Friday, June 01, 2007


I have some for that bedeviled young lawyer with TB. At 31, he's lived a life where highly contagious diseases are relatively rare and public health quarantines were non-existant. As best I remember, schools stopped educating kids about public health back in the late 60s. I haven't seen a state's public health quarantine sign on a household's door since 1976 when I was stationed in California.

That said, I think whoever the fool doctor was who told him "we 'prefer' that you don't travel" be flogged with a wet noodle for being stupid. Indicating a preference gives the person hearing it the idea that there IS a choice.

The doctor should have used the strongest words possible to "Do NOT travel at all. TB is very contagious and since yours is resistant to drugs, if you infect someone, they will also develop resistant TB." Then they should have educated the young lawyer about disease transmission and disease vectors until he had an absolute understanding of the disease and the amount of public risk.

If less polite or PC terms were used, the whole mess would be a sidenote instead of the circus it is now.

Addendum 6/2/07: By the way, I'm not excusing the young lawyer entirely. I find some irony to his field of practice being personal injury. He is going to have to live with the shame of his willfulness in returning back to the US in the manner he did after having been caught up to and told that things were more serious than he was initially told.

But I also think that in comparison to the Baby Boomer generation, today's young adults up to their early 30s have not been as deeply impacted by disease epidemics like polio, smallpox and TB in their lifetimes. Medical advances in the early 60s all but eradicated smallpox worldwide(save for small lab samples here in the US and in Russia), saw fewer than 100 TB cases in the US since 1964, and the last "wild" polio infection in the US was in 1979.

Seriously -- in the US, between 1949 and 1954, 35% of polio victims were adults. And even then the debate about a person's rights was often in conflict with public safety. The difference, I think is that back then, people were a little bit more willing to put the "common good" ahead of their own desires & wants when it came to accepting the necessity of quarantine.

As a child growing up, I knew dozens of older adults between their 40s to 80s who had been scarred by small pox in their childhoods, who had moved to Albuquerque to "take the clean western air" as part for their TB treatments and cure, and people like my 30 years older half sister who got polio in her mid 20s not to mention school mates born the same year as me, who'd gotten polio as infants.

Time and medical progress served to make old public health threats almost irrelevant as new diseases like HIV and AIDS took center stage.

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