INTERVIEW: Dan Riskin investigates ‘Monsters Inside Me’ on Animal Planet

Prosthetic lesions were featured on a previous season of 'Monsters Inside Me. Photo courtesy of Animal Planet.
Prosthetic lesions were featured on a previous season of Monsters Inside Me. Photo courtesy of Animal Planet.

Monsters Inside Me, the successful Animal Planet series, follows tales that are both horrifying and real. The show details the scary developments that can occur when humans encounter viruses, bacteria and parasites. Viewers should expect some nightmare scenarios after hearing these subjects open up about their trials and tribulations in the world.

The new series, which premieres Thursday, Oct. 29 at 9 p.m., features 10 episodes and several intense cases: a scratch on a knee that swells to the size of an orange and massive lesions that may be the beginning of leprosy.

Each of the viruses, bacteria and parasites, when magnified and animated, become monster-like, almost like stunt doubles on the movie Tremors. They are so small, yet so potentially deadly.

There to document the cases and offer expertise on these monsters is Dan Riskin, the host of the series. He’s a biologist and author of Mother Nature Is Trying to Kill You. Recently, Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with Riskin about the real monsters he’s been investigating. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.

Why do these little “monsters” scare humans so much? There’s the real danger involved, but is there something else about fear of things we cannot see?

It makes intuitive sense that a human would be scared of a lion because we evolved as creatures that needed to worry about being eaten, but an even bigger danger throughout our evolutionary history as a species has been the threat of the small — the monsters that can get into our bodies and kill us from the inside.

Lions have picked off a person here and there, but the bubonic plague wiped out half of the humans in Europe in two years. Diseases are far more terrifying than predators, and we know that intuitively. It’s ingrained in our DNA to be repulsed by the kinds of situations where we can get diseases.

For example, if I put some raw hamburger out in the sun for half a day and you watch a dog poop on it, you know not to eat it. That’s because your instincts have been shaped by the threat of parasites and disease throughout human evolution. That repulsion is just as important to surival as the fear of predators.

Trichinosis is featured on Animal Planet's Monsters Inside Me. Photo courtesy of Animal Planet.
Trichinosis is featured on Animal Planet’s Monsters Inside Me. Photo courtesy of Animal Planet.

This season there are some interesting cases, including suspected MRSA and leprosy. What makes a case interesting enough to be profiled on the series?

The story needs to be relatable. Usually the victim lives in the U.S. and has a normal lifestyle, like that of the viewer. When the victim in the story starts getting sick, they deal with it in the way we would, too. They might shrug it off or go to the doctor right away. Either way, the disease sticks around, and soon it’s a life-or-death situation. I think it’s the helplessness that really resonates — these people didn’t ask to get sick, and we can sympathize with their horrors as they battle to survive.

An example of Neisseria Meningitides from 'Monsters Inside Me' — Photo courtesy of Animal Planet
Neisseria Meningitides was featured on a previous season of Monsters Inside Me. Photo courtesy of Animal Planet.

How long does it take to produce an episode of Monsters Inside Me?

Our production company is constantly churning away on stories. We’re always looking, talking to victims and doctors, and now we’re fortunate that lots of people reach out to us with their stories.

When we get the green light to make a new season, we step it into overdrive — filming re-creations, interviewing victims, talking to experts. It takes several months to whip a season up after that green light, but we’ve had parasites “in our blood” ever since we started working on this back in 2008.

In the age of finding medical information on Google, and essentially trying to diagnose in one’s home rather than with a medical professional, do you think some folks wait too long to deal with parasites, viruses and bacteria?

If anything, I think self-diagnoses using Google causes more people to think they have parasites than actually do. But in general, I think it’s great when people take their health into their own hands. Whenever people contact me telling me they think they have a parasite, I always say, “Look, I’m an evolutionary biologist, not a medical doctor, so you need to talk to a doctor. Specifically, ask for a tropical disease expert or a parasitologist.” I don’t trust myself to make those diagnoses — parasites are serious stuff!

Many of the stories involve contracting the “monsters” when traveling. What are some tips for travelers who would rather not bring anything home?

Traveling is one of the best things a person can do, and it would be sad to avoid doing so just because you’re worried about parasites.

Any time you travel, it’s a good idea to read up on what kinds of diseases lurk where you’re going. When I went to Belize, for example, I knew botflies were a big threat, so when I came home with my own mosquito bite that kept getting bigger and bigger, I knew there was a maggot in there and knew what the prognosis was. A week later it was removed, and I was none the worse for wear. I’m not really making a good argument for traveling, am I? Never mind the botfly, you’ll be fine. Get out there!

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Monsters Inside Me airs on Animal Planet on Thursdays at 9 p.m. Click here for Hollywood Soapbox’s last interview with Riskin. Click here for more information on the show.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

4 thoughts on “INTERVIEW: Dan Riskin investigates ‘Monsters Inside Me’ on Animal Planet

  • November 2, 2016 at 11:57 pm
    Permalink

    My son has crypto fungi meningitis and not getting better please help

    Reply
  • December 1, 2016 at 10:29 pm
    Permalink

    I actually had an episode of staff infection of my thumb. It landed me in the hospital for a week with surgery. I was bitten by my cat. I was dmbarrased to seek treatment for a thumb, until I had a hot, throbbing, pus oozeing thumb. I ran a temp, got very sick, and could not sleep. Redness radiated up my arm as the infection spread. I finally saw the Dr and was sent to the hospital. I was shocked such a small thing resulted in a week stay at the hospital and almost killed me.

    Reply
  • February 11, 2017 at 12:24 pm
    Permalink

    Im not sure if anyone can help or not..my sister went overseas to peru an when she came home she started gettin very ill started with severe backpain now its gone to her muscles joints an she is only gettin worse! No tests are showing anything she has always been a healthy person we dont understand what has happened she struggles to walk anymore..if anyone can help please all the doctors she has seen which is many many doctors they say its in her head we know its not! I swear its parasites ive watched the show monsters inside me an its like she is fighting an invisible monster! Please if you can help or have any ideas let me know!

    Reply
  • March 9, 2017 at 11:32 pm
    Permalink

    praying for your help. I have been diagnosed with blood flukes,s.mansoni and a variety of exto,protozoa,fungal parasitic,schistomiasis. .My infectious disease [deleted sentence in this comment] I HOLISTICALLY PRODUCED EVIDENCE, AND NEED TO BE INTERVIEWED AND HOPEFULLY APPRISE OTHERS OF THE DANGERS OF BEING A NATURE LOVER IN S.W.FLORIDA. NEMATODES AND TREMATOADS. PLEASE CONTACT ME, AS TIME IS OF ESSENCE OF MY QUALITY AND TIME IN THIS DIMENSION.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *