Some hazards to human health

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Research on causes of human fatalities, excluding those caused by diseases, collisions, accidental drownings while swimming and homicides, was revealing.

Deaths caused by animals include, first and foremost, stings by bees, wasps and ants, which kill about 50 people each year, the most recent of which was about two weeks ago, when killer bees stung a man to death in Douglas, Ariz. Dogs kill about 31 people each year. The top five considered most dangerous to humans are Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies and wolf-dog hybrids. Dobermans, one of my favorites, ranked no. 7 on the top ten list.

Horses and cattle average killing around 20 people each per year. Interestingly, those killed by cattle tend to be elderly men suffering from arthritis and hearing impairment. Bites from venomous spiders kill an average of about six per year, and mountain lions and sharks kill about one person each per year, on the average.

Fatalities from alligator attacks have increased from virtually none prior to around 1975 to an average of two per year now, all of which occur in the state of Florida, which is vastly overpopulated by humans and as some contend, also by alligators.

Venomous snakes, almost all rattlesnakes, kill five or six people each year, including snake-handling preachers who die from snakebite. Fatalities from bites of copperheads average fewer than one per year, and I can find no record of a person’s dying from the bite of a cottonmouth moccasin.

Floods take the lives of about 200 people annually, and landslides kill between 25-50 each year. Fatalities from lightning strikes total about 51 each year, with Florida and Arizona recording four each in 2013, followed by Texas, Illinois, and Kentucky, recording a total of six.

Pesticide poisoning kills about 23 each year, many resulting from people deliberately ingesting them to commit suicide.

Exposure to insecticides and herbicides can result in a variety of health problems. More than 20,000 people visit health care facilities annually with symptoms of pesticide poisoning. Among the most dangerous pesticides from an acute standpoint are organophosphate insecticides, which include methyl parathion, guthion, diazinon, fenthion, and the widely used chemical, dursban. As a group, these are one of the most common causes of poisoning worldwide, with about 1 million poisonings per year and an estimated several hundred thousand fatalities. The chemicals attack the nervous system, causing a variety of neurogenic disorders.

Several years ago, Janie and I were visiting friends who owned a Shih Tzu dog. The small dog was rolling around on the lawn and suddenly began having seizures. The dog was rushed to the veterinarian, who diagnosed its problem as organophosphate poisoning and administered the antidote, atropine, which saved the dog’s life. The dog’s owners’ lawn had been sprayed earlier by a pest control company, apparently using an organophosphate. Needless to say, the owners no longer allow their premises to be treated with pesticides!

In a subsequent column, I will address some concerns I have about actual, and potential, adverse effects of some other pesticides. Stay tuned.

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Auburn University. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

 

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