Outbreakby Earl Jones
It was the second occurrence that led me to think we were experiencing an outbreak. And yet, there had been no warning from the Kentucky Health Services Cabinet or the Centers for Disease Control. Nor had the Jefferson County Health Department, the first-line public health authority for the affected area, alerted the public.
These officials had obviously decided that keeping quiet was necessary to prevent panic while they worked on a cure.
The very early epidemiological data provided the first meaningful clues. The condition did not appear to be related to age, occupation or geography. But there was an apparent association with driving large vehicles so much so that the medical term adopted to describe the condition, taken from the Latin, is magnum gluteus vihiculum-induced blindness (MGV).
MGV has been called the silent syndrome. Sufferers have no warning when they are about to be struck by the blindness that ineluctably results as the condition worsens. Dr. Armando Escaladio, a staff physician at the trauma center at University Hospital, noted that MGV “degrades the victim’s sensory perception. Like the boy in the bubble the condition forms a barrier between the MGV syndrome sufferer and the world beyond. That’s why these victims don’t have any warning before temporary blindness strikes.”
Despite the high incidence of MGV-induced blindness, the condition has only recently been detected in Louisville. And unfortunately, the outbreak has had tragic consequences for the local cycling community.
Last October 12, the first documented victim of the disease struck and killed a cyclist on Grinstead Drive. “I didn’t see her,” the hapless driver sobbed.
Despite the victim’s celebrity — or maybe because of it — no one recognized that Jefferson County had become the latest hot spot of the disease's outbreak and that local motorists were highly susceptible.
Some, especially cyclists, felt reassured when no incidents were reported over the next four months. But on March 15, 2004, MGV-induced temporary blindness struck a second victim, one who was not even 18 years old. “I didn’t see him,” he repeated over and over to bystanders who happened on the scene.
Based on eyewitness descriptions of the second incident, which occurred in Seneca Park at the intersection of Seneca Park Road and Pee Wee Reese Drive, this victim also suffered from MGV-induced blindness. Fortunately, the cyclist, although seriously injured, was not killed. It was not immediately known whether the driver's condition resulted from a genetic predisposition or an opportunistic infection.
In an ironic twist, celebrity was also a factor in the second incident, but not that of the blindness victim. It was the cyclist involved in the collision who became the focus of attention. While there is still no indication that researchers are looking seriously into the disease's progression, officials are at least reviewing ways to reduce the impact of outbreaks at the Seneca Park location.
But the rest of Louisville will remain vulnerable until the root cause of these tragedies is addressed. MGV-induced motorist blindness must be brought under control. How long will diseased, desensitized and uninformed motorists be allowed to claim more victims? How many more cyclists will they take down before society demands that a cure be found?
In the meantime, be careful out there.
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web posted: 2 May 2004
last updated: 2 May 2004