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Why you shouldn’t be scared of flying-foxes


Some politicians have been calling for the eviction of flying-foxes from urban areas (including by lethal force) on the ground that they are deadly threats to humans (see here and here for examples).

But are these politicians really concerned for our health? Does the risk from flying-foxes justify their alarmist statements? Will we be safer if flying-foxes are evicted or killed?

To provide some perspective on these questions, we have compiled the stats about what does kill Australians and ranked various causes of death (see Table 1 below). They show that flying-foxes are less deadly than horses, cattle, bees, hay bales, windmills, air conditioners, car jacks and more than a dozen better known killers. If those politicians really cared about your health, they’d be trying to evict fast food outlets and fast cars, not the fast flappers.

Those who oppose the eviction of flying-foxes do not take the threat of disease lightly. Many are wildlife carers, researchers or conservationists who have very close contact with flying-foxes. If anyone is at risk, they are. But they know that the risk of catching disease from bats is extremely low, that measures can be taken to keep safe and that there are many other things much worthier of worry. After all, just one Australian is known to have become ill and died due to an encounter with a flying-fox (in 1998, from Australian bat lyssavirus) – one of more than 2.5 million Australian deaths since 1990.

Flying-foxes are safer than virtually everything else you encounter in an urban environment (just don’t touch them)! See here, here and here for more information.

If you find a flying-fox down low in a tree or on the ground, call your local wildlife rescue group (see here for contacts).

What kills Australians: various causes of death ranked from most to least deadly

Statistics for various causes of death in Australia (since 1990) and references.

Data could not be obtained, or was not obtained, for all years from 1990-2009 for most causes of death. However, sufficient was obtained to calculate an approximate average number of deaths/year and the rankings for Table 1 (the years for which data were obtained are listed). In a few instances where there was lack of recent data, statistics from 1980-1990 have been used.

Major sources of data (for which endnotes below are abbreviated) are:

(1) Australian Bureau of Statistics, Causes of Death, Australia (annual data available for the period 1990-2009 on the ABS website);
(2) Australian Bureau of Statistics, Year Book Australia, (annual data available for 1990-2009 on the ABS website). See http://www.abs.gov.au/
(3) National Coroners Information Service report into Deaths Involving Animals, May 2006. See www.ncis.org.au/web_pages/Broadsheet2_Animal%20related.pdf.
(4) National Coroners Information System. 2007. A sample of consumer product related deaths. Deaths reported from 01/07/2000–30/06/2007. See www.ncis.org.au/Product%20related%20fatalities%20national%20version.pdf.
(5) Pollock K, Fragar L, Morton C. 2007. Traumatic deaths in Australian agriculture – The facts. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety
(6) Franklin R, Mitchell R, Driscoll T, Fragar L. 2000. Farm-related fatalities in Australia, 1989-1992. Moree: ACAHS, NOHSC & RIRDC

Cardiovascular diseases
Approx. average deaths/year: 47,000
Time period: 1990-1992, 1996, 2000-2008
Information source/s:
- ABS. Causes of Death, Australia, various years.
- ABS. Year Book Australia, various years.

Cancer
Approx. average deaths/year: 36,000
Time period: 1990-1993, 1998-2005, 2007-2008
Information source/s:
- ABS. Causes of Death, Australia, various years.
- ABS. Year Book Australia, various years.

Diabetes
Approx. average deaths/year: 3000
Time period: 1990-1993, 1998-2003, 2007-2008
Information source/s:
- ABS. Causes of Death, Australia, various years-
- ABS. Year Book Australia, various years.

Suicide
Approx. average deaths/year: 2260
Time period: 1990-93, 1997-2008
Information source/s:
- ABS. Causes of Death, Australia, various years
- Harrison JE, Pointer S, Elnour AA. 2009. A review of suicide statistics in Australia. Injury research and statistics series no. 49. Adelaide: AIHW

Vehicle crashes
Approx. average deaths/year: 1890
Time period: 1990-2001, 2007-2008
Information source/s:
- ABS. Year Book Australia, various years.

Infectious diseases
Approx. average deaths/year: 1700
Time period: 1998-2001, 2006-2008
Information source/s:
- ABS. Causes of Death, Australia, various years.
- ABS. Year Book Australia, various years.

Accidental poisoning
Approx. average deaths/year: 740
Time period: 2000, 2002-2004, 2007-2008
Information source/s:
- ABS. Year Book Australia, various years.

Firearms (deliberate & accidental)
Approx. average deaths/year: 460
Time period: 1990-2002
Information source/s:
- Kreisfeld R. 2005. Firearm deaths and hospitalisations in Australia. See http://www.nisu.flinders.edu.au/briefs/firearm_deaths_2005.php

Homicide
Approx. average deaths/year: 310
Time period: 1990-2006
Information source/s:
- Australian Institute of Criminology, National Homicide Monitoring Program 1989-90 to 2005-06. See http://www.abcdiamond.com/australia/murder-crime-in-australia/

Drowning
Approx. average deaths/year: 280
Time period: 1992, 1998-2007
Information source/s:
- ABS. Year Book Australia, various years.
- Franklin R, Scarr J, Pearn H. 2010. Reducing drowning deaths: the continued challenge of immersion fatalities in Australia. Medical Journal of Australia 192(3): 123-26

Pedestrians struck by vehicles
Approx. average deaths/year: 300
Time period: 1997-2002, 2004-05, 2007-08
Information source/s:
- ABS. Year Book Australia, various years.

