In an interesting bit of timing, just one month before the tragic shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the AMA Journal of Ethics devoted its entire January issue to the role of physicians in preventing violence. Part of the discussion centered on the idea of treating gun violence as an infectious disease epidemic.1
Dr. Gary Slutkin, an infectious disease specialist and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist, is a proponent of this approach. His research has demonstrated that epidemic disease control measures are effective in reducing violence and violence-related deaths.2-5
Just look at incidence. Violent deaths in the United States are at an epidemic proportion, just like deaths due to narcotic overdoses. In 2015, there were approximately 33,091 deaths due to narcotic overdoses and 36,252 deaths due to gun violence.6,7
Geographic and social factors. Like infectious disease epidemics, violence tends to cluster in certain geographic areas and social networks. The cause of violence is multifactorial, just like other infectious disease epidemics, such as tuberculosis. Poverty, poor education, and inadequate family structure act as modulating factors that increase the rate of violence in those exposed to it.