Above: Burson Award winner William Lieppe is joined by his family: (from left) daughter Alex, wife Randee and son Josh.

Zika Letter Urges Olympics Move

An open letter written by New York University bioethicist Arthur Caplan and three other academics and signed by more than 200 experts, including Emory University bioethicist Paul Root Wolpe, urges that this year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro be moved or delayed because of the dangers of the Zika virus.

“The Brazilian strain of Zika virus harms health in ways that science has not observed before,” reads the letter, released through Facebook and Twitter on Friday, May 27. “An unnecessary risk is posed when 500,000 foreign tourists from all countries attend the Games, potentially acquire that strain, and return home to places where it can become endemic. … It is unethical to run the risk, just for Games that could proceed anyway, if postponed and/or moved.”

The letter, written by Caplan, Lee Igel of New York University, Amir Attaran of the University of Ottawa and Christopher Gaffney of the University of Zurich, emphasizes the many uncertainties related to the virus and the miserable public health situation in Rio.

Regarding the virus, the letter says that based on early studies of the virus, it’s plausible that Zika causes neurological problems beyond microcephaly in newborns and Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults.

As for Rio, the letter says the incidence of the virus is high in that part of Brazil while the city suffers from poor sanitation and a failing effort to eradicate the mosquito that carries Zika, Aedes aegypti. That mosquito was eliminated from Brazil in the 1950s, so the letter’s signers argue that a postponement in the Olympics would provide an opportunity to prevent the virus by controlling the mosquito.

As of Monday, June 6, one Atlantan had joined Wolpe in signing the letter: Ford Vox of the Shepherd Center. Three Israelis also had signed: OB/GYN Itamar Netzer of the Rambam Health Care Campus and geneticist Dina Reveh and sociologist Avad Raz of Ben Gurion University.

The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rejected the call to change the schedule of the Olympics, arguing that the estimated half-million people traveling to Rio for the games are statistically insignificant compared with the populations already exposed to Zika in almost 60 countries. The affected nations include the United States, where at least three babies have been born with Zika-caused microcephaly.

Because the Olympics from Aug. 5 to 21 are occurring outside peak mosquito season in Rio, a Swedish epidemiologist quoted by National Public Radio estimated that only about one in 31,000 people attending the games will be infected with Zika — 16 people in total.

Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC, said that even if the Olympics were canceled, 99.75 percent of the risk of Zika’s continuing spread would remain.

Lieppe Wins Burson Award

Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital cardiologist William Lieppe in late May was named the 26th recipient of the hospital’s annual E. Napier “Buck” Burson, Jr., MD Physician Award of Distinction, St. Joseph’s highest honor for physician service.

The award is named for a World War II veteran and longtime Dunwoody resident who was a leader in gastroenterology. Recipients are selected for their adherence to the Sisters of Mercy philosophy and contribution to the Mercy mission in Atlanta, contribution to the quality of medicine at Emory St. Joseph’s, and leadership of the medical staff.

A Sandy Springs resident, Lieppe joined the Emory University School of Medicine faculty in 1978 and began practicing full time at St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1982. He is a pioneer in the treatment of aortic stenosis using the transcatheter aortic valve replacement procedure, a minimally invasive procedure that enables doctors to place a valve inside the heart without stopping the heart or opening the chest.

Lieppe performed the first TAVR at Emory St. Joseph’s in 2011.

“Physicians are the core of everything we do, and over the past 35 years Dr. Lieppe has demonstrated his tireless commitment to Emory St. Joseph’s and patients in our community,” said Heather Dexter, the hospital’s CEO.

Lieppe is the director of the cardiac catheterization lab and interventional cardiology at the hospital.

“I am both excited and honored to represent the excellent and wonderful medical staff as the recipient of this award,” Lieppe said. “Through the years, the mission of this hospital and the Sisters of Mercy have always encouraged me as a physician.”

Emory St. Joseph’s also recognized more than 100 physicians for various years of service to the hospital. Otolaryngologist William Silver had the most service among those honored: 45 years.