Doctor, Put On Your PPE And Go Into The ETU, Stat!

November 15, 2014

As part of UNMEER, WHO — along with GoL, GoSL and NGOS like IMC and MSF — has been fighting the EVD crisis, making sure doctors correctly put on PPEs according to CDC guidelines. Meanwhile WFP is sending in food and DETT from JFC-UA are training health workers who will staff pending ETUs in Liberia.

Did you guess that I was writing about the Ebola outbreak?

Like many medical and global health topics, the Ebola crisis has cooked up an acronym soup. There are the familiar and the newly created. An outsider eavesdropping on a couple of healthcare workers might think they’re speaking a secret code. And in a way, they are.

Some acronyms are used for convenience — try saying “Department of Defense Ebola Training Team” five times fast. Now try “DETT.”

Some roll off the tongue better than others. DART, for Disaster Assistance Response Team, has a snappier sound than UNMEER, for United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response.

Other times, the reason for using an acronym is to speak with precision. “Virology, or more generally science, is loaded with colloquialisms, especially in the public sphere,” writes virologist Alan Schmaljohn. of the University of Maryland Medical School, in an email. Researchers commonly use EVD, for Ebola virus disease, as a way to be more accurate than the colloquial “Ebola.”

This is what Dr. Schmaljohn had to say:

“Ebola virus (shorthand = Ebola) is the viral agent itself. EVD refers to the disease syndrome, the constellation of symptoms the virus may cause. Note the parallel with HIV (the virus), HIV-infected individual (potentially contagious, but often healthy), and AIDS (the immunodeficiency syndrome caused by uncontrolled viral infection over time). Only recently has the language moved from EHF (Ebola hemorrhagic fever) to EVD (Ebola virus disease), the latter now preferred because it has become more widely appreciated that hemorrhage is typically a late symptom and only appears in a minority of cases.”

These acronyms present a special challenge for radio reporters, who might have to tell an interview subject: “Can you repeat that, only don’t say PPE, say personal protective equipment.”

But in way, these acronyms tell the story of the outbreak.

Here’s a sampling collected by NPR’s Ebola correspondents. Readers, please let us know of any acronyms you’ve encountered in this year of Ebola.

CCC: Community Care Center

CDC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

DART: Disaster Assistance Response Team from USAID

DETT: Department of Defense Ebola Training Team

DFID: Department for International Development, which leads the UK, er United Kingdom’s efforts on global health and development

DoD: Department of Defense (which raises the question, why do some acronyms include a preposition while others do not?)

EOC: Emergency Operation Center

ETC/ETU: Ebola Treatment Center/Ebola Treatment Unit

EVD: Ebola virus disease, formerly known as EHF or Ebola hemorrhagic fever

GoL: Government of Liberia

GoSL: Government of Sierra Leone

JFC-UA: Joint Force Command United Assistance

LRCS: Liberian Red Cross Society

MMU: Memorandum of Understanding

MoHSW: Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare

MSF: Medecins Sans Frontieres (aka Doctors Without Borders)

NGO: Nongovernmental organization

PPE: Personal Protective Equipment

UNMEER: UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response

USAID of DA: United States Agency for International Development Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance

USG: United States Government

USPHS: United States Public Health Service

WFP: United Nations World Food Program

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