Doctors Without Borders: Don’t wait for Ebola magic bullets

Earlier this week I argued that hand-wringing over the lack of Ebola vaccines and drugs is misguided. We have effective tools to fight Ebola right now.

This week in the New England Journal of Medicine, physicians from WHO and Médecins sans Frontières make a similar argument much more eloquently:

There has recently been immense media, public, and medical attention to specific treatments for Ebola virus infection. Although these experimental interventions represent important potential treatments, they also reflect our seemingly innate focus on developing magic bullets. It seems that focusing on reducing mortality in the existing “control group” by applying the current standard of care is less interesting, even if much more likely to be effective. Though we recognize the potential incremental value of new antiviral options, we believe that EVD requires a greater focus on available basic care…

Public health interventions including characterizing the outbreak epidemiology, contact tracing, social mobilization, and public education are essential steps in stopping Ebola and will ultimately save many more lives than can be saved by individual patient care…

Excellent clinical care and improved outcomes will result in improved community compliance, will help to break transmission chains, and will lead to a greater willingness of health care workers to engage in care delivery. To quote William Osler, “The best preparation for tomorrow is to do today’s work superbly well.”

Buffy the Pertussis Slayer

Sarah Michelle Gellar (aka, Buffy the Vampire Slayer1) is the celebrity ambassador for the Sounds of Pertussis vaccination campaign from the March of Dimes and Sanofi Pasteur. She recently published an editorial at CNN encouraging adults to get their pertussis vaccination in order to protect infants from this potentially fatal disease (aka, whooping cough).

Although we typically associate celebrity medical endorsements with disproven woonackery or dangerous foolishness, that is a bit unfair. We’ve always been able to recruit celebrity spokespeople for important public advocacy campaigns. In 20122, Amanda Peet made a splash for her advocacy in favor of vaccinations as a counter to Jenny McCarthy.

The Sounds of Pertussis campaign has clearly been learning from the successes (vaccination rates are down, infectious disease outbreaks are up) of the enemies of sound medical science, good public health, and social ethics. Continue reading “Buffy the Pertussis Slayer”

Emerging Infections

#258 - Emerging Infections
#258 – Emerging Infections
Image from National Institutes of Health

This week, my other other family at Science for The People is discussing invading organisms large and small. They talk to Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, to learn why (and how) researchers are creating new strains of flu virus. They’re joined by marine invertebrate researcher Dr. Benjamin Miner, to talk about the wasting disease killing starfish on the west coast of North America. And they talk to physicist Ross Lockwood about the HI-SEAS project, exploring the psychological conditions facing a human crew on a mission to Mars.

The Walking Dead’s Bloody Mess 3

Did you know that there is research showing that being exposed to “spoilers” increases enjoyment of a story? True. Do I think you believe me or the research? No. In fact, I think you will treat this evidence with the same condescension political pundits applied to the predictions of Nate Silver. Furthermore, I think you will completely ignore the object lesson afforded you by the 2012 election forecasting. Is this the most overwrought and evidence-laden spoiler alert ever? Yes. You have been warned.

Let’s get the first major spoiler out of the way. At the end of The Walking Dead season 2, we discover that you do not need to be bitten by a zombie to become a zombie. You merely have to die. This leads to a lot of scenes of survivors sticking pointy objects into the brain cases of their recently deceased or mortally wounded friends in a practical act of mercy.

If you die, you kind of lie there for a little bit – just long enough for a father and son to share a moment – then you rise up and get your zombie on. This means that everyone in The Walking Dead universe has been exposed to the zombie pathogen. All survivors are carriers – zombies in potentia. This also means that the zombie pathogen is even weirder than it already had to be. Continue reading “The Walking Dead’s Bloody Mess 3”