Apathy, not Ebola, is the deadliest disease

Monday, October 6, 2014

By Kyrie O’Connor

Houston Chronicle (MCT)

This week, we’re all really worried about invasions. First, fueled by our lieutenant governor, we were told to worry about Islamist militants entering the country from our southern border. That the “prayer rug” found at the border turned out to be an Adidas jersey probably hasn’t slowed anybody down.

‘I’m told the students at one of our tonier suburban high schools are in a tizzy, worried about the ISIS threat at their doors. Then Omar Gonzalez, a troubled veteran, breached multiple layers of Keystone Kops to run pell-mell through the White House. He had 800 rounds of ammo in his car, we were told. That he got into the White House armed with only a pocket knife and his car was blocks away, and that his motives are still unclear, does nothing to calm the roiling public.

Oh, and the Ebola virus came to our shores in the body of Thomas Eric Duncan, who at least went to Dallas, secretly pleasing all of Houston.Now we’re really going to die. That we have a fully modern (if somewhat clueless) health system and decent knowledge of epidemiology, yet again, has stopped no one from flipping out.

A few things are at work here. First, we love going nuts with fear, that frisson of dread that wakes up our hectic but, let’s face it, kind of dull lives. A small epidemic, a light dusting of terrorists, now that would be something to talk about. Remember after 9/11 when every one-horse town in America decided it was the next target?

I don’t know enough about psychology to know why at this particular moment the notion of penetration of our national body is so specifically frightening. But it’s there.

Ah, but here’s the thing. We have actual, real, serious stuff to worry about and fear, stuff we even have a measure of control over. The mostly imaginary threats have a gauzy simplicity about them, unlike the real problems. You must know that plain old flu kills on average some 36,000 Americans a year. That makes the score Flu 30,000, Ebola 0.

If you get flu shots for yourself and your family and give them a healthy diet to build their immune systems, you’re lessening the real chances of a real epidemic.

You can’t do much about White House security. But would you like to preserve our democracy? Here’s an easy fix: Vote. The Omar Gonzalezes are far less of a threat than your chronic civic indifference, which really could bring down the nation we say we love.

As for terror, you may have been complicit in the deaths of 3,328 Americans in 2012, which is more than died in 9/11. That number represents the people killed by distracted (not drunk) driving in that year. Put down your stupid cellphone when you’re driving. If you don’t, as of now you’re a greater threat to your neighbors than ISIS. These are apolitical fixes, applicable to red and blue alike, easy ways to do good. Are you on board? Good.

So let’s review: Got a flu shot. Vote. Put down your phone. Oh, and calm the heck down.

By Kyrie O’Connor Houston Chronicle (MCT)

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