Friday, December 31, 2010

Dr. Fearmonger: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bird Flu

As we round out 10 years of fearing things like computer failures, terrorism, and almost weekly pandemics of alarmingly small proportions, I want to take a few minutes and talk about the latter.

"Tonight At 11, are your children going to die of this disease? Tune in!"

Ebola, anthrax, small pox, meningitis, MRSA, monkey pox, bird flu; No this is not the lead in to your evening news. All of the above listed diseases are very real, and very dangerous. Though your likelihood of ever contracting such disease is so minimal you, hopefully, do not worry about them.

If you do not fret about the above list you are living outside of the force fed, media induced, fear mongering society that our culture wants you to participate in. Good job.

If you do, read on and hopefully we’ll change that. Because, even if 3 people are reported to have The Plague in Nebraska, I still have to pay my bills.

"The Only Thing We have to Fear is...the Nightly News"

We’ve all intently watched as the polished newscaster tells us our children will die of any of the aforementioned illnesses. Who among us REALLY knows anyone that has died from these things?

Shut up random guy who does…We all know you also have an uncle who survived that car wreck only because he DID NOT have his seatbelt on and that’s why you don’t wear one. I’m not talking to you…I’m talking to everyone else.

But I digress…

A Few Examples of Over Exaggeration 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 774 people, of the 8,098 world wide who contracted SARS, died of it during the 2003 “outbreak.”

If you just imagined that monkey from the movie Outbreak scurrying around it's okay, I did too.

But, honestly, do we recall the media hype behind this disease? In comparison, motor vehicle collisions killed 6,675 people ages of 25-34 years old in the United States in 2003.

And the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 18,000 people died during the Bird Flu Pandemic. Worldwide. Which is totally scary when you take into consideration that Bird Flu accounted for almost 4% of the total 260,000 to 500,000 “normal flu” deaths that happen every year on this planet. Who knows what the death toll is like on Mars.

I mean, sure, we all expect “normal flu” to cut a wide swath through our elderly population…but if you put an animal’s name in front of flu…whoa! Look out!

It’s climbin’ in yo windows, snatchin’ yo people up. Hide your children. Hide your wives. And hide your husbands too ‘cause Bird Flu is pandemicing er’body out here.

I’m well aware of the damage the 1918 Flu Pandemic (which was really scary because it was the “Spanish Flu”) caused here in the United States (and around the world), but I also have a firm grasp on the technology, hygiene practices, and lack of understanding for the disease process that the medical community had in 1918.

I'd like to think we do a little bit better in those departments here in 2010/2011.

Briefly, I’d like to mention Monkey Pox. It was likely my favorite disease that we were “all gonna die of” in the last 10 years.

You got it from prairie dogs of all things!

We are so good at being scared that we even managed to make people scared of PRAIRIE DOGS at one point. U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

So What Do We Do?

Life is about priorities, and as an EMS provider it is perfectly acceptable that you are far more acquainted with motor vehicle collisions than you are with the rare case of a hybrid Severe Acute Monkey-Bird Flu Respiratory Syndrome that seems to hit us almost every 6 months.

1. As your mother always told you: “Stop touching that and wash your hands.”
With all disease control, hand washing is the number one way to prevent the spread of illness.

2. Cover your nasty face holes when you cough.
Covering one’s mouth while sneezing or coughing is not only courteous but does volumes to prevent the spread of illnesses.

3. Your PPE (that you should be using on every run), proper hygiene, and careful cleaning and decontamination of your equipment will do volumes to protect you and your patients.
Oh yeah, while we’re talking about it, take that mattress off of your cot and clean under it. It’s gross under there. 

The long and short of it boils down to this: 
Stop worrying about these diseases until the “Bring out your dead!” guy from Monty Python and the Holy Grail pulls up to your house with a cart full of “mostly dead” bodies.

You may now unlock the children from their crib and stop stockpiling duct tape and plastic visqueen to protect you from the numerous, natural biological terrors. You might want to check that crib for lead paint though.

The sky is indeed not falling and I promise you will be dispatched to a car wreck sooner than a Severe Acute Monkey-Bird Flu Respiratory Syndrome patient.

I do believe we have a duty the average citizen does not, to know about these diseases, and how to properly protect the public we serve. But congruently, I believe we’ve gone a little overboard on the “I’m freaking out, man!” scale.

It's currently at 11 and we need to dial it back to about a 4.

Have a Happy New Year (and decade) and let’s hope it’s a good one, without anymore fear. EOR-MW

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Basic Information About SARS

2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
National Center for Statistics and Analysis

WHO: SARS Outbreaks Contained

4. World Health Organization
H1N1 Still A Pandemic, Says WHO


  1. Good info, good post!

    Happy New Year to you, too, Matt!

    Semper Fi!


  2. Awesome! And so true. When everyone was in hysterics over H1N1, I liked to link to this article:

  3. Did you ever see the SNL skit about 'Darkness 2005' I think it was? It's all about the panic because it's getting darker an hour earlier because of day light savings time. Hilarious.