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Summer Risks vs. Realities

The news media are so full of warnings about potential summer health hazards that you may wonder, as the season wears on, how anyone ever comes through unscathed.

Water Hazards continued...

Open motorboats (as opposed to cabin cruisers) are involved in the most boating deaths, as recklessness and speed play a big role. Sailors tend to be the safest bunch on the water; only one person died sailing in 2002. The Coast Guard report also notes that 440 deaths that year might have been prevented had the victims been wearing life vests.

Compared with the thousands of drownings and other injuries sustained on the water, the dozens of shark attacks seem like a paltry few. But sharks still hold powerful sway over our imagination, and it's hard not to envision a shark's-eye view of your own legs while you paddle in the ocean.

George Burgess is the director of the University of Florida Program for Shark Research and editor of the International Shark Attack File, which contains data on attacks from the mid-1500s to the present. Although most attacks occur in the U.S., and most of those are in Florida, "it's still uncommon when you consider the literally millions of person-hours that are spent in the water each year," he says.

People swim off the coast of Florida year-round, and sharks lurk in those waters all year, too. But in the mid-Atlantic region and the Northeast, swimming is limited to summertime, and sharks rarely venture as far north as Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts -- the actual location of the fictional Amity Island in Jaws, where there have been a total of three attacks in recorded history.

Around those parts, "your chances of encountering a shark, far less being bitten by one, are infinitesimally small," Burgess says.

Summertime Epidemics

You've likely heard by now that West Nile season has returned, along with the newly hatched swarms of summer mosquitoes.

In 2003, 9,862 cases of West Nile virus disease were reported to the CDC, which included 2,866 cases of severe West Nile encephalitis or meningitis. The other cases were classified as West Nile fever, which is milder. In all, 264 people died from West Nile infection, which is a miniscule number compared with the average of 36,000 who die from the flu each year.

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