American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

 
Advertisement
Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rabid opposition to Ebola: epidemiology meets hyperbole

To be quite blunt about it, Ebola is a very scary disease. Among those infected, the mortality rate is, as is perhaps now widely known, an appallingly high 90%. That would seem a very good reason to keep our borders closed to this scourge and the consequences to the poor souls who already have it be damned. That, apparently, was just the kind of thinking behind at least one rather high-profile tweet.

But perhaps we might characterize this thinking as the subjugation of epidemiology to hyperbole. And like all rabid opposition, it is the product of anxiety rather than analysis.

And speaking of rabies, that is a virus already well-established here in the U.S. with a case fatality rate of either 100%, or something very close to it. In other words, rabies is a more lethal virus even than Ebola. Yet we don’t live our lives in fear of rabies for an obvious reason: we are very unlikely to get it. Rabies is not the common cold; a sneeze is not going to transmit it.

The transmission of rabies almost always involves the bite of an infected animal. Most human cases involve dog bites, not because there is much rabies in dogs, but because humans are more likely to come into contact with infected dogs than the species in which rabies is more prevalent, including raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes.

But let’s move on, because my aim here is not to wade into rabies esoterica but to make a general point. Rabies is a horrendously bad disease, but we don’t live in fear of it because we take some basic precautions, like vaccinating our pets, and know we are unlikely to get it. We do not deport those rare individuals infected with it to some foreign land in the name of homeland security; we treat them here. And, to my knowledge, even Donald Trump has not called for the deportation of our raccoons.

The Ebola virus is nearly as lethal, and thus nearly as scary, as rabies. Like rabies, it is rather hard to catch. Direct contact with infected body fluids is required. There is, to date, no known case of respiratory transmission, meaning Ebola is not spread by coughing or sneezing. Conceivably, the virus could evolve so that changes; but in theory, the same is true of rabies. Fear of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. is only justified among those who avoid the woods for fear that a skunk might sneeze.

What makes Ebola such a devastating disease in Africa is the lack of medical facilities to contain it. When family members in remote villages tend to one another, there is, of course, routine and rather copious exposure to infected body fluids, including blood. This is the very thing the gloves and gowns in routine use in every hospital in the U.S. are intended to prevent. When isolation precautions are taken, the degree of personal protection is considerably greater still. When need be, we have recourse to even more extreme forms of quarantine. Tuberculosis patients, for instance, can be treated in negative pressure rooms that preclude the release of any potentially infected air droplet.

To my knowledge, there are no negative pressure rooms in Sierra Leone. More importantly, there are few modern medical resources of any kind. Ebola spreads, as it is doing now in West Africa, when unprotected family and village members do the best they can to care for one another without recourse to gloves, gowns, masks, or perhaps even clean water. It is neither feasible nor reasonable to bring every Ebola-infected person to the U.S. for treatment in a state-of-the-art facility, but if it were, the current outbreak would come quickly to an end. There would be some risk of infection among the health care professionals directly involved, but that has always been one of our occupational hazards, and the risk is very, very small with suitable precautions. There would be no risk to anyone else.

So there is certainly no basis for either fear of, or opposition to, the on-going treatment of an infected American doctor in Atlanta. We may instead all be thankful that in return for the courageous service he was providing in Liberia, Dr. Brantly is now receiving an American standard of medical care himself.

Perhaps the exaggerated fear of Ebola is in part due to the vanishingly remote likelihood of an outbreak here in the U.S., and the fact that there has never been one. When it comes to risks, familiarity does seem to breed contempt. We Americans routinely dismiss, for instance, the perils of eating badly or want of exercise, which will be the leading causes of premature death among us. We are dismissive about the threat of flu as well, because the virus is familiar. Our perceptions often distort risk, hyperbolizing the exotic and trivializing the mundane. As Jared Diamond pointed out, there is considerable risk involved in taking a shower, to say nothing of crossing a busy street.

