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5 things that will kill you before Ebola does


Worrying about Ebola is understandable considering the deluge of news reports about the deadly virus. Health officials and the U.S. government are scrambling to contain the disease, which, in the United States, has killed one man and infected a handful of others.

But statistically speaking, people would be far better off worrying about all the other risks that are, in some cases, thousands of times more likely to kill you or your loved ones. Yes, Ebola is dangerous. However, it is quite rare everywhere except in West Africa. Here’s a number of more mundane things that kill legions of people annually, but get little mention on the nightly news.


Smoking has a particularly harsh effect on life expectancy.

Everyone knows that smoking is deadly. But that message just doesn’t seem to sink in. More than 480,000 people die annually from cigarette-related illnesses, or about one-fifth of the 2.5 million annual deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Talk about a disconnect. Dying from cigarettes is infinitely more likely than from Ebola. Yet no one is suggesting closing our borders to tobacco.

Car accidents

A Wisconsin State Patrol police officer looks through the wreck of a 2005 Chevy Cobalt in St Croix County, Wisconsin. Megan Phillips, who was the driver of a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt that crashed in Wisconsin, said that until last month’s recall she blamed herself for a 2006 accident in which two teenaged friends were killed when her car left the road and hit a clump of trees.

Death from car accidents is epidemic, you might say. In 2011, 33,783 people died in collisions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of course, wearing a seatbelt, sticking to speed limits and steering clear of driving while drunk are the best strategies for avoiding major injuries. But the harsh reality is that traveling by car always involves a certain level of risk.


People die all the time by falling from ladders. Are there press conferences carried live on TV about the dangers or politicians calling for immediate action? No. In 2011, for example, 113 people died from workplace ladder accidents, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Construction workers are the most frequent victims.


Who is really in control?

More than 32,000 people died in shootings in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The annual death toll far exceeds the total number of U.S. military killed in more than a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. It’s a bloodbath out there in Anytown, USA. People living in poverty, victims of domestic violence and the mentally ill — via suicide — are among the most likely casualties.


Drug overdoses and other poisonings are the leading cause of death by injury in 30 states. Over 41,000 people died from them in 2008, more than car accidents or shootings. The vast majority — some 36,500 — were from overdoses from either legal and illegal drugs like heroin, hydrocodone and oxycodone. Unless the dead are friends or celebrities, few people pay much attention. But they should because the number of dead is infinitely greater than the lone U.S. Ebola victim and several times more than the nearly 5,000 deaths globally in the latest outbreak.