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People Killed by Animals, What's the Risk Outdoors?

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Death by animal rate remains unchanged in U.S.

Before stepping into the great outdoors this spring, find out what animals kill more humans than any others.


A new study designed to determine whether fewer people are dying from animal-related causes outdoors during 2008-2015 than had died during a previous study looking at data from 1999-2007, found that not much has changed over the years and that encounters with animals still remains a considerable factor with human fatalities.

According to the numbers, from 2008-2015 there were 1,610 animal-related fatalities in the US, with the majority of deaths (57 percent) resulting from encounters with nonvenomous animals.

"From this search, we found that the rates of death from encounters with animals has remained relatively stable from the last time we preformed this analysis (1999-2007)," remarked lead investigator Jared A. Forrester, MD, Department of Surgery, Stanford University.

"Importantly, most deaths are not actually due to wild animals like mountain lions, wolves, bears, sharks, etc., but are a result of deadly encounters with farm animals, anaphylaxis from bees, wasps, or hornet stings, and dog attacks. So, while it is important that people recreating in the wilderness know what to do when they encounter a potentially dangerous animal, the actual risk of death is quite low."

The study found that although the number of snake-bite related deaths were up, the top contender for venomous animal encounters that became fatal still remains due to stings from bees, wasps, and hornets and subsequent anaphylaxis despite the availability of life-saving treatment for anaphylaxis.

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The 2nd deadliest was the nonvenomous category of "other mammals," which includes cats, horses, cows, other hoof stock, pigs, raccoons, and other mammals associated with farm living, with horses and cattle accounting for 90 percent of the fatalities.

"Preventing potentially fatal farm animal encounters should be a better promoted and supported public health initiative," explained Dr. Forrester. "Farming remains an industry with a deficit of work-related injury reporting, and opportunities exist to improve safety measures and injury reporting on farms in the US."

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Within nonvenomous animal encounter fatalities, dogs came in second--especially with children under 4 years of age having the highest dog-related fatality rate (4.6 deaths per 10 million persons). The study found that the rate of young children killed by dogs was nearly twice that of the elderly (65 and above), and four times that of everyone else in-between.

According to Dr. Forrester, "The burden of fatality upon young children after dog encounters remains troubling. These are preventable deaths."

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The authors of the study point out that although preventable, deaths still happen due to a lack of understanding the underlying reasons for why people die from animal encounters and lack of proven public health interventions to prevent so many needless deaths.

For some helpful advice on surviving the great outdoors this spring, here is what you need to know about MRSA exposure on farms.


Elsevier news release "Number of people killed by animals each year in the US remains unchanged"

Wilderness & Environmental Medicine 2018; 29 (1): 36 "An Update on Fatalities Due to Venomous and Nonvenomous Animals in the United States (2008-2015)" Jared A. Forrester et al.

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