Fear vs. Fact


Scare factor: 4 Reality: ½

The anthrax scariness factor is high in part because we don’t know who it will strike next, so we can’t predict our odds of getting it, as we can with heart disease or breast cancer.

And the mortality rate with the inhaled variety is high.

Still, the United States has more than 285 million people and only 22 cases of anthrax have been confirmed so far this year.

What you can do: Remain calm. So far, anthrax attacks seem to be targeted at high-profile areas. Keep your fears in perspective. Besides, your chances of suffering side effects from the antibiotics are much higher than your chances of being exposed to anthrax _ in a survey of 490 people taking Cipro after possible exposure, 19 percent, or nearly 1 in 5, reported side effects.


Scare factor: ½ Reality: 3 ½

Most people think flu is a problem of the elderly and it mostly is. At least in terms of death. Each year, about 20,000 people die of influenza complications.

But flu can make anyone very ill and you’ll feel its effects for a couple of weeks after you get rid of the worst of it.

Anyone and everyone can get influenza. It can be life-threatening for the elderly, the very young and those who have chronic lung or heart diseases, diabetes or chronic diseases that affect their immune systems. Pregnant women are at risk because pregnancy puts an extra burden on their heart and lungs.

What you can do: Get a flu shot. They’re considered 70 percent to 90 percent effective in preventing flu. Practice good hygiene – wash your hands and minimize contact with sick people. People carrying the flu virus spread it when they cough or sneeze.


Scare factor: ½ Reality: 3 to 4

Diabetes accelerates heart disease, kidney disease and kidney failure. It’s the most common cause of blindness.

Like heart disease, it usually takes a number of years to develop, which means the damage can be done before we know we have it.

Compared with other diseases, diabetes is very common: An estimated 16 million Americans have diabetes, though about a third don’t know it. Risk factors include being overweight and having a sedentary lifestyle. Family history also is a risk, though people who keep their weight down and exercise regularly may never develop it.

What you can do: Keep your calorie intake down and your weight under control. Get regular daily exercise. If you have a family history of diabetes, have regular checkups; you can have type 2 diabetes for three or four years before you realize it.


Scare factor: 4 Reality: 2

Surely you’ve heard that women have a 1 in 9 chance of having breast cancer. But that number is based on a woman who lives to be 95. The risk for a 40-year-old woman is more like 1 in 1,200.

Worries about breast cancer may have a psychological basis: Treatment can be disfiguring, so it affects our body image, too.

Men get breast cancer, but women are most at risk. The risk increases with age, but the biggest risk factor seems to be family history: Those whose mothers, sisters and aunts had breast cancer are most at risk. Women who carry the BRCA gene have a much higher risk, but the gene is fairly uncommon.

Breast cancer is almost always curable if it’s detected early.

What you can do: Have regular screenings, particularly if you have a direct female relative who has had breast cancer. Perform monthly breast self-examinations, have an annual physical exam and have regular mammograms, particularly after age 40 or so.