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If You Cannibalize a Person With an Illness, Will You Get Sick?

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Reader Sarah wrote in to ask, “If you eat a person who has an infectious disease, will you get the disease too? A morbid question I thought of while sitting in a doctor’s office and was too shy to ask.”

Most human illnesses aren’t going to pose a problem for a potential Hannibal Lecter. Cancer isn’t contagious, and one person’s cancer cells generally aren’t able to live inside anyone else because a healthy immune system will wipe them out. (There have, however, been a few instances where people “caught” cancer from an organ transplant, because they had to take drugs to suppress their immune systems so their bodies wouldn’t reject the new organs). HIV and most other nasty microorganisms, meanwhile, can be "cooked out," or destroyed by heat.

This isn’t to say that you should whip out the fava beans and Chianti just yet.

There are still a few risks that go along with cannibalism. Malaria parasites can spread among mice through cannibalism and blood-drinking, and scientists think that the simian immunodeficiency virus and hepatitis spread among chimpanzees the same way. (However, none of this has been shown in humans, and such a study probably wouldn’t pass an ethics board anyway.) It’s also possible that people could pick up tapeworms through cannibalism.

However, the biggest health threat tied to cannibalism is prion diseases, a group of neurodegenerative disorders that are spread by eating contaminated meat. Prions are misfolded proteins that wreak havoc in healthy bodies by causing healthy proteins to change shape and convert even more proteins into prions. You wind up with a cascade of misshapen proteins that cause tissue damage and cell death, and eventually brain deterioration, loss of motor control and death. It's nasty stuff, and the human brain, bone marrow, spinal cord and small intestine can all harbor prions, which aren’t easily killed denatured by cooking.

You Probably Shouldn't Read This Part While Eating

You’ve heard of at least one prion disease, mad cow disease, but the one more relevant to human cannibalism is kuru. In the 1950s and '60s, the Fore people of Papua New Guinea experienced an outbreak of a strange, unidentified and incurable illness. Villagers in the Eastern Highlands area, predominantly women and children, fell ill with muscle tremors, uncontrollable fits of laughter, slurred speech and loss of motor control. Almost every single one of them died, often in a few months or less. Scientists went to the villages to treat the victims and study the disease, and soon discovered that the sickness had a grisly origin.

The Fore were known for their tradition of “mortuary feasts,” where the death of a family member was commemorated with the ritual consumption of their body, including the organs. The scientists figured out that the disease was being spread through prions contained in the funerary meal. Women and children got sick more often because they usually got stuck eating the brains and viscera, while the men of the family got the “better” meat from the muscles.

At the height of the epidemic the government banned mortuary feasts, and although a few might still have happened in secret afterwards, the last known case of kuru ended with the death of the patient in 2005.

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Big Questions
How Does Autopilot Work on an Airplane?
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How does autopilot work on an airplane?

Joe Shelton:

David Micklewhyte’s answer is a good one. There are essentially a few types of features that different autopilots have. Some autopilots only have some of these features, while the more powerful autopilots do it all.

  • Heading Hold: There’s a small indicator that the pilot can set on the desired heading and the airplane will fly that heading. This feature doesn’t take the need for wind correction to desired routing into account; that’s left to the pilot.
  • Heading and Navigation: In addition to holding a heading, this version will take an electronic navigation input (e.g. GPS or VOR) and will follow (fly) that navigation reference. It’s sort of like an automated car in that it follows the navigator’s input and the pilot monitors.
  • Altitude Hold: Again, in addition to the above, a desired altitude can be set and the aircraft will fly at that altitude. Some autopilots have the capability for the pilot to select a desired altitude and a climb or descent rate and the aircraft will automatically climb or descend to that altitude and then hold the altitude.
  • Instrument Approaches: Autopilots with this capability will fly preprogrammed instrument approaches to the point where the pilot either takes control and lands or has the autopilot execute a missed approach.

The autopilot is a powerful computer that takes input from either the pilot or a navigation device and essentially does what it is told to do. GPS navigators, for example, can have a full flight plan entered from departure to destination, and the autopilot will follow the navigator’s guidance.

These are the majority of the controls on the autopilot installed in my airplane:

HDG Knob = Heading knob (Used to set the desired heading)

AP = Autopilot (Pressing this turns the autopilot on)

FD = Flight Director (A form of navigational display that the pilot uses)

HDG = Heading (Tells the autopilot to fly the heading set by the Heading Knob)

NAV = Tells the autopilot to follow the input from the selected navigator

APR = Tells the autopilot to fly the chosen approach

ALT = Tells the autopilot to manage the altitude, controlled by the following:

VS = Vertical Speed (Tells the autopilot to climb or descend at the chosen rate)

Nose UP / Nose DN = Sets the climb/descent rate in feet per minute

FLC = Flight Level Change (An easy manual way to set the autopilot)

ALT Knob = Used to enter the desired altitude

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

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