April 25, 2003

PANIC, PANIC, PANIC.

Death Rate for Global Outbreak Rising (Shankar Vedantam and Rob Stein, Washington Post, April 25, 2003).
The death rate for the worldwide outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, which has fluctuated for months, has recently begun what looks like an ominous rise. . . .

[T]he rising numbers are cause for concern for three reasons. First, the current -- higher -- death rate is statistically more reliable than the previous -- lower -- estimates.

Second, as hospitals learn to cope with the outbreak and doctors find ways to treat or stabilize patients, the death rate ought to head down, not up.

Finally, large numbers of cases so far, especially in places such as Hong Kong and Singapore, have involved hospital workers, who tend to be younger and healthier. As the SARS virus has spread to the general population in some places, it may strike more vulnerable elderly people and increase in lethality.
You might think, though you would be wrong, that it would be worth a mention in this story from the Washington Post that, to date, no one in the United States has died of SARS, nor has it appeared particularly infectious. Canada, on the other hand, has a relatively high mortality rate and the WHO is advising against traveling to Toronto.

If I were a cynical man, I might think that the Post is reluctant to publicize any news that would undercut the idea that the actual delivery of medical care in the US (as opposed to the system for paying for it) is absolutely the worst in the world, and in particular not a shadow of that healthy utopia, Canada. But as I don't have a cynical bone in my body, I guess I'll just have to believe that the Post has some lousy reporters and editors.

MORE (PAJ): The system infected us (Mark Steyn, National Post, 4/24/2003)
February 28th: Kwan Sui-Chu, having recently returned from Hong Kong, goes to her doctor in Scarborough complaining of fever, coughing, muscle tenderness, all the symptoms of the by now several ProMed alerts. As is traditional in Canada, the patient is prescribed an antibiotic and sent home.

March 5th: Having apparently never returned for further medical treatment and slipped into a coma at home, Kwan Sui-Chu is found dead in her bed. The coroner, Dr. Mark Shaffer, lists cause of death as "heart attack." Later that day, Kwan's son, Tse Chi Kwai, visits the doctor, complaining of fever, coughing, etc. He too is prescribed an antibiotic and sent home. Later still, the son takes his wife to the doctor. Likewise.

March 7th: Tse Chi Kwai goes to Scarborough Grace, and is left on a gurney in Emergency for 12 hours exposed to hundreds of people.

March 9th: Scarborough Grace discovers Tse's mother has recently died after returning from Hong Kong. But Dr. Sandy Finkelstein concludes, if Tse is infectious, it's TB.

A good example of the personal care and attention patients can expect from socialized medicine. Posted by David Cohen at April 25, 2003 11:41 AM
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