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Epidemiology News Briefs - June 28, 2016

Eleven Blue Men Revisited ----Mystery Illness Solved

A fascinating story of how one elderly woman’s illness came to be diagnosed accurately is told in a recent NY Times magazine article (June 22). The scenario is this one—a healthy 93 year old woman takes ill one Saturday with an aching back and a fever. Caretakers suspected an infection of some kind but found no evidence to support it. The woman appears to be getting better but not really. The doctors are at a loss to diagnose her illness.

Her older son from out of town shows up at the hospital to visit his mother thinking she might be near the end of her life. He remembers something he knew and makes a joke wondering if her illness might be caused by flying squirrels since she had removed such  rodents from her attic the previous autumn. Having no real knowledge about this but on the off chance that there might be something to this, the son looks up the illness on the hospital computer and finds a CDC report linking flying squirrels with epidemic typhus. The doctors think the patients symptoms might be a good fit, treat the woman with the right antibiotic, and she recovers. Lab test confirm the diagnosis. This is reminiscent of reading about medical mysteries in Berton Roueche’s Eleven Blue Men! It is worth a quick read for all the intriguing details at:


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