New York

Be Scared. Be Very Scared.

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On Wednesday night at least one late local newscast led with a frightening story: news of a possible terrorist plot against Grand Central.

WNBC teased the story with pictures of a bombed out building. (It was unclear if it was from 9-11 or some other horror.) Turns out the “plan” was a sketch of the NYC terminal found in the possession of a suspect in last March’s Madrid train bombing. The feds and NYPD knew about the document in November, but the news only broke yesterday in a Spanish newspaper. Police commish Ray Kelly told reporters Wednesday that he did not think the drawing represented any sort of threat.

So, it wasn’t that frightening, really. Those looking for a genuine scare will have to turn elsewhere. A masterful article in last week’s New Yorker by Michael Spector might do the trick: Called “Nature’s Bioterrorist,” the piece lays out the frightening and likely scenario of a new worldwide flu epidemic. The one in 1918 killed 50 million people in a less populous world with—yes—less medical technology but also with far less international migration.

The best part about Spector’s piece is it gives the reader the tools to scare themselves anew each day.

He mentions a website called proMED run by the International Society for Infectious Disease that offers daily updates on new outbreaks of killer sicknesses. On March 2 alone there were alerts for blackleg disease in Canada, Avian flu in Vietnam, leptospirosis in Guyana and legionellosis in Spain. A separate page lists recent reports about tainted food and drugs; the recent batch includes warnings about red tide, contaminated heroin, and botulism in bamboo shoots. For even more laughs, try the World Health Organization’s Communicable Disease Surveillance and Response website, where this week there are reports of dengue haemorrhagic fever in Timor-Leste (336 hospitalized cases and 22 deaths) and an update on the outbreak of plague in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The thing about the fear of infectious disease, as Spector points out, is that there are policy decisions to make about how to prevent and respond to them with vaccines and therapies.

A rational fear with a logical solution. How nice. But it won’t satisfy everyone. For the rest, there’s always the prospect of a sudden, catastrophic asteroid impact. Check out this NASA tracking site and … LOOK UP!

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