This was submitted as a NYT op-ed piece. Unfortunatley the Times never ran it.
Quick. What should New Yorkers be more scared of:
Actually, since we know West Nile Virus is more dangerous to older people lets ask the question in a way that reflects that knowledge:
Quick. What should older New Yorkers be more scared of:
Lets look at the facts. Last year, the first year West Nile Virus was discovered in New York, 4 people died from it. This year no one has died from being bitten by a mosquito carrying West Nile Virus and 11 people have been hospitalized.
Comparatively, 20,000 people are seriously injured every year in taxi related crashes. Taxis, on average, kill one pedestrian or passenger a week. Since the TLC does not publish any crash data, (we actually doubt that they even track some important data) we donŐt have the exact fatality number for taxi fatalities but we do know the average. The recent killing of former President TrumanŐs Grandson on September 6 is a grim reminder of the patterned regularity that Taxi drivers kill passengers and pedestrians in New York.
New Yorker pedestrians over 65 are more than three times more likely to be killed by drivers than New Yorker pedestrians under 65. The answer. All new Yorkers are about 2000 times more likely to be hospitalized or killed by taxi cab than from being bitten by a mosquito carrying West Nile Virus.
Older New Yorkers are about 6,000 times more likely to be hospitalized or killed by taxi cab than from being bitten by a mosquito carrying West Nile Virus. We are not epidemiologists. But then again one doesn't have to be an epidemiologist to see where the current epidemic lies.
Now lets look at the response from the city. The city has launched an ambitious (some would say arrogant) program to kill every mosquito by spraying the entire city with poison. From helicopters and the ground, an army of men go out nightly spraying every inch of the city with mosquito poison. It seems everyday there is a news conference at City Hall about West Nile Virus. These usually entail announcing that another dead crow has been found, and that despite what some New Yorkers are saying, (and all are thinking) that the poison being used is perfectly safe. And everyday, in the name of public policy, the Mayor and others, assure us that they are doing, and will continue to do, everything possible to protect us from mosquitoes.
The city has set up emergency hot lines for people to call. They have even set up a special section of the cityŐs website to handle all the late breaking mosquito news. While this is not the place to debate the merits of spraying millions of people and thousands of acres, many of them natural wetlands with poison, it is the place to discuss the disparity of resources, attention, and action in the name of public policy.
Public policy is just that. It is the policy that is used to benefit the people that live work and visit NY. Which leads us to another question. If an older New Yorker is 6000 times more likely to be hospitalized by taxis than by virus carrying mosquitoes, then in the name of public policy why arenŐt our concerned public officials protecting us from taxis?
And since taxis represent a small percentage of vehicles on the road, why isnŐt the bigger public health issue of pedestrian safety addressed with the same urgency as mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus?
Why isnŐt this considered an epidemic?
And why arenŐt measures, drastic or otherwise, implemented to reduce fatalities and injuires in the name of public policy?
Another thing to consider is public policy decisions are often complicated. Public officials have to consider many variables to make a determination to allocate resources based on where they think they will do the most good.
Even if we used all the poison in the world, will we really rid New York City of mosquitoes? Ever? The virus is affecting birds. Are we going to start killing birds? What about the wetlands surrounding New York, which are Natural breeding grounds for mosquitoes and marine arthropods (also succeptable to the poison being used). Do we really want to spray our wetlands with poison?
Taxis on the other hand can be made safer relatively easily. Better driver training, yearly physical exams of drivers, swift license revocation for drivers that kill people in crashes, safer vehicles, and implementation of the Silver Meter 9 (for more information about the Silver Meter please download solution 9 from the solutions section of this website) i
Just something to think about next time you scratch your mosquito bites.