Friday, September 22, 2006


Question: what do “Spongebob Squarepants” and the New York Times have in common?
Answer: Jellyfish!

In the space of two days, there was a Times Op-Ed article by a doctor who was stung by jellyfish and whose resulting treatment showed how ignorant first responders were of the best treatment...and an episode of Spongebob Squarepants where Spongebob befriends a horde of partying jellyfish... and is rewarded with many stings when he tries to get them to leave his house.

Coincidence? Not to a blog writer. The connection will be made clear in a moment. First, though, a few thoughts on the Times article, by Dr. Jerry Avorn, a medical researcher who focuses on the effectiveness of treatments.

One of several important points brought up by Dr. Avorn is the gap between what's known in general and what those closest to a problem know and can use.

In two minutes of internet research at home, Dr. Avorn found a study confirming that hot water is the best therapy. Yet none of the earnest first responders had any idea of this information. They poured distilled water on the sting and applied ice packs, which Dr. Avorn's internet research confirmed actually promotes the body's absorption of jellyfish toxin. Ouch!

While we focus immense resources on basic medical research, in many cases getting the right information about treatments to the right people in the field--and ensuring they use it--is the most urgent problem. Improving the delivery and application of information may be mundane, yet it may represent the biggest opportunity to improve global health. Are you listening, Gates Foundation?

So, the connection: the “Spongebob” episode ends with Squidward taking a hot bath to relieve his jellyfish stings. The first responders at an island beach didn't know the best treatment, yet it was well-understood by the writers of a cartoon show.

(Picture via the St. Petersburg Times)

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