Ice and Medicine at the end of the earth

24. What is the most common illness or condition that you see at the clinic?

Jake,

I was not sure what to expect when I accepted a position in the McMurdo clinic.  Overall the conditions I see in Antarctica are not that different from what I see in Seattle.  The most common illness we see is the McMurdo Crud (ie.  viral cold).  Every plane that arrives from Christchurch brings in a new virus to a closed population.  As you can imagine many people catch these colds because they have not been exposed to them before.  This year, the crud has been lasting around 4 days and includes sinus congestion, sore throat and cough.  It usually resolves on its own. We did have a small bout of gastroenteritis a couple of weeks ago.  We were nervous that this would spread quickly through the population.  Luckily it was contained and I did not catch it!

The second most common thing we see in clinic is injuries related to overuse or slips and falls on the ice.  We have xray capabilities in our clinic to help diagnosis fractures.  We also have an excellent physical therapist in the clinic that is able to help with rehab on the ice.  Unfortunately the work environment and living conditions in Antarctica seem to make it more difficult to recover from an injury.  We have had a couple broken arms that require treatment in Christchurch, NZ.

You would expect more cold injuries since we are in a cold environment.  However, frostbite is rare down here and we have not seen any hypothermia.  We are taught how to protect ourselves from the harsh environment.  We have seen only four cases of frostbite this season so far!

More severe trauma injuries or serious illnesses require treatment in Christchurch.  Depending on the patient’s condition we start treatment and McMurdo and decide how to best get them off the continent.

 

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