Better than the last?
By Jim Poling
Published Jan. 5, 2017
The hootin’ and hollerin’ over the passing of the old year has subsided as we move along, trying to make this one better than the last.
More folks than usual seemed anxious to see the old year pass. I’m not sure why. It didn’t seem much worse than many other years.
Dishonesty, exploitation, political corruption et al, continued at a nifty pace. Greed, environmental degradation, and maiming and killing of others, didn’t seem much more intense than in other recent years.
More than a usual number of high-profile entertainment stars passed away, it seems. One that didn’t get as much notice as most was my old classmate Bobby Curtola (Fortune Teller), who always seemed so much more decent, down to earth and less corrupted by fame than many others.
The scenarios stacking up at the start of 2017 hold the potential for creating a year far worse than 2016.
For many of us, the economy is worryingly fragile. Too many of us live too close to the edge financially.
Ontario’s carbon tax scheme increased gasoline prices more than four cents a litre this week. Those higher prices will bring higher costs for everything moved by vehicles that burn gasoline or diesel fuel.
And there are murmurs of interest rates being nudged upwards, which would be disaster for many people, considering the debt loads being carried. Ontario Premier Wynne finally has admitted to mistakes that have sent electricity rates into the stratosphere, but attempts at ameliorating them are likely too late.
Then there’s all the happy talk from Ottawa, which so far has amounted to zero in assisting the economic health of Canadians. But we wait, and hope.
And, of course, there is the Trump Lump, looming over the world like a malignancy.
Often the large and evident worries about a coming year turn out less threatening than expected. Things work themselves out and we carry on.
Sometimes it is the smaller, less obvious stuff that develops into catastrophe.
The one that worries me at the New Year, when winter is locking its grip on us, is the bird flu. Bird flu is always with us, trying to mutate into a form that can pass into human bodies.
A rare strain of bird flu infected cats in New York City days before Christmas. It is the first known time that the strain – H7N2 – has jumped from birds to cats.
A virus that jumps from birds to cats is not a huge concern. It has happened before. Cats contracted influenza during the 2009 swine flu outbreak, and again a few years before that. But in those cases, it did not jump to humans.
However, just days ago it was learned that the flu in the cat mutated to infect a human, a New York veterinarian.
Despite that development, the risk of humans becoming ill with H7N2 are considered low. Still authorities in New York City are urging people not to allow their cats to kiss or lick them.
Thankfully, health authorities keep a close watch on even the smallest outbreaks of avian influenza. South Korea right now is going through one of its most serious flu outbreaks (H5N6) in the past decade. And, five cases of H7N9 strain were reported in China in December, two of them fatal.
Influenza pandemics occur when a strain mutates and hops from an animal to humans.
We don’t need another influenza strain that learns to jump from birds to cats to humans. Cats are the world’s most abundant pets. There are an estimated 600 million of them worldwide, roughly eight million in Canada.
China, which always seems to be where these influenzas find traction, has 53 million cats. Not as many as the United States, which has more than 76 million.
The World Health Organization (WHO) does not appear too concerned about this new flu virus. It says that although small clusters of H7N9 have been reported, current evidence indicates the virus has not developed the ability to sustain transmission among humans.
However it does say that the situation needs to be monitored closely for any changes in transmission behaviour because any changes could have serious public health impacts.