January 15, 2015

Viral pepper challenge for ebola support heats up at Wayne State

A viral challenge much hotter than last summer's ice bucket videos was accepted by several Wayne State University School of Medicine faculty members and medical students recently.

The national Africans in Medicine organization's "hot pepper challenge" requires participants to eat a raw hot pepper of their choice dipped in hot sauce as an act of support for victims of the ebola virus.

Wayne State University Physician Group internist and School of Medicine alumna Ijeoma Nnodim, M.D., '08, ate scotch bonnet and habanero peppers sprinkled with Cameroonian ground pepper in a video she posted to YouTube.com on Nov. 19, 2014. She then challenged other physicians to eat their own peppers and/or donate to Village Global Response, a charity providing medical supplies to the West African nations affected by the virus.

Click here to watch her video and here to donate to the cause using www.gofundme.com.

Challenge-takers are encouraged to wear a white shirt symbolizing the chlorine rinse ebola patients have once they recover and are leaving a treatment center.

Osamuedemen Iyoha, who is Nigerian, was one of four medical students who ate green finger peppers smothered in hot sauce Dec. 17. Although she is not from one of the areas significantly impacted, the idea hit close to home.

"The challenge was really an expression, as a practice, to be in solidarity with victims of the ebola virus, the biggest being the discomfort you feel," Iyoha said. "That's what the pepper itself symbolizes. It's quite symbolic of the stress and pain that victims of the ebola epidemic have to deal with."

The most recent outbreak of the disease is centered in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where more than 8,250 have died of the disease, according to recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been four confirmed cases of ebola in the United States, including a New York-based physician who graduated from the School of Medicine. He recovered late last year in New York after contracting the virus while caring for ebola patients on a medical mission trip to Guinea.

The student group was inspired to participate while working with Dr. Nnodim at the WSUPG clinic at 50 East Canfield in Detroit.

"Some students on the rotation decided to take the challenge along with her and challenge the rest of the greater Wayne State community to complete the challenge, donate or both," said fourth-year medical student Matthew Falkiewicz.

More than just another viral stunt, Falkiewicz said the viral fundraising and related awareness "allows our youth to see what is going on in other countries more so than ever before.

"Maybe with these videos we can inspire the younger generation to be more involved in global health and disease eradication," he said.

The finger pepper, equal in heat to a serrano, chile de arbol and aleppo pepper, has a rating of 20,000 to 30,000 heat units on the Scoville scale, the unit of measurement for chili pepper pungency. Dr. Nnodim's scotch bonnet and habanero peppers are rated as high as 350,000 units.

Falkiewicz rates the finger pepper he devoured in the video with Iyoha and fellow fourth-year students Joi Moore and Tanuka Datta as "medium hot, in my opinion," he said, "and definitely not as hot as Dr. Nnodim's, I'm sure."