Friday, 30 April 2010

Clearing up any confusion there may be about potentially fatal disease metaphors

Many commentators have been mulling over the widely reported comments of the Secretary-General of the OECD with respect to Greece. For example:
It wasn’t very nice to liken the Greek debt crisis to the Ebola virus but, as a former Mexican finance minister, Angel Gurria knows a thing or two about contagion and financial sickness. “When you realise you have it,” he said, “you have to cut your leg off to survive."

I hate to be pedantic (no I don't) but Sr Gurria's metaphor just doesn't make sense. This is how Ebola works:
The virus interferes with the endothelial cells lining the interior surface of blood vessels and with coagulation. As the blood vessel walls become damaged and the platelets are unable to coagulate, patients succumb to hypovolemic shock. Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids, while conjunctiva exposure may also lead to transmission. 

Cutting your leg off will do nothing vis-à-vis Ebola other than weaken you further. The virus lives throughout your body.

I think what Sr Gurria is referring to is something like necrotising fasciitis, the flesh-eating bacterial infection, which along with dangerous dogs and killer hamburgers was for a time a preoccupation of the tabloid press:
...aggressive surgical debridement (removal of infected tissue) is always necessary to keep it from spreading and is the only treatment available.

But I suppose I know what he means. 


zmkc said...

But I think the Ebola analogy still stands, because I think the advice to cut off the leg was given in the knowledge that it would do nothing to avert disaster. Or is my diagnosis too gloomy?

Gadjo Dilo said...

Thanks for that, I was just about to eat me breakfast.

Gaw said...

z: I think it's probably more a question of which sort of disaster we are going to go for.

Gadjo: Sorry!