The Truth About Shark Attacks and Other Summer Horror Stories


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Woman's feet in the ocean with a shark fin close by
Photo credit: sdominick/istockphoto


Wild animals, tropical diseases, random accidents, and natural forces prove fatal to a handful of travelers every year. Unless you're putting yourself at risk by engaging in some extreme vacationing, however, lost luggage is probably the worst thing you will have to worry about. Get the facts on summer dangers like shark attacks and West Nile Virus, then pack your bags, and get ready for a worry-free summer adventure.
Great White shark
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You can blame "Jaws" for the annual summer horror stories about deadly shark attacks and the fear they stir in many beach-goers. But the chances of being attacked by a shark are pretty rare. Worldwide, there were just 155 reported shark attacks in 2017.
No Swiming sign at a lake
Photo credit: Richard-P-Long/istockphoto


Every summer, cities in the U.S. warn about the risk — however small — of contracting Naegleria fowleri, a deadly brain-eating amoeba that lives in lakes and other bodies of freshwater. Stories of infected persons, even those who survive, are enough to keep anyone on the shore. But you can relax. Only 40 infections were reported in the U.S. between from 2007 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mosquito biting skin
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West Nile Virus is a mosquito-borne illness that first appeared in the U.S. in 1999. Since first appearing in New York state, it has spread across the continental U.S., and about 44,000 cases have been reported. Mosquito bites are as common as ants at a picnic in summer, so a little bit of worry is understandable. Reduce your chance of being bitten by using bug spray and bear in mind that even if you are bitten by an infected mosquito, your chances of getting truly sick are relatively low. Only one in five people infected experience symptoms, and only one in 150 develop a serious illness.
Woman drinking a glass of water
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It's important to stay hydrated, especially in the summer months when you work and play outdoors. But it is possible to drink too much water, which can be fatal. "Water intoxication" kills a handful of people every year, however, it requires drinking more than five liters in a few hours.
Rattlesnake in the woods
Photo credit: Tee-roy/istockphoto


Snakebites can be a worry, especially if you do a lot of hiking or if you live in an area where these reptiles are common. But fewer than 10 people are killed on average every year by poisonous snakebites in the U.S., according to the University of Florida. The best way to avoid being bitten while hiking is to stay on clear, well-traveled trails and to watch where you step. Good hiking boots and long pants are also a must.
Woman balancing on a cliff while hiking
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There's a reason why your mom warned you not to stand too close to the edge: You might fall and be killed. But odds are that you'll be just fine on your next hike as long as you take some common-sense precautions. The Washington Post ran the numbers on fatalities at national parks and found that fewer than 200 people are killed each year. And while falls were the third-leading cause of those deaths, you're more likely to die from a lightning strike.
Lightning striking
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Speaking of unlikely ways to die, your chances of being struck by lightning in any given year is about one in 700,000, according to National Geographic. Still, if you do find yourself caught outdoors during a sudden summer thunderstorm, seek shelter indoors immediately.
Grizzly bear
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The 2005 documentary "Grizzly Man" told the story of an Alaska man who died in a bear attack in Katmai National Park and Reserve. And while there are grizzlies and other bears in many national parks, the odds that you'll be attacked and killed are very low. The National Parks Service estimated the odds at 1 in 2.7 million.
Roller coaster
Photo credit: PKM1/istockphoto


Amusement parks are the go-to destination for many people and families each summer, but that roller coaster accident you heard about a few years ago may be giving you pause. They're rare, though, particularly on a fixed-site ride. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions notes that around 384 million people go on 1.7 billion rides every year, and the chance of serious injury is 1 in 17 million.
Baby sitting in a wading pool
Photo credit: aabsys/istockphoto


In April 2018, headlines about a Florida girl's "dry drowning" spooked parents everywhere. This very real — and rare — health condition is scary because symptoms typically don't appear until 12 to 24 hours after swimming. The good news is that this can be treated with prompt medical treatment if breathing problems develop. participates in affiliate marketing programs, which means we may earn a commission if you choose to purchase a product through a link on our site. This helps support our work and does not influence editorial content.