"A Truly Unappreciated Field Of Endeavor"

Being a Clint Eastwood movie fan and a military history buff, I am delighted when Eastwood makes a military movie. One such movie is "Heartbreak Ridge," in which Eastwood portrays an aging Marine sergeant who fought in Korea and Vietnam. Longing for...


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Being a Clint Eastwood movie fan and a military history buff, I am delighted when Eastwood makes a military movie. One such movie is "Heartbreak Ridge," in which Eastwood portrays an aging Marine sergeant who fought in Korea and Vietnam. Longing for more action, he maneuvers himself back from a warehouse job to a position as sergeant in a reconnaissance platoon.

After arriving at his new military base and assignment, he finds himself at odds with the major of the company, a much younger man. In one early scene, during their first encounter and introduction to each other, Eastwood finds himself in the room with the younger major and the sergeant major of the company, who also fought with Eastwood's character in Korea and Vietnam.

While Eastwood stands at attention in front of the major as he reviews Eastwood's military record, the major says, "I have not yet had the privilege of battle. I came over recently from supply and logistics." The sergeant major, in a very patronizing and somewhat sarcastic tone, says, "A truly unappreciated field of endeavor, sir."

How true this must have felt for the members of the Philadelphia Fire Department and everyone in the fire service when the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) came out with a report this past July that says rescue workers are not at greater risk than other workers of contracting the hepatitis C virus (HCV) as a result of the work they perform. In essence, the CDC concluded that hepatitis C was not a work-related risk for so-called "first responders" - firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians.

Tell that to members of the Philadelphia Fire Department and other clusters of infected fire service personnel who have contracted hepatitis C. As of this writing, 152 members of the Philadelphia Fire Department and countless other fire service professionals around the United States have tested positive for hepatitis C. Most of those who have tested positive are veterans of the fire service and have 20-plus years of experience.

The CDC study looked at the infection rate among fire service and EMS professionals in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Miami-Dade County and various parts of Connecticut. Even though the CDC study showed that those in the fire service have an infection rate twice that of the national average, the agency still contends that professionals in the fire service should not be compared with the overall public.

The CDC argues that men of a certain age group in the fire service should not be compared to everyone. Instead, men of a certain age group should be compared with other men in the same age group. The CDC contends that when those comparisons occur, there is no higher incidence of hepatitis C in the departments studied than in the general population.

Additionally, the CDC asserts that the virus is most often transmitted through contaminated needles shared by intravenous drug users or through high-risk sexual activity. Hepatitis C was also passed on through blood transfusions prior to 1992, when screening for the virus became available.

Obviously, people at CDC have been staring at their culture dishes too long. In early August, I was invited to speak at a combined conference of EMS professionals, nurses and physicians. In between my own lectures, I stopped in to listen to a lecture on hepatitis C. The lecturer was a nurse who was the mother of three children. Her lecture began slowly. She used no audiovisuals and she virtually read her lecture from notes. Early in her presentation, I was trying to figure some way of sneaking out of the room, since this was looking to be a terrible lecture.

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