West Nile Virus

by Harris Silver

Quick. What should New Yorkers be more scared of? a) Taxis? b) Mosquitoes?

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? a) Taxis? b) Mosquitoes?

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. On average, taxis (TLC drivers) 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 don't have the exact number for taxi fatalities but we do know the average. The killing of former President Truman's Grandson on September 6 last year 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. All new Yorkers are about 2000 times more likely to be hospitalized or killed by taxicab 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 taxicab 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, armies 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 city's 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 aren't our concerned public officials protecting us from taxis?

And since taxis represent a small percentage of vehicles on the road, why