Dallas has been the focus of news-related attention caused by several cases of the West Nile Virus. While on the phone with my mother recently, she expressed her fear that I would get bitten by a mosquito. I mean no disrespect for those who have dealt with this virus, but is this current situation worthy of the fear that people are currently experiencing? Or should we reframe our thinking so that we live cautiously rather than in fear?

It is important to recognize the difference between fear and caution. Either can be rational depending on the circumstance, but fear is much less likely to be a rationial feeling. We rarely experience things that justify being fearful, but often overreact regardless. It is worth taking precautions to avoid raising your risk for any virus or illness. However, is it rational to avoid going outside at dusk and dawn? Should we wear long sleeves in the heat of the summer? Not every mosquito carries this virus. It is a standard precaution to take to avoid getting bit in general. Caution is warranted, but I’m not yet convinced that fear is as well.

If we take a step back from our current West Nile Virus situation, there may be reason to fear less than we currently think. Several years ago, people were worried about the “bird flu”. This was predicted to have been a pandemic by this point. Then the following year the news was filled with the “swine flu”. I knew people who were diagnosed as having this virus, and all of them are now fine. The flu is dangerous regardless of the kind. I can’t help but wonder if the seriousness of these viruses was more about the news media selling their product than it was about an actual threat.

If we look at the facts, it is important to remember that any kind of virus is to be avoided. However, sometimes illness is unavoidable. We have to live our lives for the short period we are here. Therefore, I have the following suggestions when feeling worried about a highly publicized illness.

1. Remember that you don’t currently have this illness, so enjoy yourself.
2. Determine how serious the actual risk is by reading reputable medical journals, rather than local news resources.
3. Remind yourself that just because you get an illness does not mean that you will not survive.
4. Focus on lowering your risk, but only avoid when completely necessary.
5. Find ways to minimize your risk without sacrificing your life.

When faced with a highly publicized disease or illness, it is easy to get into a panic about the information that is being presented. It is important to consider what is the actual risk. Too often we worry about what is out of our control. This causes fear. It is much more rational to cautiously consider your risk and figure out ways to minimize your exposure. This will increase the odds that you will remain healthy, without sacrificing your life as a result.




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