As remarkable as it may seem in today’s world there are actually primitive tribes still in existence who have not yet connected the act of sexual intercourse with the birth of a child nine months later.
Equally remarkable is the fact that there are actually physicians providing drugs and therapies (having significant risk to patients) who have not yet connected these acts to the resulting serious disabilities and injuries occurring months or years, later. The Burton Report® refers to this phenomenon the “New Guinea Syndrome.”
Examples of the New Guinea Syndrome continue to abound in medicine and will continue to exist as long as they are tolerated. In the 1920s it became the “Standard of Care” to use x-ray radiation to shrink enlarged tonsils and adenoids in children. It was only many years later that some clinicians, on the basis of health surveys, first recognized the association of this radiation with a high incidence of cancer of the mouth and throat in this population of patients.
The most striking continuing example of the New Guinea Syndrome has been related to myelography (a radiologic test involving the introduction of a contrast agent into he subarachnoid space for diagnostic purposes) when radioactive solutions and neurotoxic substances such as iophendylate (i.e. Pantopaque®) were used as the contrast material. With iophendylate millions of cases of adhesive arachnoiditis were produced throughout the world. The process was typically initiated by a radiologist who never again saw the patient. When those patients, who became incapacitated by pain months later, were seen by a examining clinician there was typically no understanding (on the part of the radiologist) that the disease process being encountered had any relationship to the previous myelographic test. The following is part of a letter received by the Editor prior to Pantopaque® “falling into disuse.”
The situation with iophendylate, which basically continued until the early 1980s differed significantly from body exposure to toxins such as those related to the smoking of cigarettes where information regarding health effects was well known to the health care profession and the public but the real risks were obfuscated by the tobacco industry.
As we enter the new millennium the New Guinea Syndrome is still alive and well and continues to cause cruel incapacitation and disability to patients. The illustrations reprinted here are from a popular and well distributed informational pamphlet routinely provided to patients by physicians prior to their having an epidural steroid injection. Under the section of this publication discussing complications no mention is made of the most serious and incapacitating potential complication; that of adhesive arachnoiditis. Those responsible for publishing this document, and their medical advisors, represent another living example of the “New Guinea Syndrome.”