Dr. Sanjay Gupta's Ebola Errors

Too many people think that if someone is a medical doctor, his opinion on medical questions is automatically authoritative no matter the subject matter. 

Knowledge is tremendously specialized across academic disciplines, including medicine.  Therefore, it is unsurprising, for example, that most criminal defense lawyers know very little about maritime law.  Yours truly is a criminologist, but I’m willing to admit that I know very little about the contagiousness of shoplifting events (or even if it exists), because I don’t specialize in the study of it and I haven’t had the occasion to scrutinize the research in that area. 

A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a practicing neurosurgeon, not a virologist (a bio can be found here). 

At issue in this post are two recent, and important, statements made by Gupta in connection with the Ebola situation.  One of the statements is probably wrong, and the other is insufficiently supported.

With respect to one of the six persons at a New York City hospital tested for Ebola, Gupta states, beginning at 2:49 of the video at the head of this page that:

One thing I think is worth…you know sort of putting a punctuation mark on is that he isn’t gonna be in isolation but we’ve s…talked about this several times Wolf…this isn’t the kind of thing that they worry about spreading to other patients in the hospital spreading to people who are ah walking around the hospital this is not an airborne virus.  This is something that spreads only when somebody is very sick and they start to actually shed the virus in their bodily fluids, so it’s somebody who comes in contact with those bodily fluids who’s not protected.  So while we [glitch?] know that particular story with this patient, we don’t know if he has the Ebola infection ah…in terms of concern for the hospital population at large or the population around the hospital it’s still very minimal (emphasis added).

So the hospital patient (who knows what’s going on with the other five that were tested, but why would they have been isolated if the first of the six hasn’t?) isn’t going to be put in isolation, but Gupta thinks that there’s no need to worry about spread.

That’s odd, since the Center of Disease Control says precisely the opposite about hospital (a subset of nosocomial) transmissions of Ebola:

After the first case-patient in an outbreak setting is infected, the virus can be transmitted in several ways. People can be exposed to Ebola virus from direct contact with the blood and/or secretions of an infected person. Thus, the virus is often spread through families and friends because they come in close contact with such secretions when caring for infected persons. People can also be exposed to Ebola virus through contact with objects, such as needles, that have been contaminated with infected secretions. Nosocomial transmission refers to the spread of a disease within a health-care setting, such as a clinic or hospital. It occurs frequently during Ebola HF outbreaks (emphasis added).

Thus, there is good reason to believe that Gupta is flat out wrong on this issue.

Next, Gupta, along with the rest of the MSM, insists that Ebola cannot be airborne.  At a minimum, this statement is wildly irresponsible.  If Gupta had actually bothered to look at and/or report what the scientific research actually says, viewers might have been made aware that scientists are in fact very concerned about the prospect of airborne Ebola arising naturally (never mind the bioterror synthetic possibility):

Thus, we have this from the prestigious medical journal Lancet (2005) 365: 989-996 , at 993-4:

Viruses causing viral haemorrhagic fever, such as ebola and lassa, have also been the focus of media attention and have been investigated for potential transmission while aboard an aircraft. Although aerosol spread of ebola has not been documented in man, this mode of transmission occurs in non-human primates. Lassa, known to be transmitted via large droplets, is thought to have an incubation period of up to 3 weeks, making infectious passengers potentially symptom-free and unaware of their status at the time of travel. A study of passengers exposed to an index case of lassa fever in-flight noted no evidence of transmission, even in the 19 passengers seated within two rows of the index passenger. Because both lassa and ebola viruses have frequent fatal outcomes and no vaccine is available, appropriate infection control procedures should be followed to prevent the transmission of these diseases.

So aerosol transmission has occurred in non-human primates.  Monkeys aren’t people, of course.  Nonetheless, the above shows that scientists have hardly written off the prospect of airborne Ebola transmission among humans; other such research is not hard to find.  And, do you think the scientists who wrote the preceding Lancet article are comfortable with the failure to isolate the NYC patient/patients? 

One rather doubts it. 

If CNN were interested in delivering scientific information on Ebola to viewers, it would substitute a virologist with a solid grounding in the Ebola empirical literature for Gupta and his unsupported Council of Foreign Relations feel-good pronouncements. 

Then again, since when was valid information more important than personalities?

Dr. Jason Kissner is associate professor of criminology at California State University, Fresno.  You can reach him at crimprof20102hotmail.com.

