"Death map" shows heat a big hazard to Americans

Wed Dec 17, 2008 10:36am EST
 
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Heat is more likely to kill an American than an earthquake, and thunderstorms kill more than hurricanes do, according to a "death map" published on Tuesday.

Researchers who compiled the county-by-county look at what natural disasters kill Americans said they hope their study will help emergency preparedness officials plan better.

Heat and drought caused 19.6 percent of total deaths from natural hazards, with summer thunderstorms causing 18.8 percent and winter weather causing 18.1 percent, the team at the University of South Carolina found.

Earthquakes, wildfires and hurricanes combined were responsible for fewer than 5 percent of all hazard deaths.

Writing in BioMed Central's International Journal of Health Geographics, they said they hoped to dispel some myths about what the biggest threats to life and limb are.

"According to our results, the answer is heat," Susan Cutter and Kevin Borden of the University of South Carolina wrote in their report, which gathered data from 1970 to 2004.

"I think what most people would think, if you say what is the major cause of death and destruction, they would say hurricanes and earthquakes and flooding," Cutter said in a telephone interview. "They wouldn't say heat."

"What is noteworthy here is that over time, highly destructive, highly publicized, often-catastrophic singular events such as hurricanes and earthquakes are responsible for relatively few deaths when compared to the more frequent, less catastrophic such as heat waves and severe weather," they wrote.   Continued...

 
<p>A handout graphic shows Proportional hazard Mortality and Standardized Mortality Ratios. REUTERS/BioMed Central/Handout</p>