By Jim Tune
As I write this, the Zika virus is just beginning to make headlines. Claudia and I are only 10 days away from embarking on our first-ever cruise. Our seven-day, Western-Caribbean cruise was a surprise I arranged for my wife to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. One of our ports of call is in a country for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already issued this midlevel travel alert: “Practice enhanced precautions.” Who knows what another 10 days will bring? This virus is spreading aggressively.
The virus, which is spread mainly by mosquitoes, appears to cause or increase the risk of microcephaly, a rare neurological disorder affecting infants of infected mothers. Claudia is not pregnant, but she does have a serious autoimmune disease, so there’s that. We are praying for good health and protection from the virus for pregnant women in the affected areas.
By the time this is published, I’m sure much more will be known about the risks and health protocols. We’ve been through this before. In the spring of 2003, the city of Toronto was hit with an outbreak of a rare, highly contagious pneumonia known as severe acute respiratory syndrome. The SARS epidemic, as it became known in the media, gave our city international attention of the most unflattering kind.
When the World Health Organization issued a travel advisory, the reaction was swift. Nearly 25,000 cancelled orders for Toronto Blue Jays tickets. Top executives, movie producers, actors, and performers cancelled their meetings and performances. Conventions were called off. Tourists stayed home, and many of those who did land at Pearson International Airport wore surgical masks as they disembarked. Some churches cancelled services. A church in our neighborhood served Communion only after issuing surgical masks and gloves to congregants.
Things settled down after a couple of weeks. When the media-fueled panic ended, we learned the truth. SARS was blamed for more than 40 deaths in Toronto in 2003 and was the suspected cause of a few other early outbreak deaths. Fewer than 50 deaths in all. Now for some perspective. At least 1,000 Canadians die annually from the common flu. At the height of the SARS outbreak, Canadians were at greater risk of dying from any number of influenza strains than they were from the “epidemic.”
We love to feed our fears. The media specializes in adding fuel to the fires of our fears. Good news doesn’t sell. No one buys a newspaper or watches television to hear that 1,000 planes landed safely, or that police handled no unusual acts of crime. We will go on our trip unless absolutely prohibited. We will continue to pray for those who have or will be tragically affected. Take care of yourselves and enjoy your day. Odds are you’re going to make it.