If we were at all rational about health risks, we should certainly consider closing our borders to tobacco. We would close them to soft drinks as well if a considered assessment of net harm were the basis for our actions. And maybe we would even do something to stave the trade of high-capacity, semi-automatic weapons.

Exhortations about the risks of Ebola in the U.S. are not the product of rational assessment. They are the product of excitement and exaggeration, and fear of the exotic. They are born of hyperbole, not epidemiology. They represent opposition of the rabid, knee-jerk variety.

If you don’t avoid the woods for fear that a fox might cough, we have no basis to deny any small contingent of Ebola-infected Americans an American standard of care. An effort is under way to approximate those standards in West Africa, and I’m sure we are all hoping for its prompt success. The brave participants should be secure in the knowledge that while most of their countrymen might be disinclined to join them over there, we won’t be over here clamoring to close the border to them.

The current Ebola outbreak, bad as it is, will come under control. In the interim, we should all keep calm and carry on rendering the best care we can to those among us who bravely confronted risks abroad from which we are, thankfully, reliably defended here at home.

David L. Katz, MD, FACP, MPH, FACPM, is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care. He is a board certified specialist in both Internal Medicine, and Preventive Medicine/Public Health, and Associate Professor (adjunct) in Public Health Practice at the Yale University School of Medicine. He is the Director and founder (1998) of Yale University's Prevention Research Center; Director and founder of the Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital (2000) in Derby, Conn.; founder and president of the non-profit Turn the Tide Foundation; and formerly the Director of Medical Studies in Public Health at the Yale School of Medicine for eight years. This post originally appeared on his blog at The Huffington Post.

Labels: , , , ,

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This is a printer-friendly version of this page

Print this page  |  Close the preview

Advertisement

Share

 

Contact ACP Internist

Send comments to ACP Internist staff at acpinternist@acponline.org.

Blog log

Members of the American College of Physicians contribute posts from their own sites to ACP Internistand ACP Hospitalist. Contributors include:

Albert Fuchs, MD
Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000.

And Thus, It Begins
Amanda Xi, ACP Medical Student Member, is a first-year medical student at the OUWB School of Medicine, charter class of 2015, in Rochester, Mich., from which she which chronicles her journey through medical training from day 1 of medical school.

Auscultation
Ira S. Nash, MD, FACP, is the senior vice president and executive director of the North Shore-LIJ Medical Group, and a professor of Cardiology and Population Health at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases and was in the private practice of cardiology before joining the full-time faculty of Massachusetts General Hospital.

Zackary Berger
Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews.

Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention
Run by three ACP Fellows, this blog ponders vexing issues in infection prevention and control, inside and outside the hospital. Daniel J Diekema, MD, FACP, practices infectious diseases, clinical microbiology, and hospital epidemiology in Iowa City, Iowa, splitting time between seeing patients with infectious diseases, diagnosing infections in the microbiology laboratory, and trying to prevent infections in the hospital. Michael B. Edmond, MD, FACP, is a hospital epidemiologist in Iowa City, IA, with a focus on understanding why infections occur in the hospital and ways to prevent these infections, and sees patients in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands).

db's Medical Rants
Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP, contributes short essays contemplating medicine and the health care system.

Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care.

DrDialogue
Juliet K. Mavromatis, MD, FACP, provides a conversation about health topics for patients and health professionals.

Dr. Mintz' Blog
Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP, has practiced internal medicine for more than a decade and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients.

Everything Health
Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, blogs about the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st century.

FutureDocs
Vineet Arora, MD, FACP, is Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Assistant Dean of Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine for the University of Chicago. Her education and research focus is on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, medical professionalism, and quality of hospital care. She is also an academic hospitalist.

Glass Hospital
John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, provides transparency on the workings of medical practice and the complexities of hospital care, illuminates the emotional and cognitive aspects of caregiving and decision-making from the perspective of an active primary care physician, and offers behind-the-scenes portraits of hospital sanctums and the people who inhabit them.

