Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.
Rabid Kitten Sparks Public Health Response
A kitten in Omaha with an unusual strain of rabies sparked a massive emergency response that shows how disease detectives work to contain a disease, find its origin, and protect public health, according to the Washington Post.
The tiny kitten died within 48 hours of a couple finding him and bringing him to the vet. Tests results, which came back after the animal died, showed it was positive for a rare strain of rabies found in raccoons that had never before been detected west of the Appalachian mountains.
“The stakes were high,” the article stated. “If the virus were able to spread unchecked in raccoons, transmission would easily radiate out from Omaha to surrounding areas, because there aren’t many large mountain chains, rivers, or deserts in that part of the country to act as natural barriers.”
Wildlife biologists from eight states converged on Omaha, trapping raccoons, vaccinating them, and setting up labs to test roadkill for the virus. County health officials administered rabies treatment to anyone who had been in contact with the kitten.
“We’ve never had a nine-alarm fire like this,” Richard Chipman, coordinator of the national rabies program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told the Post. Yet it will be hard to tell whether the effort was successful until next year, due to the long incubation period of the rabies virus and the time it takes to test dead animals.
Activists Prevent Abortion Compromises
A ProPublica review of 12 of the strictest state abortion bans revealed the chokehold that anti-abortion groups have on conservative legislators who attempted to pass even minor exceptions to total abortion bans.
Republicans in many states with total bans have tried to introduce a number of exceptions — including for rape and incest; giving doctors broader authority over health risks; and when the fetus clearly wouldn’t survive.
Yet organizations such as Idaho Chooses Life, Tennessee Right to Life, and the North Dakota Catholic Conference have led attack ad campaigns against lawmakers who don’t align with their views, ProPublica found. These groups also have rating systems that give bad scores to legislators who don’t fall into line.
Ultimately, only four of the 12 states with the strictest bans made any changes — mainly to allow abortions for immediately life-threatening ectopic and molar pregnancies — and these were “limited and steered by religious organizations,” ProPublica wrote.
A case in California has shone a light on the process of when death really happens, the Guardian reported.
Days after Mike O’Connor was told that his daughter Brittany was brain dead, the hospital had a police officer remove him from her beside, and removed her organs for donation. O’Connor hadn’t given his consent to pull the plug, and was under the impression that Brittany was responding to his touch. Later, he learned that his ex-wife had felt pressured to agree to the arrangement.
O’Connor sued the hospital and the organ procurement organization, Donor Network West, and ultimately won. The court ruled that the hospital had inflicted intentional distress on O’Connor by shutting him out of the process. A California law required consent from both parents.
“They did it for money,” O’Connor told the Guardian. “They did it because they wanted body parts.”
Organ donation has long been the subject of criticism and debate. Part of this has centered around the Uniform Determination of Death Act that defines legal death based on either circulatory or neurologic failure, after which organ donation can become an option for a family.
Bioethicists, lawyers, and doctors have called for a revision to the law to better define brain death (for example, by specifying tests for it), which would increase medical and public confidence in it. They also argue it would make the process less traumatizing for parents like O’Connor and more equitable for families of people of color or others that have been inequitably treated by the organ transplant system.