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The most recent datum I have reports that 261 people world-wide have died from SARS. All 261 of these deaths are tragic, however, while watching and reading news reports on SARS and how Canada, the United States, and the Far East is taking precautions to prevent its further spread, let's remember that: at last count 710,760 people die annually from heart disease in the US alone and that every 10 seconds, someone dies from a tobacco related health problem. (Of course, there is some overlap in these two figures.)

So, while thinking about SARS... thinking of the 261 in the world and the 710,760 annually in this country... everybody should also be thinking about hitting the treadmill and, if you smoke, quiting. We might not yet know how to defeat SARS, but we do know how to reduce heart disease and tobacco related deaths.


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Comments (5)


everybody should also be thinking about hitting the treadmill

Okay, I'm thinking about. Is that all you have to do? Wow, I didn't realize it was this easy to get in shape.

One of my pet peeves is the way the news media comes up with a new disease every other week that is going to wipe out the world. To put SARS in perspective, an estimated average of 36,000 people die from flu-related complications each year in the United States.

Dave S:

The logic here is a bit circular, isn't it? I mean, at least part of the reason that so few people have died from SARS thus far is that people and governments are taking it so seriously. Yes, we should also try to avoid heart disease and the flu. But in the case of a new disease that we know relatively little about, erring on the side of caution seems like a good idea.


The point that I was trying to make was not that the CDC shouldn't do its job, but that we have too many Chicken Littles in the news media. Unless you are going to argue that the CDC will only act if the news media makes it a major story, then I would like the news media to simply report news about SARS without giving the impression that a major epidemic is occuring.

Dave S:

Richard, I don't think we disagree. I don't think the media attention is necessary for the CDC to do its job, though I think it certainly has made the general populace more cautious. I'm with you--I'd love it if reporters would just report the facts, and actually get the facts right. I just don't want to dismiss SARS as a threat because not that many people have died yet.


Regardless of how applicable it is for SARS, flagrant overestimation of risk-of-death is a venerable tradition. Here are some different activities, all of which raise your chance of dying by the same amount, 1-in-a-million:

-Drinking 30 cans of diet soda (cancer from saccharin)
-Driving 300 miles by car (accident)
-Living 2 months with a cigarette smoker (cancer/heart disease)
-Living 150 years within 20 miles of a nuclear power plant (cancer from radiation)
-Living 2 days in Boston or New York (air pollution)

Pretty surprising, eh?


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