The Boston Globe on infectious diseases

A lot of good infectious disease reporting in the Globe today, starting with Stephen Smith’s story on a recent case at MGH.  

 Massachusetts General Hospital waited four days before alerting Boston health authorities that a wave of gastrointestinal illness was sweeping through patients and staff on one floor. The delay earlier this week is an apparent violation of rules requiring prompt reporting of suspected infectious disease clusters.

 Dr. David Hooper, chief of the infection control unit at Mass. General, said the hospital moved swiftly to contain the illnesses internally, adding that the “so-called delay” was the result of the hospital collecting information it believed the Boston health agency needed for a comprehensive investigation…Dr. Anita Barry, the city’s director of communicable disease control, said yesterday that Mass. General “dropped the ball” in failing to report the illnesses sooner.

 Is it me or does it sound like MGH is a little defensive on this? Can you say nosocomial? That’s what we would call jargon in my writing class. The CDC has started calling these cases healthcare-associated infections. Here’s a link to a Q & A on nosocomial infections and some good news. The infection rate is going down.  

Also, fellow blogger Elizabeth Cooney follows up with a full story on 12-year-old Hunter Pope’s flu death by making a point I could have been clearer about in yesterday’s post – a flu shot won’t necessarily protect children from the kind of invasive infections that may have been at work here. Pope’s brave father, Ken, who has been talking to the media through his grief, again helps us all understand this case more clearly.   

 “They think that he died because he didn’t get his flu shot,” Pope said, referring to media reports. “That’s not the case. The doctors and everyone says, really, it doesn’t have a huge bearing on it.”

 All of this reminds me of stories I wrote in the 1990s about college students getting flu-like symptoms and dying within 24 hours. Many of those cases where linked to a different but similar bug — fast moving infections called meningococcal disease. Luckily, there are now vaccines that lower the risk of infection.

It also reminds me to encourage you to read the health news in the Globe.  Maybe even help keep the paper alive by springing for a hard copy. (Disclosure — a family member works there and I sometimes write for them.) 

Their  health reporting is very reliable.  And, we need to give the newspaper reporters and editors of the world some credit for doing more with less.  Go team!

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