployment, while estimates vary wildly, is without a doubt very high. Poaching is a lucrative business there and Zimbabwe's corrupt officials are probably involved. According to The New Yorker:

"More than sixty per cent of the country's rhinos were killed by poachers between 2003 and 2005, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Their horns are valued for medicinal use and as aphrodisiacs. A single horn can fetch more than two hundred and fifty thousand American dollars.

The president of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, Johnny Rodrigues, has implicated government officials in managing or profiting from poaching syndicates. "The big issue is that there are some bigwigs involved in poaching, and this should be thoroughly investigated," he told local media, in 2013."​

Many are calling for the Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil to be punished for the crime he committed. Zimbabwe says he should be extradited. But this article reminds us that terrible actions like this don't happen in a vacuum.

From NPR's deputy managing editor, Gerry Holmes:

It didn't take much to pull me into this Los Angeles Times story – straight out a Hollywood mystery:

"Doctors at UCLA's flagship hospital were baffled: A healthy 40-year-old woman had fallen deathly ill after a routine procedure.

"A long black scope had been threaded down her throat to treat troublesome gallstones. Now antibiotics were powerless to stop a raging infection."

But this tale is real and takes you to a very real moment of fear – when a team of doctors has to reckon with a deadly superbug infection on the loose in their hospital. They need to contain it, figure out the source and how to stop it from spreading. And, they need to prevent it from happening again.

This smart anatomy of an infectious killer on the loose is engaging and informative. What I liked most about it was the portrait of UCLA's man, Dr. Zachary Rubin, who is charged with figuring out the mystery and putting on his detective hat:

"He ordered his 10-member team to pull the chart of every CRE patient at UCLA in the previous year.

"Rubin wanted to know whether infected patients had other things in common. Were they hospitalized on the same floor? Did they undergo a common procedure?

The medical records turned up 34 patients, including Young, with a CRE infection. But about half of them had CRE before coming to UCLA."

Stumped on the origin of the superbug, Rubin and his team figured out how it got into the hospital by narrowing down the list of victims and figure out the common threads.

The dirty scopes, known as duodenoscopes, are fairly common in hospitals around the country. They had indeed become infected, but they had also been cleaned. That was the next part of the puzzle: how could they still carry the bug even when the cleaning instructions were being followed to the letter?

The twists and turns of this engaging and important story offer a window into the frontlines of the difficult task of solving the mystery of an infectious illness that resonates so deeply with anyone who's had a procedure in a hospital.

From NPR's Justice Department correspondent, Carrie Johnson:

In the year since Ferguson, Missouri, erupted in violent protests, the man at the center of controversy has largely remained silent.

Until now. Darren Wilson, the white policeman who shot and killed an unarmed African American named Michael Brown, opened his home to a New Yorker reporter. The result is a long narrative that's remarkable in its description of Wilson's checkered early family life and his current mindset. Author Jake Halpern writes here:

"At one point, I asked Wilson if he missed walking outside and going to restaurants. He told me that he still ate out, but only at certain places. "We try to go somewhere—how do I say this correctly?—with like-minded individuals," he said. "You know. Where it's not a mixing pot."

But just as compelling, if not more so, are remarks from Mike McCarthy, the Irish cop who trained Wilson:

"For several months, McCarthy taught Wilson how to walk the beat — coaching him to loosen up, joke, and curse occasionally. He should avoid 'sounding like a Webster's Dictionary,' never condescend, and never expect people to rat. At first, Wilson says, residents laughed at him, but he followed McCarthy's advice to 'just keep going.' By the end of the training, Wilson said, he 'was more comfortable' on the streets. McCarthy told me, 'There is so much distrust in the African-American community toward the police.' The only way to overcome it was by establishing bonds with people. McCarthy, who is gay, said that he understood what it meant to be marginalized. 'In the United States, where everybody is supposed to be equal, I'm not. So that's a major thing.'"

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sundayand one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcastUp First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
Gerry Holmes
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
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