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August 10th, 2014

Waiting (and Preparing) for Ebola

unicef ebola posterFor Infectious Diseases doctors, there’s a certain life cycle to the big ID topics that make their way to the lay press, and it’s playing out right now big time with the terrible Ebola outbreak in Western Africa. It goes like this:

  1. Someone reports an outbreak in a venue like ProMED.
  2. Almost synchronously, it is covered by the news.
  3. Depending on the severity of the outbreak and the Gladwellian “stickiness factor,” it then becomes well known outside of the ID community. And boy, does Ebola have plenty of stickiness — much more than chikungunya or listeria in fruit, for example, to cite some recent entities that grabbed a fair amount of attention.
  4. Suddenly everyone wants to talk to you, Dr. ID Person, about it — the orthopedic surgeon (two of them mentioned Ebola to me last week!), the ICU nurse, the people you play canasta with (I don’t play canasta, just assuming), your Aunt Becky (I do have an Aunt Becky), and even complete strangers who, in the course of serving you food at a restaurant or fixing your car or changing the grip on your badminton racket, find out that you’re an ID doctor. You’re the expert, after all.

The problem is that going from Item #1 to Item #4 can happen awfully fast. And because these newsworthy outbreaks frequently haven’t played out before — otherwise they’d be less newsworthy — it’s virtually guaranteed you are not in fact an expert. At least not yet.

Which sends you (and all of us, trust me) scurrying to the great big web in the sky for some intense reading on the disease du jour.

So for the ID doctors reading this out there, please share your best sources for the latest in Ebola news and information. CDC, of course, and the aforementioned ProMED, the prescient HealthMap and if you want to drink from a fire hose of lay coverage, the Google news feed – where else?

And for non-ID readers, cut your ID docs a little slack if we don’t instantly know the answer to your Ebola questions. We’re working on it!

In the meantime, please don’t eat plums eaten by bats.

7 Responses to “Waiting (and Preparing) for Ebola”

  1. Susan Larrabee says:

    Brilliant.

  2. Carlos Cuneo says:

    It’s very important to inform people that Ebola is NOT A DISEASE AIR TRANSMITTED.

    Thank you for this smart point of view

  3. Juan Berenguer says:

    The two chapters about Marburg and Ebola viruses on UpToDate are outstanding

  4. Cloud says:

    So true …
    Just wanted to say I always check the WHO website for both news feeds as well as educating myself about such ID topics . I had the same experience during our MERS corona outbreak

  5. Thanks for mentioning organizations like ProMED in your discussion. We try to serve as an early warning system for outbreaks like this and indeed this was first reported by us as “Undiagnosed hemorrhagic fever – Guinea” on 19 Mar 2014, based on a media report. The moderators speculated on the cause but noted the association between disease and handling dead bodies, typical of African Ebola virus disease outbreaks.
    The original report is at this URL:
    http://www.promedmail.org/direct.php?id=2342420
    This was the first mention of Ebola that I’m aware of in connection with the outbreak and was sent to our 68,000 subscribers.

  6. Wissam el Atrouni says:

    The Ebola podcast on This week in Virology was good too (2h long).

  7. Rebeca Plank says:

    Ebola is to Infectious Diseases what a plane crash is to transportation. The WHO estimates that influenza epidemics result in 250,000 to 500,000 deaths per year, and the flu IS actually airborne. The UN states they estimate 7,000 new HIV infections per DAY. I am not saying Ebola is not tragic and terrifying, I just want to point out that we have lots of things about which to be outraged but somehow we’re not (note: influenza and Ebola are both transmissible by sharing badminton racquets, while HIV is not).

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HIV Information: Author Paul Sax, M.D.

Paul E. Sax, MD

Contributing Editor

NEJM Journal Watch
Infectious Diseases

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