Everyone posts crap tweets, but at least Jake Eberts’ are for science.
Eberts is part of a clinical trial to test vaccines for shigella, the bacteria that causes dysentery, an infection of the intestines that results in diarrhea containing blood or mucus.
He tweeted in anticipation of it on Apr. 3 — “Tomorrow I am going to be deliberately infected with dysentery and kept in a quarantine facility for 11 days as part of a Phase IIc vaccine clinical trial. That sounds dark but I assure you I am extremely excited to overshare this journey with everyone.” — and the post quickly went viral, garnering him more than 1,500 new followers, many of them medical professionals.
“I normally just tweet about Chinese foreign policy and Wikipedia and dumb gay things,” Eberts, 26, told BuzzFeed News.
But his dysentery posts have found an audience. And he’s tweeted it all — how farting is like a game of Russian roulette, a frequently asked questions thread, photos of the facility as well as his meals, updates on his bowel movements (or lack thereof), and how he’ll inevitably be subject of a case study “for a medical ethics research article next year, ‘How Much Tweeting Is Too Much? Clinical Experiment Design and Implementation With Terminally Online Subjects.’” As one Twitter user put it: “Oregon Trail meets the 21st century.”
“There really is no experience I can compare it to because it’s a little bit surreal,” Eberts said. “There was kind of a pause for a moment, where I was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is a really important scientific endeavor that I’m taking part of.’”
Eberts received two vaccines in February and March and while he doesn’t know if he received the real vaccine for dysentery or a placebo, as of Friday morning, two days after drinking the shigella solution, Eberts has started to feel sick.
After Eberts drank the bacterial shigella solution, the gravity of what he was doing hit him.
“I was like, ‘Oh, shit. I just ingested a deadly disease,’” he said.
According to his Twitter, he’s experiencing chills and aches that woke him up at 3 a.m. He’ll be quarantined for 11 days along with the other 15 subjects in a Baltimore facility built for medical trials, and he said about 13 people will fully contract dysentery. In their wing of the facility, there are seven toilets and seven showers.
“It’s kind of a sick, twisted musical chairs,” Eberts said.
Participating in this trial was an easy decision for Eberts. It’s helping advance scientific research, and he’s getting paid about $7,000 for it. Plus, as he joked on Twitter, online fame is fun, too. He was hoping for 100 likes on his tweet, but now that it’s reached much more and the nurses in the facility have seen his tweets — including Eberts’ hope for a “hot gay single nurse” to treat him — he’s a little bit more embarrassed.
“If you would have told me that, I would have been mortified,” Eberts said. “I probably wouldn’t have tweeted at all. … I was definitely not expecting to talk to a journalist about it.”
The nurses took it all in good fun, and Eberts said people told him that his tweeting had encouraged them to sign up for clinical trials. He’s been in quarantine for just a few days now, where he’s mostly worked and explored the facility, which includes a lounge with pool table and TV.
“It almost feels like the first week of college except the tension in the air is not excitement,” Eberts said, laughing. “It’s just dread.”