Published: October 8, 2006
Concerned about the bird flu? In recent news stories the Centers for Disease Control reported the avian flu is the single biggest health threat in the world. Do Tennesseans need to add bird flu to our list of health concerns? The news story would seem to say yes.
Last week the news was the number of people stricken by e-coli from eating contaminated spinach. Wasn't spinach supposed to be a "healthy" food? There you were trying to eat your vegetables to stay healthy, and now even that can kill you!
Everywhere we turn, it seems that someone is warning about threats to our health. Recently I passed through a health-screening event set up for the public. There were booths to caution about your risks of heart disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, poor dental hygiene, high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Considering every potential illness, I began to not feel so well. By the time I left I was convinced that I would not make it through the night. With all those things to worry about, what chance did I have?
Although I am a healthcare professional, I am a consumer, too. Like you, I am bombarded daily with often-conflicting information advising me to recommend this or that product, procedure or activity for my patients.
With so much marketing hype and news media exaggeration being thrust at us, it is just as difficult for professionals to obtain reliable information as it is for consumers. While the Internet exponentially increases the speed and amount of data available to doctors, it also presents a ripe opportunity for eager marketers to tell their stories to millions with a click of a mouse.
As you watch this column, you will find at least a few nuggets of what I consider very reliable, unbiased recommendations. As health consumers, isn't that something that we all want, someone that is knowledgeable to tell us the truth?
Let's start with the bird flu. Are you worried about this dangerous infection? Well, you shouldn't be. If you are living in Middle Tennessee, you have virtually no risk of infection by bird flu.
The real story is that there exists a possibility that at some point it may pose a threat that could affect millions. Even though it makes great news copy, it is not a realistic threat to your health at this time.
This statement may be controversial to some, but it is the truth. Unless you are traveling to affected areas (Asia. Mideast) and handling infected animals, you can relax.
What about e-coli, the deadly bacteria that contaminated the spinach? Well, that is a threat you should pay attention to. The proper response is not to swear-off spinach.
The fact is that e-coli can be present in many types of foods that are harvested, cleaned, processed or stored improperly. What should you do to avoid this risk? One very simple but effective step is to methodically wash every form of fresh food that you purchase, prepare, or consume.
Although "headline news" is entertaining, it is not necessarily very informative about real issues that will affect you personally. I encourage you to take responsibility for your own health by learning to determine whether a certain problem is a real risk and what steps you can actually take to minimize that risk.
Next week you will learn the seven things that really are serious threats to your health. Until, then be careful, look both ways and wash your food.
Dr. Mark Kestner