DEAR READERS: A pandemic is defined as “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people” (“A Dictionary of Epidemiology,” Oxford University Press, 2001). So clearly, international cooperation is vital in helping identify, monitor and prevent the spread of highly infectious diseases from country to country.
But now the United States is withdrawing from the one international organization where many American specialists are employed: the World Health Organization. On July 8, the U.S. formally notified the United Nations that it is withdrawing from the WHO. Global-health experts warn that the move puts at risk everything from polio eradication to pandemic preparedness. Much is uncertain: The WHO’s founding constitution has no provision for countries to withdraw.
“This is the end of an era of United States global-health leadership,” says public-health legal scholar Lawrence Gostin. (Read more at nature.com in the article “What a U.S. exit from the WHO means for COVID-19 and global health.”) Such isolationism is wrong-minded, putting not only American citizens at risk, but people in other countries -- as well as animals wild and domestic, which may become infected with, or be reservoirs for, pandemic diseases.
The British social critic George Orwell, in his seminal book “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” coined the term “doublethink” as a process of indoctrination whereby the subject is expected to accept as true that which is clearly false, or to simultaneously accept two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct -- often in contradiction of one’s own memories or sense of reality.
One illustration of doublethink is President Trump’s repeated assertion that if we had fewer COVID-19 tests being done, there would be fewer cases. The truth is that the cases exist, whether they are documented or not. The failure of the U.S. government to stop this pandemic cannot be papered over by obfuscation, doublethink and promises of soon-to-come vaccines. Trump’s assertion that 99% of coronavirus cases are “harmless” ignores the fact that asymptomatic people can infect and kill others, especially those with preexisting conditions.
DEAR DR. FOX: I had an animal rescue for 15 years. In addition to doing adoptions and caring for unadoptable critters, I also advised pet owners. People often asked the question about how to know when it’s time to say goodbye. Here’s how I would answer: ”Consider whether your pet is still living the life of (a dog, a cat, a rabbit, whatever). Get a little calendar and every day, mark whether your pet is having a good day, a bad day or a so-so day. When there are more bad days than good days, it’s time.”
People find this comforting. It gives them something they can measure. Another advantage of the calendar is that it helps prevent the “Was it too soon?” second-guessing that torments people. They can look back at the calendar and remind themselves that it was the right time. -- P.B., Memphis, Tennessee
DEAR P.B.: I think your advice will be helpful to many people who may otherwise have regrets and feel guilty having their animal companion euthanized. Keeping a record of daily quality of life can help avoid memory-suppression of bad days, which is part of our own self-protection from the burden of empathy and remembering just how long an animal had been suffering. Desensitization to how much an animal is suffering day after day might then be avoided.
DOGS AT RISK FROM TOXIC LAKES
With climate change, ponds and lakes across the U.S. are warming up, creating ideal conditions for algae to flourish. Of special concern is blue-green algae called Cyanobacteria, which produces a toxin lethal to dogs, and probably wildlife, who drink the water. It can also make people ill if it gets into their water supply. Runoff from fertilized lawns, gardens and agricultural crops, along with farmed animal manure, feed the algae, creating toxic blooms. Scientists are finding nutrients (as well as microplastics) in windborne dust precipitating over remote lakes where algal blooms are being reported.
Keep your dog out of the water if you have no assurance that it is safe, and if your dog does go for an off-leash dunk -- water-loving breeds like Labradors in particular -- hose your dog down thoroughly when you get home. Also, never let your dog drink from standing water. Take water and a bowl with you if you are going for a long walk or hike.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)