Old saris have a second use: They can protect people from a deadly bacteria in water.
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For many of us here in the U.S., cholera is something we only know about from a book that we read in high school.

But for millions of people around the world, this disease is a very real threat to their health simply because they don't have access to clean drinking water.

So, what if there were an easy way to filter out cholera-causing bacteria from water?


Image via iStock.

That is exactly the question that marine microbiologist Rita Colwell pondered while she was on a research trip in Bangladesh.

She had been studying the bacterium that causes cholera, called Vibrio cholerae, for decades and had made a series of important discoveries about it with her colleagues. For example, they had learned the bacteria could survive in both fresh- and seawater and that it was the primary bacteria attached to copepods, microscopic crustaceans and plankton that live in water all over the world.

But up until then, their research had focused mostly on the bacteria and the environment where it was found — not on any practical solutions that might help people not get sick.

"It occurred to us, well, my goodness, in all the work we are doing, clearly we could do something for the village families who get cholera," Colwell says.

An electron microscope image of V. cholerae bacteria, which causes cholera. Image via Dartmouth University/Wikimedia Commons.

Cholera is a deadly diarrheal disease caused by the ingestion of contaminated food or water.

While this disease has been rare in the United States for over a century, it is still a serious problem throughout the developing world, including in Bangladesh, where access to clean drinking water can be difficult. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, between 1.3 to 4 million people get sick with cholera every year, and as many as 143,000 people die from it.  

In rural Bangladesh, where Colwell was working, cholera was a serious problem because women would scoop drinking surface water directly from canals, rivers, and lakes. There was no filtration, and there wasn’t enough fuel, like firewood, available for families to boil water every day.

Colwell and her colleagues realized that if they could devise a crude, inexpensive filter to strain the copepods (which the V. cholerae bacteria are attached to) from the water, maybe they could help people protect themselves from the disease.

They started by testing out T-shirt material, but that didn’t work. It was difficult to rinse, it didn’t dry, and a lot of debris in the water got through the weave in the fabric.

Then they tried sari cloth the same cloth that women in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal have worn for thousands of years. It's also a cloth that women in rural Bangladesh already were using to prepare home-brewed drinks.

Sari cloth has been used as traditional clothing for centuries in the region. Image via iStock.

It worked.

The sari fabric, when it was folded four times over the urns used to gather water, created a mesh filter that was effective enough to remove 99% of the bacteria attached to the plankton copepods that cause the cholera.

Not only that, but the cloth could be reused over and over again, making it a very practical and inexpensive solution. That’s because the cloth is light and porous, Colwell explains. "Because it rains — with monsoons — every day [there], the sari cloth is designed to dry quickly. So, what is nice about it is that you can unfold it, rinse it off, and then hang it up. It dries and then you can re-use it."

Colwell and her colleagues taught villagers how to make their own sari filters in 65 rural Bangladeshi villages, and over three years, she says, "we were able to show a 50% reduction in cholera."

Folded four times over a water collection urn, sari cloth can reduce the amount of cholera in drinking water. Image via iStock.

The team returned to the villages five years later and found that news of the filters had spread to other villages. As many as 75% of the population in these villages were using these filters.

And, Colwell says, they discovered something called the "herd effect" taking place — even if villagers weren’t filtering water themselves, fewer people were getting sick because fewer people were shedding the bacteria back into the water. "By virtue of all their neighbors staying healthy because they filtered," she explains, "they were not exposed to the larger numbers of bacteria themselves."

Of course, the filter isn't 100% effective at catching cholera-causing bacteria. Still, Colwell says there is power in this simple solution.

According to UNICEF, 663 million people do not have access to clean water around the world. Not only that, almost 2.4 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation.  

There are a lot of high-tech solutions out there that try to address the problem of access to clean water, she says, and there are a lot of ways to work to combat the spread of cholera. But sometimes, it is the simple, inexpensive solutions — such as the sari filter — that can do a lot of good.

A view of rural Bangladesh. Image via Balaram Mahalder/Wikimedia Commons.

With more education about how the sari can be used, she says, it can make a difference for public health in regions where there isn’t access to clean water. Sari filters could even be useful in the aftermaths of large hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters all over the world, she adds.

Colwell and her colleagues hope to spread the word about sari filters to other places, such as Africa and other regions in Asia, where inexpensive solutions have the potential to make a big impact.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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The battle between millennials and older generations isn't exactly a generational war—it's more a case of mistaken generational identity. A decade ago, whining about millennials being young adults unprepared to make their way in the world at least made sense mathematically. But when people bag on millennials now they end up looking rather foolish.

A marketing researcher with a doctorate in social psychology wrote an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune titled "Post-pandemic, some millennials finally decide to start #adulting." And when the Tribune shared it to Twitter, their since-deleted tweet read, "Writer Jennifer Rosner predicts COVID-10 lockdowns will force easy-breezy millennials to grow up."

Hoo boy.

Interestingly, the writer of the op-ed is a millennial herself, but she repeats generalizations about her entire generation that seem like they mainly apply to her own social circle. Read it yourself to decide, but regardless, the tweet of the op-ed itself set off a firestorm of responses from millennials who are tired of being painted as irresponsible young people who don't know how to "adult" instead of what they actually are.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.