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Meet The Infectious Disease Researcher Dispelling Covid Myths One Instagram At A Time

Laurel Bristow, AKA @kinggutterbaby on Instagram, dispenses facts about the Covid pandemic with a dose of humor.

Collage of Laurel Bristow's photos next to a "fast follow" sign

Laurel Bristow knows that her Instagram handle @kinggutterbaby is not what you’d expect for a clinical research coordinator turned public health influencer. “It’s just a riff off a Bob’s Burgers joke,” she says of the handle, which was originally her private account. “I wanted it to be ‘little king trash mouth,’ which is the name of the raccoon that Linda loves, but that was obviously taken.”

The handle is indicative of Bristow’s good-natured sense of humor, a personable counterbalance to her calm, knowledgeable delivery of information on the latest Covid studies and news. The 33-year-old’s path to a sizable Instagram following was similarly off the cuff. Bristow happened to be studying respiratory pathogens at a hospital in Atlanta when the pandemic hit, and made her account public when friends wanted to share her Stories explaining basic epidemiology and concepts like flattening the curve beyond her few hundred followers.

“I remember in the early days, when it was still in China, telling my boss, ‘If we ever end up doing Covid stuff, me in line first, I’d be really interested to work on that,’” Bristow tells Bustle. “I had no idea that it was just gonna completely consume my life for the next 18 months.”

As fear over the virus grew, so too did her follower count — as of publication, it sits north of 420k followers — and Bristow began posting researched explainers in her Stories on everything from the CDC’s mask recommendations to variants to vaccines for kids, all while working 12- to 14-hour days, six days a week.

“I like being someone who can give people real information in a matter-of-fact way that’s digestible,” says Bristow, who’s Zooming in during a work break at the hospital. It’s almost jarring to see her in her white coat, as her followers are more familiar with her off-hours persona: an “IG baddie for science” who starts Stories that dispense facts about Ivermectin and vaccine escape with greetings like, “Sup my little string beans,” and “Hello my little cheesy gorditas.”

It’s funny, informative, and, well, very millennial, but Bristow has little interest in monetizing her side gig. “I think that would make me more anxious about social media than I already am. And the way I do it right now, if it ever gets too much, I can just walk away,” she says. “I have my day job, so.”

Below, Bristow talks ASMR, blocking anti-vaxxers, and sliding into Doritos’ DMs.

The Fast Follow With @kinggutterbaby

What’s the last Wikipedia hole you went down?

I’m not a Wikipedia person. I’m a primary literature kind of person.

Who’s your favorite person you’re following right now? Why?

My favorite person right now is @rhyleep95 on TikTok. She makes the best most deranged cosplay and has the greatest laugh.

What’s the best thing you’ve purchased on the internet recently?

This vintage western suit from my friend Stef’s shop. It does NOT fit but I’m also not ready to let that go.

F*ck, Marry Kill: Twitter, Instagram, TikTok.

I think I would marry Twitter because it’s got a lot of good science discourse. I know that there’s some dumb stuff that happens on Twitter but you can navigate your way around that. I would probably f*ck TikTok because it’s just a fun distraction, and I would kill Instagram, simply because my DMs — I can’t even look at them anymore because when the anti-vaxxers find me, it’s very stressful.

What’s your favorite mode of self-care to decompress after a stressful day?

I’ll plan an evening to go to bed early and I’ll take one over-the-counter sleep aid and watch ASMR videos on YouTube with headphones in. itsblitzzz is one of my favorite creators. I will just be put dead asleep. It’s great.

Who is the person who followed you that you were most excited by?

I think one of the earliest people to follow me that I was really excited by is Tiffani Thiessen, AKA Kelly Kapowski; I DMed her and she was very sweet and told me that she’s proud of me. Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kill followed me and we interacted, and she’s another person I was super super excited about.

Have you ever slid into someone’s DMs? What came of it?

Not romantically, but I definitely have been using my blue check mark. Doritos is still playing hard to get. You do a fun story and tag a brand that you like and see if the DM comes... it’s like a passive sliding. Topo Chico has given me and my team a lot of Topo Chico. It’s great.

What’s the goal if you get Doritos to respond?

I don’t know, I just want them to acknowledge me, I think.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.