Jared A. Forrester, a surgeon from Stanford University, who led the investigation into fatalities caused by animals in the US from 2008-2015 says that, “Most deaths aren’t actually due to wild animals such as mountain lions, bears, wolves, or sharks. So, while it’s important that people recreating in the wilderness know what to do when they encounter a potentially dangerous animal, the risk of death is quite low.”
So, if wild animals with sharp claws and teeth aren’t the biggest risk to people in the US, then what is?
Well, if you exclude stinging winged insects for a second, the deadliest animals to humans in the US are those that we have living in and around our homes – and our homesteads. Farm animals – mainly cattle and horses – are actually the biggest killers, being responsible for 576 deaths (36% of all fatalities) in the period, claiming an average of 72 deaths per year.
Dogs were responsible for a little less than half that, coming in third overall with 272 deaths.
For such a beloved animal that makes up a valuable part of so many families, dogs’ inclusion on the list ought to be a wake-up call for everyone, especially for parents: children under the age of four are killed at a rate almost two times higher than the next most vulnerable group (people over the age of 65), and four times higher than other age groups.
While dogs can be deadly, they don’t claim as many lives overall as winged venomous insects of the order Hymenoptera – comprising of bees, hornets, and wasps – the second biggest killer in this study. Stings from these flying insects killed 478 people overall during the study period – 6- per year on average.
This might be shocking, but what’s more shocking is this: since the last time the researchers analyzed this kind of data – covering the period 1999-2007 – the cost of some epinephrine autoinjectors have skyrocketed by more than 400%.
This is a huge issue, since these kinds of treatments are what saves the lives of people who are suffering anaphylactic shock brought on by venomous insect stings. “With an estimated 220,000 annual visits to the emergency department and nearly 60 deaths per year due to stings from hornets, wasps, and bees, effective and affordable treatment for anaphylaxis from Hymenoptera is critical,” the researchers write in their paper.
Therefore, “public health practitioners, policymakers, and the public should encourage the industry to provide proven public health interventions, like the EpiPen, at a socially responsible price point that serves the best interest of the US population.”
Another thing that the research team is calling for is greater awareness of the risks animals at large can cause to people in the US. Although deaths due to animals haven’t risen since the researcher’s last study, they haven't declined either. This is not a good thing, as the team believes that most of these fatalities caused by animals should ultimately be preventable.
In the same period in which dogs killed 272 people, 49 people were killed by spiders, 48 lost their lives to snakes, sharks killed 13 people, and scorpions claimed the lives of just two.