Ebola, Shark Attacks, Roller Coaster Tragedies: No Big Whoop

Nigerian port health officials use a thermometer on a worker at the arrivals hall of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, on Aug. 6 Photograph by Sunday Alamba/AP Photo

In the slow news cycle of August, your TV is probably looping shark-attack footage or Ebola hysteria. But please, have fun: It’s extremely unlikely that what passes for danger on television will actually hurt you. Herein, we debunk the three biggest myths of late-summer fear mongering.

Ebola. The Ebola scare is indeed terrifying. With a 60 percent fatality rate, the virus is a serious threat to West African villages, where cultural and logistical challenges make containment difficult. But Ebola simply doesn’t exist in North America beyond an Atlanta hospital’s isolation unit. Nor is it airborne. Were travelers to bring the Ebola virus in country, a network of quarantine centers would likely isolate it.

Want a foreign virus to fear? Try measles, where 1 in 7 cases requires hospitalization. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a record 593 cases in 2014 through Aug. 1, almost 10 times the annual average of 63 cases reported from 2000 to 2007. As many as 90 percent of the victims haven’t been vaccinated.

Shark attacks. In the last 51 years there have been 974 shark attacks, in which 26 people died. More Americans have been shot by a gun strapped to their own pants this year than have been killed by sharks in the last three years combined.

If you want to freak out at the beach, consider drowning (an average of 3,880 deaths per year in the mid-2000s). There’s also pollution to worry about: The Environmental Protection Agency estimates some 3.5 million people a year become ill after visiting beaches polluted with sanitation overflow. And don’t forget jellyfish, which sting about 500,000 people every year in the Chesapeake Bay alone and another 200,000 off the coast of Florida, according to the National Science Foundation.

Death by roller coaster. Of course, summer wouldn’t be complete without a horrifying amusement park ride-fail video. Yet while minor injuries from rides are fairly common—a 2013 study showed 20 children a day are treated in emergency rooms for such injuries during summer—the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions estimates the likelihood of being seriously hurt is just 1 in 24 million.

As always, the greatest risk lies in getting there. The lifetime odds of being killed in a car accident are a stay-at-home-inducing 1 in 112, so frequent as to not even make much news. As August wanes, the safest bet may be to leave the van in the garage and set the kids to exploring by foot. While you click between missing-children docudramas, rest assured the latest data reveal that only 0.014 percent were actually snatched by strangers.

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