The ScienceBlogs Book Club continues the discussion on Mark Pendergrast’s Inside the Outbreaks: The Elite Medical Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service – come on over and join in! In my post today, I look at the difference between solving disease puzzles (figuring out what the agent is, how it’s being transmitted, etc) and solving problems (the conditions that let these disease outbreaks occur). Here’s an excerpt:
Mark Pendergrast wrote yesterday about how politics plays into the work of the EIS, and it’s something that I kept noticing as I read Inside the Outbreaks. As he points out, my post last week highlighted the solution to the Reye’s Syndrome puzzle – which was solved by Karen Starko, who’s also one of the Book Club bloggers! – but didn’t get into the larger issue: there can be a big difference between solving the puzzle and solving the problem. In yesterday’s post, Mark writes:
Although Karen’s and subsequent CDC studies clearly demonstrated that giving children aspirin caused the vast majority of Reye syndrome cases, the CDC has no regulatory power. The FDA gave in to pressure from the aspirin industry and delayed a warning label on children’s medicine containing aspirin for five years, during which nearly 300 more children died of Reye syndrome in the United States.
He follows up the Reye’s Syndrome story by asking “Should the CDC have regulatory power?” In considering that question, it’s instructive to look at some of the many episodes in the book where EIS officers either were or weren’t able to use their discoveries about the source of disease outbreaks to get necessary large-scale changes made.