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Mite night

Dr Robert Lopez had bugs in his ear. He put them there himself, partly on behalf of a client, partly to satisfy his own curiosity. Lopez conducted his experiments with ear mites from cats.

The vet, from Westport, New York Westport is a town in Essex County, New York, United States overlooking Lake Champlain. The population was 1,362 at the 2000 census.

The Town of Westport is on the eastern border of the county and is south of Plattsburgh. Westport is inside the Adirondack Park.
, was the type of doctor who goes to great lengths to help someone in need. He was a man of endurance, a marathon runner and the father of 14 children.

A chance observation prompted him "to investigate the possibility of transmission of the ear mite, otodectes cynotis , to human beings". Lopez later wrote a study, Of Mites and Man, for the 1993 Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association American Veterinary Medical Association

a nonprofit, professional organization of veterinarians in the USA, whose stated objective is to advance the science and art of veterinary medicine, including its relationship to public health and agriculture.

In Lopez's words: "A client, accompanied by her three-year-old daughter, brought in two cats with severe ear mite infestations. In the examining room, the daughter happened to complain of itching chest and abdomen. The mother stated that the daughter frequently held the cats for long periods, like dolls ... I recommended that she check with her pediatrician. After the cat's ear mite infestation infestation /in·fes·ta·tion/ (-fes-ta´shun) parasitic attack or subsistence on the skin and/or its appendages, as by insects, mites, or ticks; sometimes used to denote parasitic invasion of the organs and tissues, as by helminths.  was cleared up, I learned that the daughter's itching also quickly disappeared." A search of the medical literature turned up nothing about otodectes cynotis infestation in human beings. So, wrote Lopez, "I decided to be a human guinea pig." He used a cotton-tipped swab to transfer ear mites from a cat into his left ear. "Immediately, I heard scratching sounds, then moving sounds, as the mites began to explore my ear canal. Itching sensations then started, and all three sensations merged into a weird cacophony of sound and pain that intensified from that moment, on and on ...

"At first, I thought this wouldn't, and couldn't, last very long. However, as the day and evening wore on, I began to worry. The pruritus pruritus /pru·ri·tus/ (proo-ri´tus) itching.prurit´ic

pruritus a´ni  intense chronic itching in the anal region.

pruritus hiema´lis  xerotic eczema.
 was increasing. The sounds in my ear (fortunately, I had chosen only one ear) were becoming louder as the mites travelled deeper toward my eardrum ear·drum
The thin, semitransparent, oval-shaped membrane that separates the middle ear from the external ear. Also called drum, drumhead, drum membrane, myringa, myrinx, tympanic membrane,

The adventure took several twists over the next six weeks. Lopez, being a good scientist and keen to see if this was a typical course of events, later repeated the experiment, twice.

For his services to man, mites and kittens, Lopez was awarded the 1994 Ig Nobel Prize The Ig Nobel Prizes are a parody of the Nobel Prizes and are given each year in early October — around the time the recipients of the genuine Nobel Prizes are announced — for ten achievements that "first make people laugh, and then make them think.  in the field of entomology entomology, study of insects, an arthropod class that comprises about 900,000 known species, representing about three fourths of all the classified animal species. . At the ceremony, he recited an original poem about ear mites, then took from his pocket a selection of dead bugs, which he distributed to the audience.

Lopez died in March. His daughter, Jan, will be present at the Ig Nobel ceremony at Harvard University on Thursday night, accompanied by her two sons. You can watch the live webcast at

· Marc Abrahams is editor of the bimonthly magazine Annals of Improbable Research The Annals of Improbable Research (AIR) is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to scientific humour, in the form of a satirical take on the standard academic journal.  and organiser of the Ig Nobel Prize
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Date:Oct 2, 2007
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