Areas of Unrest
19 September 1999 - Center for Disease Control
QOTD: "If a man can write a better book, mor make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door to steal it from him." - Leonard Louis Levinson
Reading: Hugh Lofting, The Story of Doctor Dolittle
Listening to: The Bobs, Shut Up and Sing!
I had grandiose plans for the weekend, including a couple of long training walks (long meaning on the order of 15 miles), catching up on various financial odds and ends, and general housework. Instead, I've spent the entire weekend coughing and sneezing.
I did have to go out to the supermarket, feeling guilty about the public health aspects of going about in public with a cold. I came back and reread the section of the family medical encyclopedia that discusses serious illnesses which resemble a cold. Fortunately, I have been immunized against most of them (pertussis, diptheria, etc.) or they have other symptoms that don't fit (e.g. I don't have a fever). So if there is an outbreak of plague in Los Angeles, blame the squirrels in the Santa Monica Mountains, not me.
By the way, there really are periodic outbreaks of sylvanic plague among squirrels in the Santa Monica Mountains. It rarely spreads to people, though it can, at least in theory.
Closer to home, the Center for Disease Control has been sampling the water where I work after three people in another building tested positive for Legionella infection. Supposedly none of those people had an actual case of Legionairre's disease, but I am a bit unclear on the distinction. At any rate, I find the situation interesting since the usual objection I hear to the sort of foreign travel I like is the fear of disease.
Which brings me to what I really wanted to write about which is how people have very strange ideas about risk. Take, for example, the oft-quoted statistic that one in nine women will develop breast cancer. It's true - but it is misleading because the major reason that breast cancer is more common now is that women live longer. Yes, it makes sense to do self-exams and get regular mammograms, but the risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women is still very low.
To put it back into the travel example, I'd say it makes sense to get the appropriate vaccinations and watch what you eat in undeveloped countries. But you should realize that you're far more likely to die in a car accident than you are to die of cholera. Not to mention the probability of dying in a car accident vs. a plane crash.
I can flip through the medical encyclopedia and discover that you can get rabies without an actual bite and worry all I want about a rabid bat slipping into my bedroom and drooling on me while I sleep. It could happen - but it's not bloody likely. I'm far more likely to develop heart disease from the stress of worrying about these things. It's less fun to worry about the things that are actually likely to happen though.
Copyright 1999 Miriam H. Nadel
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