Influenza and Ebola

I got my flu shot yesterday. I wasn’t thinking, “Phew, I’ve really cut down my chances of being one of the approximately 32,000 people that die of influenza in these United States every year”. I just want to cut down my chances of getting sick, and hey, if I don’t get the shot, my employer, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, would mandate that I wear a mask all of flu season. A flu shot is to influenza, what a seat belt is to an automobile passenger. It won’t guarantee that one will escape illness (injury) or death, but it definitely cuts down on the chances. By the way, about as many people die in cars in the US each year (about 31,000 in 2012) as die from the flu.

Which brings me to Ebola. There have been 4500 deaths worldwide since the outbreak started about 7 months back. You’d figure that would give most of us perspective. Yet, by some estimates there could be 10,000 cases per week by December. Given the revised mortality rate of 70%, the numbers could add up quickly. The fact that health care workers taking significant precautions in caring for these patients still get sick, also gives us pause. We just don’t see that kind of infectivity with other infections we treat.

We’re told that a person is not infectious until he is symptomatic. I heard an official during the congressional hearings yesterday state that the virus just isn’t detected in someone who is not symptomatic. I just wonder where that data comes from. Was there a study in which serial blood samples were drawn from a cohort of folks in close proximity to victims and which followed them over time? Such a study may have been done in the 40 year history of the disease, but after a cursory search I’m not sure upon what data this truism is based. I will continue to search, however. And what of patients with very minimal symptoms who might not yet be aware that they are sick, and are just chalking up feeling blah to a bad night’s sleep? How much virus are they shedding? It’s really the unknown that has officials overreacting and closing schools in Dallas and Ohio. That and the feeling that perhaps those we entrust to keep a lid on this thing aren’t really firing on all cylinders yet. The CDC advising a nurse who treated an Ebola patient that it is okay to fly on a commercial jet with a low grade fever? And what about restricting travel from endemic areas? I’ve heard the arguments for and against. I listened to Dr. Frieden of the CDC testify before Congress yesterday. It just seems to be good science and medicine to attempt to quarantine cases (which travel restrictions would go a long way in doing) and to throw all possible resources at the populations in West Africa that are being most devastated by this. The world needs to come together on this and quickly. And believe me, if the citizens of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea see resources pouring in to their countries, they will not be clamoring to leave to get better care.

It’s just refreshing that 24 hours have passed without news of a new case in the US. Meanwhile, perhaps as a country we can further educate ourselves, get some perspective and respond in a more decisive, rational and generous manner than we’ve seen over much of the last week.


How Brunch Undermined a Civilization

One never knows where the material for one’s blog will come from, I suppose. And one’s first, it goes to figure, should probably serve as an introductory sentence or paragraph for all that is to follow. Not the case here, other than the fact that it was provoked by a piece that niggles, provoked, and well, in short InSense(d) me a bit.

“Brunch is for Jerks” was the title of this NY Times Review section article that I opened to today. It is written by David Shaftel. All I could glean from the page was that David is “A freelance writer in New York”. I learned further from his piece that he lives in the West Village and has a young daughter. A Google search doesn’t reveal much, though he could well be the same David Shaftel that is a Bloomberg Businessweek Contributer. Why David’s Opinion piece was chosen for this week’s section is anybody’s guess. Does the NY Times Editorial Board share his opinion? Is he a BFF of someone at the Times? Or has he simply submitted so many pieces that the Editors finally cried “Uncle!” on this one?

Well, David, it seems, has had a significant change of mind about brunch, at least as it is enjoyed in NYC; though he speculates that Phoenicia, Hudson or Beacon may be similarly affected. In short, once a big fan of day long, multi-ethnic debauchery, Mr Saftel now condemns brunch as being enjoyed by well-off urban professionals, in homogeneous neighborhoods. Most vexing of all, he contends, it has become the twice-weekly symbol of our culture’s desire to reject adulthood.

Really? More likely it is adulthood has made him reject brunch. The sour grapes of someone, who now with a young daughter, has found brunch “impractical”. Mr. Shaftel quotes the Guardian, calling brunch in America, “a symptom of the soulless suburban conformity that is relentlessly colonizing our urban environments”. Huh? Where’s the data for that? What do Mr. Shaftel and the Guardian think about folks hanging out in cafes in Paris and Istanbul? Or the Starbuck’s a block and a half from the Elephant and Castle in Mr. Shaftel’s West Village neighborhood? Don’t they have kids to take care of? $4-5 for a cup of coffee?! Is it the fact that the food is Eggs Benedict or the beverage a Mimosa that makes it so ugly?

American is the most overworked developed nation in the world. According to the International Labor Organization, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.” We also trail the developed world in paid vacations and holidays. If folks choose to kick back over the weekend with their friends in the setting of a brunch, then all the power to them.

Finally, Mr. Shaftel, I don’t know where in the West Village you live, but to proclaim that “Brunch has become the most visible symptom of a demographic shift that has taken place in our neighborhood and others like it” is pure poppycock. The West Village that I lived in 30 years ago was not a middle class neighborhood of families. Clothing aside, I’m sure that the people you pass taking walks with your daughter look very much like they did back then.

But I will give you this, Mr. Shaftel… piling on with the Brunch bangers did get you some space in the NY Times this weekend.

There was cowboy Neal at the wheel of the bus to never ever land”

So it stands to reason that if there’s any point to the arts, then your life itself is the most important artwork of all…
Lionel Shriver, The Post-Birthday World