First of all, let me start by saying I don’t care how you get your rocks off. If being scared spitless of dying of the Ebola is doing it for you, congratulations. But if it’s not, and you actually want to, you know, learn something, then read on. What prompts me to write this is the flat-out duplicitous nature of an interview Rand Paul gave to CNN in which he basically said one person at a cocktail party could infect and kill all their friends. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Senator is so full of crap, it’s in imminent danger of spilling out of his ears.
I am an actual medical laboratory clinician with specialized training in dealing with biological threats and I would like to take this opportunity to indict the media for not educating the public on the difference between “contagious” and “infectious.” I guess it’s up to me…”Infectious” means just what you think it means — disease can be transmitted via the usual vectors you think about….sneezing, coughing, poor hand-washing practices, etc. “Contagious” means that the infection requires direct transmission from one host to the other. All infectious diseases are contagious, but not all contagious diseases are infectious. All infectious diseases are assigned an “R” value, or basic reproduction number, determined by how easy it is for the disease to find new hosts. The lower the number, the harder the disease is to catch. Ebola has an “R2” value, while HIV/AIDS and SARS/MERS have an “R4” value. Mumps is assigned a 10 and measles an 18. The “R” number is the basic reproduction number, as stated earlier, but what that means is the number of additional cases of the infection each infected patient is likely to create. An Ebola patient can be expected to infect two additional people, while HIV has an R4 value. One reason this number is so high is probably the fact that the patient is at their most contagious before they have any symptoms or know they carry the virus.
It isn’t that AIDS is less infectious…It isn’t…it’s that it has a longer incubation period, and we can intercept it’s onset. On Halloween of 2003, of all days of the year for something like this to happen, a broken tube and a malfunctioning centrifuge conspired to result in me getting a face full of HIV-positive blood. Neither event was unheard of, each happened a few times a year, but this time they both happened at once. I popped the lid and the ‘fuge started, again, which had a cake-batter-on-the-beaters effect with the broken tube. I was turned sideways to the ‘fuge, talking to a co-worker in chemistry — had I been chatting with someone in hematology it would have hit the back of my head, I would have taken an employee shower and gone on with my shift — and got pretty much the full seven mls of heparinized blood in my eyes and mouth on my face and neck. All the blood in the ‘fuge was from the infectious disease clinic, so we knew this was about as bad as it gets, and why we train. I went to the eyewash station, and someone else called my boss, because I was the shift supervisor that night. I did as much surface interdiction as fast as I could in the lab, and within four minutes I was in the hottest shower I have ever taken, before or since, in surgery. By the time I was out of the shower, my co-workers had identified the patient the tube of blood belonged to, and verified that he was being treated for HIV, so I went to the ER and got my first dose of and a prescription for “the cocktail” that night. (We calculated the odds one night after it happened when it was slow — because that’s how a lab full of scientists with nothing to do occupy their time — and it was like, iirc, one in every 3.6 million times a centrifuge lid is opened, it will restart and contain a broken tube of blood.)
What happened to me happened in 2003. If it had happened in 1983, it would have been a death sentence, but in the thirty years since the first white American healthcare worker got sick in 1983 and when I got a face full of infected blood three decades later, we developed drugs that allowed us to prevent the virus from replicating and now we can keep people from getting sick to begin with, which is way better than getting sick and being cured…but the reason we had that option was the incubation time of the AIDS virus. The incubation time of the Ebola virus is much shorter, limiting the options we have to prevent disease from manifesting in exposed healthcare workers.
I guess Rand Paul is this generations Newt Gingrich…a dumb person who sounds like what other dumb people think a smart person ought to sound like. #HeSaidInoculum! #HeMustBeSmart! #ThusEndethTodaysLesson #ThereMightBeAQuizLater #StudyUp