Boat accidents
Approx. average deaths/year: 40
Time period: 1999-2004
Information source/s:
- O’Connor P. 2008. National Assessment of Boating Fatalities in Australia 1999-2004. National Marine Safety Committee Inc

Choking on food
Approx. average deaths/year: 37
Time period: 1999, 2002-2005, 2007
Information source/s:
- ABS. Causes of Death, Australia, various years.
- Henley G, Harrison JE. 2009. Injury deaths, Australia 2004–05. Injury research and statistics series no 51. Adelaide: AIHW
- Henley G, Kreisfeld K, Harrison JE. 2007. Injury deaths, Australia 2003–04. Injury research and statistics series no. 31. Adelaide: AIHW
- Kreisfeld R, Newson R, Harrison J. 2004. Injury deaths, Australia 2002. Injury Research and Statistics Series Number 23. Adelaide: AIHW
- Kreisfeld R, Harrison J. 2005. Injury deaths, Australia, 1999. Injury Research and Statistics Series Number 24. Adelaide: AIHW

Horses
Approx. average deaths/year: 15
Time period: 1979-1998, 2000-2006
Information source/s:
- NCIS. 2006. Report into deaths involving animals
- Cripps RA. 2000. Horse-related injury in Australia. Adelaide: AIHW. See http://www.nisu.flinders.edu.au/pubs/bulletin24/bulletin24.html

Car jacks
Approx. average deaths/year: 4.1
Time period: 2000-2007
Information source/s:
- NCIS. 2007. A sample of consumer product related deaths.

Tree felling
Approx. average deaths/year: 3.4
Time period: 1989-1992, 2001-2004
Information source/s:
- Pollock et al. 2007. Traumatic deaths in Australian agriculture.
- Franklin et al. 2000. Farm-related fatalities in Australia, 1989-1992.

Snakes
Approx. average deaths/year: 3
Time period: 1979-2006
Information source/s:
- NCIS. 2006. Report into deaths involving animals
- McGain F, Rofe G, Sutherland S, Harrison J, Hawdon G, Winkel K. 2003. Snakebite Mortality in Australia. University of Melbourne. See www.nchirt.qut.edu.au/consultancy/amdig/workshops/documents/2003WinkelSlides.pdf

Cattle
Approx. average deaths/year: 2.2
Time period: 1989-1992, 2000-2006
Information source/s:
- NCIS. 2006. Report into deaths involving animals
- Pollock K, Fragar L, Morton C. 2007. Traumatic deaths in Australian agriculture – The facts. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety

Bees & wasps
Approx. average deaths/year: 1.9
Time period: 1979-1998, 2000-2006
Information source/s:
- NCIS. 2006. Report into deaths involving animals
- McGain F, Winkel K. 2000. Bee and wasp sting related fatalities in Australia. International Society on Toxinology 13th World Congress on Animal Plant and Microbial Toxins. See http://www.avru.org/files/imported/compendium/gallery/DR0000052.pdf

Lightning
Approx. average deaths/year: 1.7
Time period: 1980-1990, 2001-2004
Information source/s:
- Pointer S, Harrison J. 2007. Electrical injury and death. National Injury Surveillance Unit. See www.nisu.flinders.edu.au/pubs/reports/2007/injcat99.pdf

Dogs
Approx. average deaths/year: 1.6
Time period: 1990-2006
Information source/s:
- NCIS. 2006. Report into deaths involving animals.
- Kreisfeld R, Bordeaux S. 1998. Injury resulting from dog bites. See http://www.nisu.flinders.edu.au/pubs/shortreps/canines.html#dyear%20
- Kreisfeld R, Harrison J. 2005. Dog-related injuries. See http://www.nisu.flinders.edu.au/pubs/reports/2005/injcat75.php

Sharks
Approx. average deaths/year: 1.2
Time period: 1990-2010
Information source/s:
- Australian Shark Attack File. See http://www.taronga.org.au/animals-conservation/conservation-science/australian-shark-attack-file/australian-shark-attack-file
- Stevens, J. D. and Paxton, J. R. (1992). Shark attack: but who's the victim? Australian Natural History, 24(3): 46-53

Windmills
Approx. average deaths/year: 1
Time period: 1989-1992, 2001-2004
Information source/s:
- Pollock et al. 2007. Traumatic deaths in Australian agriculture.
- Franklin et al. 2000. Farm-related fatalities in Australia, 1989-1992.

Crocodiles
Approx. average deaths/year: 0.9
Time period: 1980-1990, 2000-2009
Information source/s:
- NCIS. 2006. Report into deaths involving animals
- Sydney Morning Herald 2009. See http://www.smh.com.au/national/recent-crocodile-deaths-in-australia-20090411-a3b2.html

Hay bales
Approx. average deaths/year: 0.9
Time period: 1989-1992, 2001-2004
Information source/s:
- Pollock et al. 2007. Traumatic deaths in Australian agriculture.
- Franklin et al. 2000. Farm-related fatalities in Australia, 1989-1992.

Air conditioners
Approx. average deaths/year: 0.4
Time period: 2000-2007
Information source/s:
- NCIS. 2007. A sample of consumer product related deaths.

Spa baths
Approx. average deaths/year: 0.3
Time period: 2000-2007
Information source/s:
- NCIS. 2007. A sample of consumer product related deaths.

Flying-foxes
Approx. average deaths/year: 0.05
Time period: 1990-2009 (1 death in 1998)
Information source/s:
- Hanna J, Carney I, Smith G, et al. 2000. Australian bat lyssavirus infection: a second human case, with a long incubation period. Medical Journal of Australia 172:597-9. See http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/172_12_190600/hanna/hanna.html#refbody11. The only other case was due to an encounter with a microbat
Australian bat lyssavirus. See http://www.csiro.au/science/Australian-bat-lyssavirus.html


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BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats: Why you shouldn’t be scared of flying-foxes
Why you shouldn’t be scared of flying-foxes
Why you shouldn’t be scared of flying-foxes
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