From the 1950s until the 1970s babies were routinely vaccinated against the often-fatal and highly contagious disease. Many of us can still see the scar left by the vaccine (on the upper arm near the shoulder—it looks sort of like a brown flower tattoo). But smallpox was eradicated from the face of the earth more than 30 years ago; the supply of virus was largely destroyed (small amounts were sent to specific, well-protected labs for research). The decision to destroy the vaccine supply came in the aftermath of the accidental exposure of medical photographer Janet Parker. Which brings us to this week’s House, M.D. episode “A Pox on Our House.”
Julie, a teenage girl, picks up a medicine bottle from 18th Century slave ship wreckage off Bermuda. The slave ship had been sunk because it was believed that the passengers were infected or exposed to the deadly virus. When the girl breaks out in a suspicious rash after cutting her hand with broken bottle, House (Hugh Laurie) thinks she may have smallpox. Despite Foreman’s (Omar Epps) protestations to the contrary, confirmatory tests do seem to indicate that she has it.
House sees something in Julie’s symptoms that don’t’ quite fit a smallpox diagnosis. But in the meantime, the hospital has been quarantined—because it might be smallpox, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) comes in to take over the investigation from House and the team, leaving them with little else to do but twiddle their thumbs and wait for results.
Minor rant: Okay, so there’s only one thing that bugged me about this episode. It makes complete sense to call in the CDC, but his complete dismissal of House doesn’t make sense given House’s expertise. House is not only as a diagnostician (he’s world famous enough for the CIA to have called him in on a consult in “Whatever it Takes,” which aired season four), he’s also board certified in infectious diseases (and nephrology). That’s quite a pedigree to have him shoved aside by the CDC guy like he’s some sort of provincial hospital doc. On the other hand, maybe the CDC honcho does know about House and just doesn’t like his way of doing things—or maybe he’s just arrogant. It just bothered me a bit – and it bothered me that House didn’t really push it. End of rant, and now returning you to your regularly scheduled House commentary.