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Trendy New Diseases


by Marko Peric

It seems that every few months there's a new disease appearing out of thin air to plague and terrify us all. Some of these become ingrained in the public consciousness, others vanish quickly into the archives of marginal medical interest, and still others end up doing little besides becoming punch lines on talk shows. Today I will be rating some of the diseases that the media has gotten excited about over the last few years. This isn't about how deadly or serious these ailments might be, but rather a rating of how significant and memorable they are. If you or someone you know has suffered or perished from one of the following diseases, we at Dontmindme are very sorry, but keep in mind that this is a humour and commentary magazine, and not the New England Journal of Medicine, so try not to get too offended.

SARS: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome came out of nowhere in March of 2003 and everyone thought it was going to be the Next Great Plague™. It was highly scary because at first no one had any idea just how infectious it could be, much less how fatal. Because of this there were widespread quarantines, and because the disease had originated in China, well, let's just say that going out for lo mein suddenly became a lot less popular. Everyone was afraid that SARS was going to circle the globe and leave hundreds of thousands dead in its wake. Well, it didn't. It did kill people, but so does lightning, bee stings, and falls from ladders, and no one gets all panicked about those. SARS proved to be a lot less deadly than influenza, but because it was new and unexplained, paranoia ran rampant. When we learned that SARS was no worse than the flu, suddenly SARS went from scourge of the world to a big joke. The last time I wasn't feeling well, I remarked that I had "a touch of the the SARS." And I wasn't even feeling all that Bad.

Bird Flu: Until recently, who knew that birds could get the flu? For that matter, who knew that humans could possibly catch it from them? We all know now, but apparently epidemiologists have known, and worried, about this for a while. This makes me wonder how many other possible animal illnesses are out there that we could come down with. We all know about rabies, but unless you get bitten by an infected bat, it's probably not much of a concern. So are there countless other diseases out there that animals have that could at any time jump species and slaughter humanity in a plague of biblical proportions? Do I really want to know the answer to this, or will finding out provoke me to bathe in lysol and wear kleenex boxes on my feet? They say that bird flu, or to be more scientific, avian flu, could do this at any time, and that it would spread around the world at an unprecedented rate due to our increasingly global economy, leaving millions dead. All this makes me thinks that epidemiologist is among the worst jobs on the planet, right up there with Israeli bus driver. If you're right about something, and it happens, there's countless deaths. If it never happens, well, you might as well have been wrong, because there's no way to know, and that's pretty Bad.

Mad Cow Disease: This one is actually called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE for short, but let's face it, I lost you me after bovine. This is a nasty brain-wasting illness that can take years to develop, but it is always fatal. When transmitted to humans, which can only be contracted by eating meat, presumably containing nerve tissue, from a cow infected by BSE, it results in variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which is also always eventually fatal. And now for the science; apparently Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is a randomly occurring illness that happens to literally one in a million people. There's no real cause or predicting factor in most cases. Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is caused by eating bad beef. It's even more rare, since only about 150 cases have ever been reported worldwide, and almost all are people who resided in the UK during the time when Mad Cow Disease was at its peak. So, long story short, you can't really catch Mad Cow Disease unless you eat the brain of an infected cow, and it's not even really called Mad Cow Disease, so lay off the spinal columns and head cheese and it's all Good.

Monkey Pox: There's an awful lot of these sicknesses named for animals, aren't there? Kinda gives the impression that the animals are all out to kill us or something. Well, monkey pox isn't going to kill you. And it's not even from monkeys, because a couple of years ago there were some cases transmitted by gophers. Not wild gophers, mind you, but imported African pet gophers. Because we obviously don't have enough local gophers on this continent already. Who wants a gopher for a pet, anyway? If you really feel the need to have a pet rodent, there's already mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, and guinea pigs available at your neighbourhood pet store. You don't need to have an imported disease-ridden gopher all the way from Africa. If you really feel the need own an imported rodent, maybe go for a capybara. Or you could skip the rodent part, and get an actual monkey. And if it happens to have monkey pox, well, at least you didn't catch it from some Ugly rodent.



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