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Zika may be a threat, but let's keep that threat in perspective

Map locates active Zika transmission areas in Florida and shows Zika cases by state.
Map locates active Zika transmission areas in Florida and shows Zika cases by state. AP

Now we can add the Zika virus to things that go bump in the night. Headlines abound.

Like malaria, the Zika virus is spread by the mosquito. The mosquito is also the carrier of the most destructive infectious disease in the world — malaria, which threatens half the world and sickens 200 million people each year, killing 400,000.

Have you ever wondered why malaria doesn’t return to Mississippi, a state it once plagued? We have plenty of mosquitoes. And if Zika and a host of other viruses can spread across continents, why not malaria?

The reason malaria doesn’t come back is because our lifestyles have changed so dramatically. Most Americans work in air-conditioned buildings. We drive air-conditioned cars with the windows rolled up. We no longer sit outside on our porches in the evening. We are inside watching our big flat-screen TVs with the windows sealed and the air conditioner humming. What’s a mosquito to do?

If Mississippians do by chance get malaria (which happened to a friend of mine on a mission trip to Honduras), they get sick and go to the hospital, where there are no mosquitoes. The mosquitoes have to bite someone with malaria to spread the disease.

It is our lifestyle that has destroyed malaria. If we lost our cars, office jobs and air conditioners, malaria would come back quickly.

One threat of the Zika virus is that most people who get bitten carry the virus but don’t show symptoms. They may still feel fine and play tennis or golf or walk the dog, where they can get bitten again and spread the disease.

That being said, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over the Zika virus. There are other things to worry about. Car accidents would be a good place to start.

After declining for 15 years, car fatalities spiked 7.5 percent last year to 35,200 deaths. That would be like a 9/11 terrorism event every month.

Americans are terrified of Zika and terrorism, but those dangers are statistically insignificant.

Meanwhile, Americans continue to speed, tailgate, text while driving, drink while driving and not wear seatbelts. It’s as though we have a death wish.

Heart disease kills 600,000 Americans each year — infinitely more than terrorism or Zika, but we still smoke and eat cheeseburgers and get fat.

The National Safety Council estimates 42,000 Americans a year dye from accidental overdoses of opioid painkillers. Now that is something to get scared about. But there are 1,000 terrorism stories in the media for every opioid overdose story.

Six thousand pedestrians are killed by cars in America. Yet every night I drive down my poorly lit street and see couples strolling with their baby carriage with no reflective material. They are invisible to me. Where is the well-deserved fear of getting run over?

Drowning kills 5,000 Americans a year. Ho-hum. Not much panic there. Falls kill 15,000, yet how many of us properly fear stairs and ladders? Fires and smoke kill 10,000. When was the last time you checked the batteries in your smoke alarm?

Accidental poisonings kill 12,000. Where is the terror of that? Are your cleaning supplies properly secured from children?

The reality is this: We have grown accustomed to all sorts of truly dangerous things in life while we meanwhile panic about insignificant new threats such as terrorism and the Zika virus. This is bad thinking. We need to spend far more time reducing our risk to the real threats and putting things like Zika and terrorism into their proper statistical perspective.

While I am on the subject of mosquitoes, in a previous column, I had casually mentioned that I solved my mosquito problem in my backyard.

My solution was caused by a miscommunication with my wife. I had purchased the Terminix annual spraying plan. They use garlic oil encapsulated in beta-cyclodextrin. Meanwhile, Ginny had ordered the annual plan from Mosquito Authority. They use some other spray called Repel Plus (not sure what the chemical is.)

I was quite upset that I had double-ordered and fussed at Ginny about it. Then I noticed a strange thing. No mosquitoes. Zero. Neither Terminix or Mosquito Authority worked that well alone, but when combined — presto.

All of the sudden, my life changed. I could sit outside in the morning and enjoy my coffee. I wasn’t trapped inside my screen porch. I could have a drink at night out front or out back. I could sit for hours in my hammock. No problem.

It was worth every penny.