People have always been fascinated with death, and for good reason. Despite the massive breadth of experiences that one can accumulate over a lifetime on Earth, our final disposition after we exhale our last breath remains a unique kind of mystery: one we will all eventually solve, but can never relay to others. Death represents a number of things: an end for some, a beginning to others, and in a biological sense, it serves as the extreme end of the spectrum of tolerable human injury. To die is to get hurt in the most significant sense, and because we’re genetically hard-wired to avoid both, our minds sometimes have trouble differentiating between the two.
What follows is a short list of things we tend to think of as “deadly” that are, statistically speaking, pretty unlikely to kill you. Some of these misconceptions are born of our evolution based drive to avoid that which slithers or crawls, others are born of TV and movie tropes, but what they have in common is a generally accepted exaggeration of the threat they pose to your life or well being. It’s important to note, however, that these things are still dangerous, they’re just not nearly as dangerous (particularly in regard to loss of life) as we tend to think of them as.
So if you’re the type of person that likes to be prepared for any and all life-or-death situations, you may not want to completely ignore the following, but you can certainly put them lowers on your priority list than popular culture might have you believe.
If you live in America, you have little to fear from Ebola.
News of Ebola outbreaks in Africa in recent years have renewed fears among Americans about the possibility of global pandemics. The idea that a deadly virus could spread throughout the world’s population quickly thanks to modern air travel is a legitimate one that healthcare professionals strive to find ways to counter everyday, but this concern (and the appropriate abundance of caution when dealing with Ebola outbreaks in underdeveloped nations) tend to make people more fearful of the Ebola virus than statistics seem to warrant.
There is already an experimental Ebola vaccine that has seen great success in helping to prevent the spread of the virus in affected nations, and, horrible as it may sound, Ebola’s rapid incubation rate often ensures that those who are infected display visible symptoms early (allowing for some level of prevention when it comes to world travel) and tend to either die or recover (and develop antibodies) rather quickly. Because of the virus’ short lifespan, those infected tend to die or beat the virus before they have the opportunity to spread it very far. In short, Ebola is so dangerous to those infected that it often doesn’t allow for a great deal of dispersion. Because it has to be spread via fluid transmission, it also makes Ebola fairly easy to protect yourself against, unlike airborne pathogens.
Although that have been a number of Americans infected with Ebola over the years, most often as a result of work in underdeveloped nations, only two Americans have died of the illness after receiving treatment in the United States.
All you need to survive a venomous snake bite is a trip to the hospital.
It’s easy to see how human beings might have developed an evolution based fear of snakes. They’re powerful and stealthy predators that can not only take you utterly by surprise but pack an awesome punch in the form of venom-injecting fangs. Everything about a fist full of teeth punching at your from a crack in the rocks on the trail and pumping you full of blood-clotting venom is terrifying but terrifying doesn’t necessarily mean deadly.
The likelihood that you’ll suffer a snake bite that even requires any sort of medical treatment is extremely low: only around 3,000 to 5,000 Americans go to doctors or hospitals after being bitten by a snake each year (out of a population of some 325 million Americans). Even if you are one of those unlucky few, your chances of dying from that snake bite are about 1 in a 1,000 — meaning you’re more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the hospital than you are to succumbing to the venom in the bite.
What’s the best way to avoid falling victim to a snake bite? According to experts, it’s about as simple as just taking two steps back. Fast as snakes are, they can’t hurt what they can’t reach, and they’re unlikely to pursue you. Being scared of snakes may make sense evolutionary, but it’s hard to worry too much about a threat you can mitigate by moonwalking.
It is extremely unlikely that you’ll die a violent death in the United States.
Thanks to the constant media coverage of violent incidents taking place around the world, Americans tend to think of themselves as living in some extremely violent and dangerous times. That perception, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. As Luke Ryan has pointed out in the past, the world is currently amidst perhaps its most peaceful era since the dawn of civilization, with fewer people (per capita) dying in conflicts that at any other stage of human societal development to our knowledge. Here in the United States, violent crime has been on a steady decline for decades, with the Pew Research Center even going so far as to say that the common American perception of violent crime doesn’t “align with the data.”
The truth is, you are less likely to suffer a violent end in the United States than ever before, even in the era of terror attacks and mass shootings that dominate the news. These incidents, while tragic, remain isolated and infrequent when compared to the population of the country — but because they make for the most pressing headlines, they dominate discussions for days or even weeks afterward.
So, while terror attacks, snake bites, and even the dreaded Ebola virus are all real and legitimate threats to a person’s general well being, statistically speaking, they each pose very little threat to the average person, with more manageable risks accounting for a far larger portion of the “stuff that might kill you” pie chart. If you want to help ensure a long and fruitful life, you may be better off skipping the concerns about snakes and terrorists during your drive to work and instead focus on keeping your eyes on the road.
Because chances are much higher that you’ll lose your life while changing songs during your commute than it is that any of the things above will get you.
Feature image courtesy of Jean Beaufort