Fear mongering is hazardous to our health

Halloween Mask Finally, a headline making some sense: “Washoe health official: Worry about the flu not Ebola.”

“(Washoe County Health Officer) Dick said the “media barrage and sensationalism has frightened people,” emphasizing that medical responders are the ones who need to be trained and prepared.

“We are straining resources across my agency and the hospitals are ramping up and getting prepared for the training and drilling,” Dick said. “The community can help by getting a flu shot and not showing up at the emergency rooms with flu-like symptoms.”

That’s right – FLU – good old fashioned influenza.  And, no, we don’t have exact figures on the numbers of people in the United States who succumb to influenza each year because (1) the states aren’t required to report such cases in individuals over the age of 18; (2) the disease isn’t noted on death certificates very often; and (3) death may result from associated illnesses such as bacterial pneumonia well after the flu infection. [CDC] The CDC can offer some context, and report from 2012 studies that there are about 1,532 deaths from influenza a year, and that about 45.2% of youngsters 6 months to 17 years old have gotten a flu shot, while only about 26.3% of adults 18-49 have done so.  Adults 50-64 have a better rate, at 42.7%, and those over 65 have a 66.5% vaccination rate.  [CDC]

If these figures say anything, it’s that we’re less likely to get flu from those little Germ Bags who crawl on carpeting or share the contents of soda pop cans with alarming alacrity than we are from the “adults” in the room – except for Granny, who’s on Medicare and gets her flu shot without a hassle.

And here’s the part where the Affordable Care Act comes into play.

If a family enrolled in a new health care insurance plan on or after September 23, 2010 the plan will be required to cover recommended vaccinations without charging a deductible, copayment, or coinsurance.  This means FLU shots.  [HHS]

The CDC provides a schedule of vaccinations adults should receive, which is available in almost any format from PDF to an app for your Smartphone.  Because of the Affordable Care Act, influenza, tetanus, etc. vaccinations must be covered in comprehensive health insurance plans. Now, does anyone want to discuss “repealing the Affordable Care Act?”

And here’s the part wherein pure stupidity comes into play.

There were school closings and/or panics in Texas, Ohio, and Maine… because “Ebola.” [NYT] [Denver]  It seems a teacher from beautiful downtown Strong, Maine (Google that one) went to a conference in Dallas, Texas and has been asked to take a 21 day paid leave of absence. Let’s review. The immediate family of the man who died from the disease in Dallas has been cleared, having passed the time limit without infection – so a teacher who attended a conference across town is on leave?

There are continuous calls for a travel ban with west Africa. Which goes nowhere toward explaining why a musical group from Kenya (EAST Africa!) had a U.S. performance cancelled. Actually, the travel ban blather says more about the intrinsic American problem locating anything or anyone on a map than about a sentient reaction to a world health problem.

We’re going to stop flights from Freetown, Sierra Leone? What flights from Freetown?  The flights go through Casablanca (Morocco) and Brussels (Belgium) [VSL.org] Or, stop flights to and from Monrovia, Liberia?  Flights from Monrovia, Liberia to New York make stops in Casablanca, Montreal, Paris, and  Madrid [TripAdv]  A “flight ban” makes absolutely no sense – unless it’s being advocated that we stop flights from Brussels, Casablanca, Montreal, Paris, and Madrid.

What we could do instead of getting all panicky?

#1. Provide funding for the CDC and the National Institutes of Health to conduct research into the Ebola disease (and others) and increase funding for programs which improve local and state emergency preparedness, for both natural and man-made disasters.

#2. Stop worrying about who the “czar” is …and start worrying about when the Senate of the U.S. might confirm the next Surgeon General. 

#3. Provide funding for medical relief activities in countries such as Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, which will help curb the disease in place.

#4. Get a flu shot and don’t run to the ER with the sniffles.

#5. Vote for candidates who promise to do numbers 1-3.

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