On the Sunday, Feb. 26 airing of the Outbreak News This Week Radio Show, I take a look at two diverse issues on the infectious disease news scene.


In the first half, I take a look at the New Republic article from mid-February where an infectious disease physician named Dr. Steven Beutler wrote this, what I consider an inappropriate smear piece, about his theory that President Donald Trump’s behavior may be due to neurosyphilis.

Infectious disease physician and affiliated scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Amesh Adalja, MD joined me to discuss neurosyphilis and to give his thoughts on the article.

Should an infectious disease physician be writing about?

Dr Adalja noted, “I do think that it gets very borderline where a doctor can comment on a case from a distance. It’s one thing when a disease has been diagnosed, but it’s quite another when you’re speculating without much basis in fact.”

Adalja does point out that this is nothing new–that there is a history of physicians doing this.

“I think it’s a speculative hypothesis piece…he gives you this disclaimer…It’s not something I  would have done.”

Concerning the ethics of writing a speculative article like this or commenting on TV or radio programs diagnosing from a distance, I contacted Dr. Art Caplan from the NYU Langone Medical Center’s Division of Medical Ethics for his thoughts and he forwarded me a video he did published on Medscape last August. Here is a portion of his commentary:

No one should be diagnosing anyone that they haven’t examined. It isn’t right to do it for presidential candidates, and it’s not right to do it for anybody else. You’re basically speculating about information that you don’t have—information that is incomplete. You don’t know the patient’s history. You haven’t tested them. You haven’t talked to them. You don’t have any relationship with them over time. You’re just looking at instances of how they behave or what you see on news clips and other places.

It is just wrong to ever diagnose someone from a distance. Part of the problem with doing that is that you are trying to pretend that you can impute information or make assessments that really aren’t there. We don’t want to turn medicine into some version of psychic phenomena where you can tell how ill or healthy somebody is without actually seeing them.

During the second half, Mike Coston with Avian Flu Diary joined me to discuss the latest on the growing H7N9 avian influenza outbreak in China, various bird flu “hotspots” in Europe and Asia and the latest on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak.

LISTEN to the podcast below:

The Outbreak News This Week Radio Show, the first and only radio program dedicated to infectious disease and health news and information, airs every Sunday at 8 pm ET in the Tampa Bay area on AM 1380 The Biz and online at http://1380thebiz.com/