Too many people think that if someone is a medical doctor, his opinion on medical questions is automatically authoritative no matter the subject matter. 

Knowledge is tremendously specialized across academic disciplines, including medicine.  Therefore, it is unsurprising, for example, that most criminal defense lawyers know very little about maritime law.  Yours truly is a criminologist, but I’m willing to admit that I know very little about the contagiousness of shoplifting events (or even if it exists), because I don’t specialize in the study of it and I haven’t had the occasion to scrutinize the research in that area. 

A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a practicing neurosurgeon, not a virologist (a bio can be found here). 

At issue in this post are two recent, and important, statements made by Gupta in connection with the Ebola situation.  One of the statements is probably wrong, and the other is insufficiently supported.

With respect to one of the six persons at a New York City hospital tested for Ebola, Gupta states, beginning at 2:49 of the video at the head of this page that:

One thing I think is worth…you know sort of putting a punctuation mark on is that he isn’t gonna be in isolation but we’ve s…talked about this several times Wolf…this isn’t the kind of thing that they worry about spreading to other patients in the hospital spreading to people who are ah walking around the hospital this is not an airborne virus.  This is something that spreads only when somebody is very sick and they start to actually shed the virus in their bodily fluids, so it’s somebody who comes in contact with those bodily fluids who’s not protected.  So while we [glitch?] know that particular story with this patient, we don’t know if he has the Ebola infection ah…in terms of concern for the hospital population at large or the population around the hospital it’s still very minimal (emphasis added).

So the hospital patient (who knows what’s going on with the other five that were tested, but why would they have been isolated if the first of the six hasn’t?) isn’t going to be put in isolation, but Gupta thinks that there’s no need to worry about spread.

That’s odd, since the Center of Disease Control says precisely the opposite about hospital (a subset of nosocomial) transmissions of Ebola:

After the first case-patient in an outbreak setting is infected, the virus can be transmitted in several ways. People can be exposed to Ebola virus from direct contact with the blood and/or secretions of an infected person. Thus, the virus is often spread through families and friends because they come in close contact with such secretions when caring for infected persons. People can also be exposed to Ebola virus through contact with objects, such as needles, that have been contaminated with infected secretions. Nosocomial transmission refers to the spread of a disease within a health-care setting, such as a clinic or hospital. It occurs frequently during Ebola HF outbreaks (emphasis added).

Thus, there is good reason to believe that Gupta is flat out wrong on this issue.

Next, Gupta, along with the rest of the MSM, insists that Ebola cannot be airborne.  At a minimum, this statement is wildly irresponsible.  If Gupta had actually bothered to look at and/or report what the scientific research actually says, viewers might have been made aware that scientists are in fact very concerned about the prospect of airborne Ebola arising naturally (never mind the bioterror synthetic possibility):

Thus, we have this from the prestigious medical journal Lancet (2005) 365: 989-996 , at 993-4:

Viruses causing viral haemorrhagic fever, such as ebola and lassa, have also been the focus of media attention and have been investigated for potential transmission while aboard an aircraft. Although aerosol spread of ebola has not been documented in man, this mode of transmission occurs in non-human primates. Lassa, known to be transmitted via large droplets, is thought to have an incubation period of up to 3 weeks, making infectious passengers potentially symptom-free and unaware of their status at the time of travel. A study of passengers exposed to an index case of lassa fever in-flight noted no evidence of transmission, even in the 19 passengers seated within two rows of the index passenger. Because both lassa and ebola viruses have frequent fatal outcomes and no vaccine is available, appropriate infection control procedures should be followed to prevent the transmission of these diseases.

So aerosol transmission has occurred in non-human primates.  Monkeys aren’t people, of course.  Nonetheless, the above shows that scientists have hardly written off the prospect of airborne Ebola transmission among humans; other such research is not hard to find.  And, do you think the scientists who wrote the preceding Lancet article are comfortable with the failure to isolate the NYC patient/patients? 

One rather doubts it. 

If CNN were interested in delivering scientific information on Ebola to viewers, it would substitute a virologist with a solid grounding in the Ebola empirical literature for Gupta and his unsupported Council of Foreign Relations feel-good pronouncements. 

Then again, since when was valid information more important than personalities?

Dr. Jason Kissner is associate professor of criminology at California State University, Fresno.  You can reach him at crimprof20102hotmail.com.

RECENT VIDEOS