Sunday, September 4, 2011

Northland population almost free of scurvy, beriberi and brucellosis...

By Jim Heffernan

It is not comforting to pick up your local newspaper – in this instance the Sept. 2 Duluth (Minnesota) News Tribune -- and read the headline: “Risk of dying is greater in the Northland.” (Read HERE) I have seen the Northland and it is us.

Yes, various government agencies that collect statistics on who dies of what and where report that Northern Minnesota (AKA the Northland) is the unhealthiest place to live in the state, with mortality rates for diseases like cancer and conditions like heart trouble vastly exceeding those in other regions. Also cirrhosis of the liver, an accurate measure of the drinking rate.

The mortality rate is the chance that a given person will die of any cause in the course of the year. It should not be confused with the “morbidity rate,” which measures the frequency with which a given disease appears in a given population, and also the number of horror movies shown in a given year at a multiplex near you.

Still, I believe we in the Northland should not be greatly alarmed by such headlines and statistics. There are more diseases than cancer and heart trouble, after all. We should look on the bright side, focusing on the morbidity rate, which these government agencies actually fail to mention at all.

Accordingly, I believe it is safe to say, without conducting any research whatsoever due to lack of qualifications, that there is absolutely no danger of contracting scurvy in the Northland. You remember scurvy. Sailors and pirates got it on long sea voyages when they ran out of fruit. The morbidity rate for scurvy in the Northland must be close to zero, which we can count as a blessing in disguise.

So too with beriberi, another diet-related disease having a strong association with long sea voyages, but not on Lake Superior. Statistics would indicate, if anybody ever compiled them, that there is virtually no beriberi in the Northland to speak of, although it could come up among the drinking population, already suffering from cirrhosis. We see no mention of beriberi in Minnesota health statistics at all, heaven be praised.

And where is brucellosis in these statistics? We do not see reports that there is any problem of brucellosis in the Northland whatsoever. For those readers who are not familiar with brucellosis, you can get it from animals like goats and cows, but not our good Northland goats and cows, it would appear.

So it is safe to say, I believe, that the Northland is a great place to live if you don’t want to come down with scurvy, beriberi or brucellosis. We should capitalize on that, instead of scaring the population half to death with headlines like “Risk of dying greater in the Northland.”

Better to read headlines like “Northland almost free of scurvy, beriberi and brucellosis.” Thank you.

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