Monday, August 8, 2016

Perspective About Health Scares (and other things)

Don’t the media love to scare us!  When I hear the talk of Zika virus this summer, I don’t know how seriously to take it.  I was wishing I had kept a diary of the previous health scares (not to mention the year of the shark attacks and the rest).  But a little research went a long way.

Back in 2003 we were warned about Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).  It was the big health story that year but, according to the CDC, it resulted in no SARS-related deaths in the United States and only eight Americans with laboratory-confirmed SARS who were infected abroad.

The following year West Nile virus took the front page, and we still hear about it every summer.  According to CNN by 2013, “More than 1,800 people have died of West Nile virus in the United States since it was first detected in New York City in 1999.”  That would have been a little over 100 deaths per year, which equals less than one-half of one percent of the number of people who died from accidental falls.  But accidental falls rarely make the news.  “According to the CDC, only 1% of people bitten by West Nile-infected mosquitoes become seriously ill.”  Still, we want to keep using repellant, but watching your step to avoid falls is many times more important.

In 2005 it was the Bird Flu.  In 2006 Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) made the news.  It is one strain of the bacteria that resists many available antibiotics.  In 2007 the scare was not over a disease, but over the possible health effects on children from lead paint in toys imported from China.

2009 brought us Swine Flu (H1N1).  It spread worldwide and caused over 18,000 deaths, but by August 2010 the World Health Organization declared the pandemic over.  In 2011 came an Ecoli scare.  In 2012 we were warned of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).  0nly 2 people in the US ever tested positive for MERS.

In 2014 as Ebola ravaged western Africa, the news was so scary that people cancelled trips they had been planning to safaris in countries in eastern Africa, half a continent away.  After the final count was in, media reported that only two people had contracted Ebola in the US.  Both were nurses who treated an Ebola patient and both recovered.

This summer, at least up until the conventions stole the spotlight, the media was all agitated about the Zika virus, especially in Brazil for the Olympics.  Any virus should be taken seriously, but where is the perspective?

Undoubtedly some of these were potentially serious and we should be grateful for the good work of the health agencies.  We should also not become complacent about such issues, but in retrospect most didn’t deserve such hysterical coverage.  It is difficult enough to use perspective to separate the important from the trivial without major news agencies conspiring to put us in a panic over every new outbreak just to feed their commercial needs – selling newspapers and keeping an audience.   (Playing on this manufactured fear, the scammers come out with products like wristbands, patches and stickers claiming to prevent these problems.)

And speaking of perspective, that is, moderation along with that ability to separate the important from the trivial, consider two more examples.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is worth about $256 million as a result of his earnings from his wrestling and now his movie career.  His box office popularity helped push his per movie fee to $10 to $20 million. “With estimated percentages of box office take, that climbs as high as $40 million for Furious 7.”  He is reported to be the world’s highest paid actor.  This information reflects not on his perspective but on that of moviegoers who put such a high level of value on his skills.  (Don’t complain about the 1% without including The Rock and your other heroes with those evil Wall Street hedge fund managers.  He didn’t trick you out of your money – you gave it willingly, and now he is rich and you are not.)

In another example of poor perspective from overseas, French President Francois Hollande has been caught in a scandal as it’s been reported that he pays about $11,000 (9,895 euros) every month for haircuts.  How does he expect to maintain credibility with the French voters?  Oh well, that’s their problem.  We have enough politicians in the US, along with many ordinary citizens who struggle everyday to find a little perspective.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Click again on the title to add a comment