Disease status depends on popularity and politics

No one makes light of the impact of diseases on the human race, but one does ponder why some seem to get more attention than others


No one makes light of the impact of diseases on the human race, but one does ponder why some seem to get more attention than others even when it involves death. Curiously some diseases that involve little death and sickness get what seems like unwarranted interest from media and government. What’s even worse is when there are protocols and remedies in place to reduce disease impacts and they are ignored due to politics and ideology.

Common sense would seem to dictate that if there is a way to eliminate or reduce the effect of diseases that those measures should be taken. Common sense would also indicate that if disease impact is minimal then it should receive less attention. But alas that is not always the case particularly when the mainstream media sees a sensationalism opportunity. The recent media fascination with the Ebola outbreak brings the situation back to mind.

Firstly Ebola is a serious and deadly disease particularly in west African areas where it has evolved. Much of that has to do with the seemingly impossible task to carry out a robust diagnosis and quarantine protocol to contain the disease. The developed western world seems less threatened due to advanced treatment and quarantine protocols. Ebola outbreaks in the west would be non-existent if travel from infected areas was banned, but that seems unlikely to occur until an epidemic breaks out in Europe or North America.

Yet whilst governments and global health agencies scramble to spend millions to contain Ebola, those same folks will not commit to approving protocols that can reduce death and sickness from long existing diseases. Those would be diseases that kill people every day in North America and Europe. The main culprit is a host of foodborne disease like listeria, E.coli, salmonella, campylobacter and others. Yes you are much more likely to die from those diseases than from Ebola, and you are virtually guaranteed to get sick from food poisoning at some point in your life. Did you know 30 people a week die from food poisoning every week in North America – yet the media focuses on theoretical impacts from Ebola.

We all went through this before with BSE – a small outbreak of a human BSE variant in the UK and Europe which caused a few deaths was extrapolated into a theoretical epidemic in North America by the media. No epidemic happened and without people dying in the streets, the media moved on, but only after a cost of billions to the livestock industry. Ebola is not a theoretical threat but its supposed potential has become sensationalist fodder for the mainstream media just like BSE – which was actually an animal disease. Why does such intense media response occur in the case of Ebola and BSE whilst other more deadly diseases are ignored?

It’s a baffling perspective but seems to involve a combination of acceptance of old diseases and the methods of dying from new diseases. It seems to boil down to imagery and fear both of which the media thrives upon. One dies from Ebola with blood and fluids oozing from every body orifice. One dies from BSE by seemingly going “mad.” Both seem horrific ways to die. On the other hand getting sick and dying from food poisoning has been with humans since the beginning of time. Symptoms, mostly abdominal pains and a slow deterioration seem a less gruesome way to die. Although that’s cold comfort to those that become afflicted by food borne diseases.

Yet unlike Ebola and BSE, food borne diseases could be drastically reduced through an existing food safety pasteurization process known as cold irradiation. Yet this 60 year old process receives no attention from the media and the topic is studiously avoided and delayed by government agencies. Technology already exists that could see the process used on a wide variety of perishable foods particularly meat products. All it would take is government legislation to implement the compulsory use of the irradiation process. A precedent already exists with mandatory pasteurization of milk products. But alas no action seems to being considered to reduce ongoing deaths from food poisoning. Yet those same governments are spending millions on dealing with other diseases that do not have the same deadly consequence in the developed world.

Ebola deserves to be adequately dealt with to contain its spread but surely western governments could deal with both theoretical disease threats and real actual disease issues like food borne diseases.



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