The bird flu has emerged from Asia in, appropriately enough, Turkey. Where apparently thousands of, yes, turkeys had to be destroyed. But no need to panic yet. The virus is still pretty clumsy about infecting humans. It's only killed about 60 people worldwide to date.
That's dreadful, no doubt about it, but let's step back and get a sense of perspective.
Here are some interesting statistics about causes of death in 2002, in the United States alone, courtesy of the National Safety Council and the CDC:
Spiders, hornets, wasps and bees killed 64 people. Next time someone makes fun of you for screaming at the sight of a spider, remind them that keen and noisy survival reflexes are precisely what saved you back in '02 from becoming number 65.
Lightning killed 66 people. Probably all 9th graders on the phone with boyfriends/girlfriends during storms, despite Mom's dire warnings.
Traffic collision with deer took out another 113. Deer, being colorblind, often confuse red lights with green at intersections.
Clothing related accidents killed 117. No statistics were available for how many of those involved fat rolls bulging out over low-rise pants.
In what could be a related statistic, 369 people died from inhaling the contents of their stomach. Probably after seeing the fashion faux pas above.
118 people died riding animals or riding in animal drawn conveyances. Also in 2002, alligator rides failed to replace pony rides as popular activities for kiddie birthday parties.
Hot tap water alone killed 40 folk. This is why I drink at least one cup of coffee before my morning shower.
352 people didn't make it out of the bathtub alive. More evidence supporting that morning cup of coffee.
509 people suffocated in bed. Coffee nightcap, anyone?
128 people died from overexertion. But it's hard to slow down when you've had so much coffee.
Ladders and scaffolding got 406 of us, which is why I try to keep both feet firmly planted on the ground. However, 646 people died from tripping or stumbling, presumably after having had their morning, afternoon and evening cups of coffee, so I've just taken to wearing a coffee IV drip and wearing elbow pads and a helmet everywhere. In bed. In the shower. And around the house. Because...
Furniture killed 785 people. (Firearm discharge only killed 762.) The CDC does not explain precisely how it is that 785 people died because of furniture. Was it dropped on them? Did they fall over it? Were they murdered by their spouses for spilling red wine or catsup on it? Why aren't there more bumper stickers proclaiming "Armoires don't kill people, people kill people"?
If you're still fretting about the 60 deaths from the bird flu, according to assorted medical sites, 522 men have died from complications and side effects of Viagra. Unlike furniture as a cause of death, which didn't furnish enough information (so to speak), where Viagra is concerned, just the word alone is too much information. Label it "au natural causes" and leave it at that.
Obesity kills 280,000-325,000 people a year. The recent discovery of a 4000 year old dish of noodles in China means we can blame at least some of that chub on them, but no one continent has a monopoly on deadly diseases.
Sure, Asia gave us the bird flu and pasta. But the Archaeological Institute of America has evidence that North America is the source of syphilis, McDonalds and WalMart, none of which are good for you either. Leprosy seems to be from Africa. Chagas disease came from South America. Australia has psuedotrichnosis, which you can get from eating wallaby, and Russell Crowe, who also produces gastric upset but seems to be less fatal. Even in the Arctic, people can get life-threatening hydatid cysts from dogs who have eaten raw caribou viscera. Nobody's has caught much in Antarctica except cold (really, reeeally cold), but studies show the penguins there have their own bird flus and some seals have canine distemper.
The moral? Death lurks in every corner of the globe! And while "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," may hold true, there are some customs you should follow no matter where you go.
- Wash your hands after using the restroom.
- Don't make out with chickens.
- Don't eat anything regurgitated by a penguin.
- Cook your wallabies/caribous/seals/bush meat/other endangered species thoroughly and use a meat thermometer to ensure doneness.
- Seriously. Leave the chickens alone.
Comments and wallaby recipes to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.
This article first appeared in the Oct 16, 2005 issue of the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.
(Also published in the Piker Press on November 7, 2005.)
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