Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

The Most Misleading Medical News of 2014

 

The media are horrible at reporting medical stories, or any other science stories. They regularly report that some recent study shows a cure for cancer, as if cancer is just one illness. What were the media worst at covering this year?

Ebola.
 

They said Ebola was easy to catch, that illegal immigrants may be carrying the virus across the southern border, that it was all part of a government or corporate conspiracy.[1]

 


 
Image credit.
 

The part of that quote that affects EMS is the claim that ebola is easy to catch.

Ebola does require isolation precautions – and we are not good at using, or understanding, isolation precautions. Just watch your coworkers putting everything on. Even worse, watch them take them off. Much worse, watch yourself in a mirror.

We are far from good at using isolation precautions.
 

Ebola spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids such as blood, vomit and diarrhea. Coughing and sneezing are not symptoms.

Airborne viruses, meanwhile, have the ability to travel large distances propelled by a sneeze or cough. In those cases, people breathe in virus particles without even realizing it. Scientists say there is no evidence Ebola works like that.[1]

 

Back in August Dr. Anthony Fauci described how we should expect this outbreak to progress. Looking back, we should have ignored the news media and reread this article.
 

Although the regional threat of Ebola in West Africa looms large, the chance that the virus will establish a foothold in the United States or another high-resource country remains extremely small. Although global air transit could, and most likely will, allow an infected, asymptomatic person to board a plane and unknowingly carry Ebola virus to a higher-income country, containment should be readily achievable.[2]

 

Dr. Fauci predicted that in August (print edition September 18). His prediction was more accurate than the media reported it as it happened a month later (a week later than the print edition).

Perhaps we should pay as much attention to what Dr. Fauci wrote about our optimism in favor of inadequately studied treatments.
 

Among the therapies in development is a “cocktail” of humanized-mouse antibodies (“ZMapp”), which has shown promise in nonhuman primates. ZMapp was administered to two U.S. citizens who were recently evacuated from Liberia to Atlanta, and both patients have had clinical improvement. However, it is not clear whether ZMapp led to the recovery, and with only two cases, conclusions regarding its efficacy should be withheld.[2]

 

Perspective is important and we should apply it more often.
 

For example –
 

1. Restricting travel from Ebola-outbreak countries to the United States is the best way to prevent the spread of Ebola to our shores.

FALSE

There is no evidence that restricting travel will prevent spread of Ebola to the U.S. Exposed and infected persons might reach our country undetected and thereby escape essential public health monitoring, which could worsen transmission risk. The key to controlling this epidemic is to stop Ebola at its source in West Africa.[3]

 

If we won’t take the risk of caring for these patients, we should not interfere with those who do understand appropriate treatment and do treat these patients.

Footnotes:

[1] 2014 Lie of the Year: Exaggerations about Ebola
Politifact
Tampa Bay Times
By Angie Drobnic Holan, Aaron Sharockman
Monday, December 15th, 2014 at 3:08 p.m.
Article
 

PolitiFact editors choose the Lie of the Year, in part, based on how broadly a myth or falsehood infiltrates conventional thinking. In 2013, it was the promise made by President Barack Obama and other Democrats that “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”

 

[2] Ebola–underscoring the global disparities in health care resources.
Fauci AS.
N Engl J Med. 2014 Sep 18;371(12):1084-6. doi: 10.1056/NEJMp1409494. Epub 2014 Aug 13. No abstract available.
PMID: 25119491 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Free Full Text from New England Journal of Medicine.

[3] Ten Key “Facts” About Ebola: True or False?
Kristi L. Koenig, MD, FACEP, FIFEM
November 7, 2014
JournalWatch Emergency Medicine from NEJM
Article

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