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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A disease that needs no torquing

One of the world's most beautiful spots, the Orkney Islands, is Ground Zero for MS.

When I worked at the local paper I can recall one reporter getting into a heated discussion over the torquing a story. An editor at the top of the newsroom pecking order insisted the reporter rewrite a story to give it the expected, and now demanded, impact. This pumping up of a story was called torquing.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is not a disease that needs to be torqued. Yet, this is exactly what a recent front page article in The London Free Press did. The reporter wrote:

It's a disease that strikes down adults at their prime -- and it's found Ground Zero in Canada.

Is the above true? Maybe; maybe not. There are those who would argue that the present Ground Zero, based on the latest figures, may be the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands off the north coast of Scotland. Studies of the island populations indicate an MS rate possibly as high as 402 per 100,000 inhabitants in the Orkney Islands. The Shetland Islands come in lower with only 295 per 100,000 but both rates are higher than Canada's reported rate of 291.

Declaring a country, especially a country as large as Canada, the global hot spot for MS is difficult. The disease is certainly all too prevalent in Canada but not uniformly so across the country. The frequency of occurrence varies across the country with folks in the Prairies suffering from MS at a rate running at about twice that of Canadians living in Quebec.

Why does the rate dip in Quebec only to rebound in Nova Scotia? Some theorize some of this may be the result of genes. The gene pool in Quebec is different that of the gene pool in Alberta.

Even the global Ground Zero for MS does not report a homogeneous rate for the small islands. According to Dr Wilson, of Edinburgh University’s Centre for Population Health Sciences, "We saw within Orkney and Shetland there were hotspots and cold spots. Some isles and parishes and villages had a much increased rate and in other parts there were hardly any residents who had it."

Damning Canada as the global Ground Zero for MS makes a good lede but a poor beginning for a story.

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