Gut Check
Ryan Madanick, MD, ACP Member, is a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and the Program Director for the GI & Hepatology Fellowship Program. He specializes in diseases of the esophagus, with a strong interest in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have difficult-to-manage esophageal problems such as refractory GERD, heartburn, and chest pain.

I'm dok
Mike Aref, MD, PhD, FACP, is an academic hospitalist with an interest in basic and clinical science and education, with interests in noninvasive monitoring and diagnostic testing using novel bedside imaging modalities, diagnostic reasoning, medical informatics, new medical education modalities, pre-code/code management, palliative care, patient-physician communication, quality improvement, and quantitative biomedical imaging.

Informatics Professor
William Hersh, MD, FACP, Professor and Chair, Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology, Oregon Health & Science University, posts his thoughts on various topics related to biomedical and health informatics.

David Katz, MD
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACP, is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care.

Just Oncology
Richard Just, MD, ACP Member, has 36 years in clinical practice of hematology and medical oncology. His blog is a joint publication with Gregg Masters, MPH.

KevinMD
Kevin Pho, MD, ACP Member, offers one of the Web's definitive sites for influential health commentary.

MD Whistleblower
Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.

Medical Lessons
Elaine Schattner, MD, FACP, shares her ideas on education, ethics in medicine, health care news and culture. Her views on medicine are informed by her past experiences in caring for patients, as a researcher in cancer immunology, and as a patient who's had breast cancer.

Mired in MedEd
Alexander M. Djuricich, MD, FACP, is the Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education (CME), and a Program Director in Medicine-Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, where he blogs about medical education.

More Musings
Rob Lamberts, MD, ACP Member, a med-peds and general practice internist, returns with "volume 2" of his personal musings about medicine, life, armadillos and Sasquatch at More Musings (of a Distractible Kind).

Prescriptions
David M. Sack, MD, FACP, practices general gastroenterology at a small community hospital in Connecticut. His blog is a series of musings on medicine, medical care, the health care system and medical ethics, in no particular order.

Reflections of a Grady Doctor
Kimberly Manning, MD, FACP, reflects on the personal side of being a doctor in a community hospital in Atlanta.

The Blog of Paul Sufka
Paul Sufka, MD, ACP Member, is a board certified rheumatologist in St. Paul, Minn. He was a chief resident in internal medicine with the University of Minnesota and then completed his fellowship training in rheumatology in June 2011 at the University of Minnesota Department of Rheumatology. His interests include the use of technology in medicine.

Technology in (Medical) Education
Neil Mehta, MBBS, MS, FACP, is interested in use of technology in education, social media and networking, practice management and evidence-based medicine tools, personal information and knowledge management.

Peter A. Lipson, MD
Peter A. Lipson, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing internist and teaching physician in Southeast Michigan. The blog, which has been around in various forms since 2007, offers musings on the intersection of science, medicine, and culture.

Why is American Health Care So Expensive?
Janice Boughton, MD, FACP, practiced internal medicine for 20 years before adopting a career in hospital and primary care medicine as a locum tenens physician. She lives in Idaho when not traveling.

World's Best Site
Daniel Ginsberg, MD, FACP, is an internal medicine physician who has avidly applied computers to medicine since 1986, when he first wrote medically oriented computer programs. He is in practice in Tacoma, Washington.

Other blogs of note:

American Journal of Medicine
Also known as the Green Journal, the American Journal of Medicine publishes original clinical articles of interest to physicians in internal medicine and its subspecialities, both in academia and community-based practice.

Clinical Correlations
A collaborative medical blog started by Neil Shapiro, MD, ACP Member, associate program director at New York University Medical Center's internal medicine residency program. Faculty, residents and students contribute case studies, mystery quizzes, news, commentary and more.

Interact MD
Michael Benjamin, MD, ACP member, doesn't accept industry money so he can create an independent, clinician-reviewed space on the Internet for physicians to report and comment on the medical news of the day.

PLoS Blog
The Public Library of Science's open access materials include a blog.

White Coat Rants
One of the most popular anonymous blogs written by an emergency room physician.

Powered by Blogger

RSS feed