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”

Project Tycho: Vaccines prevent diseases!

Tycho Brahe, Image from Wikipedia
Tycho Brahe, Image from Wikipedia

I just heard about a new “big data” project called Project Tycho. They chose the name Tycho in honor of Tycho Brahe who made tons of detailed observations of the stars and planets. After his death, his data was used by Kepler to formulate the laws of planetary motion. This project wants to connect the vast amounts of public health data to scientists and policy researchers to improve their understanding of contagious diseases and their spread. Their undertaking is incredible; they digitized weekly Nationally Notifiable Disease Surveillance System reports from 1888-2013. Now that all of the data is digitized they are working their way through standardizing it and making it amenable to analysis. This entire dataset is available for search online. Continue reading “Project Tycho: Vaccines prevent diseases!”

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