The furor over Mad Cow disease has died down a bit in the news, although I hear people still saying that they are avoiding beef because of it. And now the Asian bird flu is starting to get some press, with a few people dying in Asia from it so I expect that soon to blanket the US news outlets, once they get bored with the primaries.
Does this all sound familiar? Last year, I wrote about this very thing in relation to the SARS epidemic. For weeks we were confronted with hysterical stories about SARS and how it could become the new plague. People all over America were acting like it was on their block, and it was coming for them. One guy in Connecticut even duct-taped his house against it. Do you know how many people in the US died from SARS? None. How people in the US even got SARS? 29 total, and most of them got it while traveling outside the US to places where it was rampant. But to see it played out on the news, we were all a sneeze away from catching it.
Next up was the flu. Now, some people actually did die from it, but then people die from the flu every year. And, yes, the infection rate was a little higher this year. But people panicked. There were huge lines for vaccine. People worried that the slightest sneeze or cough would sound their death knell. But now no one talks about it. Could it be that we worried for nothing? Could it be that it was another media creation?
And then there was Mad Cow disease. One cow in Washington state tested positive for BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). Just one out of the tens of millions of cows in the country. Maybe there are even more than that. But now I hear people telling me that they are avoiding beef because they are afraid of getting Mad Cow. Let’s take a rational look at that. The odds of getting killed by lightning in your lifetime is 1 in 32,000. The odds that you will be killed by lightning this year is 1 in 2.4 million. Yet, the odds of eating Mad Cow meat is 1 in tens of millions. Never mind Mad Cow, you have a much better chance of getting sick from a food service worker who doesn’t wash his hands when he comes back from the bathroom!
My point is that you need to keep in mind the relative danger of things and not just go along with the herd mentality. If the news media are trumpeting the next big danger (shark bites, El Nino, alien attack, etc.), wait and think. Consider in your mind: Does it make sense? Do I really need to panic? Ninety-nine times out of 100, if you just sit back and do nothing, that’s the best course of action to take.