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More attention to emerging diseases needed

We are told frequently that we ought to be worried about the seas rising, because of climate change. But another type of sea — of viruses and bacteria — also is rising. Ought we to be as complacent as we clearly are about it?

At this writing, Chinese officials had said the death toll in a viral epidemic there had risen to over 300. Nearly 14,000 cases of the disease had been confirmed, they said.

Given China’s past reluctance to admit the seriousness of outbreaks, it is entirely possible the numbers are far in excess of those reported.

In any event, a few cases of the disease have been reported here in the United States. For now, it appears we have escaped the kind of epidemic that prompted Chinese officials to quarantine entire cities, however. That could change.

A new type of coronavirus is being blamed for the outbreak in China. The name comes from the appearance of that type of virus under powerful microscopes. A kind of halo appears to surround the virus.

Chinese scientists have said the virus was transmitted somehow from animals to people. But, they add, it also can be caught from contact with an infected person. There is no vaccine against the disease. Those with it have their symtoms treated, in the hope they will recover.

This is not the first scare prompted by what some refer to as “emerging diseases.” There are many of them, ranging from SARS to ebola — and even worse.

On occasion, we hear of outbreaks such as that in China. To date, none has become a pandemic. Reflect though, that the Spanish Flu crisis of 1918 occurred during an era when there was far less travel and thus, much less risk of spreading disease.

Then consider that outbreak’s toll: It is believed 3-5% of the people in the world at that time died of the Spanish Flu. In this country, the death toll during one month alone was 195,000 people.

Are we concerned enough about the rising sea of emerging diseases? Good question.

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