With the Death Toll at 11, Time Tells Us Why West Nile is Our Own Fault

With the Death Toll at 11, Time Tells Us Why West Nile is Our Own Fault

There are many possible explanations for why this year has turned into the worst ever for West Nile. A mild winter and wet spring played a part, and maybe climate change contributed as well, but no one's really sure. Except Time, that is.

Bryan Walsh has a piece on one of the magazine's blogs titled "Why West Nile Virus is a Self-Inflicted Wound."

Despite the forceful headline, which implies that all of this mess -- the disease, the spraying, the deaths -- is somehow our fault, the article doesn't marshal much of an argument to support the claim. It mentions the foreclosure crisis, which left an unusually high number of abandoned swimming pools, as a contributing factor and points to climate change as a reason tropical diseases are creeping further into places like Texas.

But things aren't as simple as just "hotter temperatures equals more disease." That's because there's another factor at work: us -- or, more specifically, our policymakers. The severity of tropical diseases is also a matter of whether or not governments are capable -- and willing -- to defend their populations against infections.

In the 20th century, the United States more or less wiped out malaria in its borders, so, by extension, it should do be able to do away with West Nile if it really wanted to. Dallas' response to West Nile this year has been admittedly reactive, but, short of dousing the region with DDT, the best defense is to tell people to drain standing water and wear OFF!, both of which officials are doing.

Walsh's broader argument is that the South is especially vulnerable to the tropical diseases that climate change is pushing northward, not only because of climate and geography but because many poor people live in the South. There are also a lot of poor people in places like the Republic of Congo, where a lot of people still die of malaria. Therefore, a lot of people in Louisiana and Alabama will die of malaria, too.

The real solution Walsh is proposing is to have fewer poor people which, come to think of it, will be pretty easy once those tropical diseases take hold.

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