Lightning Safety

Lightning risks

I went to engineering school, and what I know best is electricity.  The most dangerous form of electricity that I can think of is lightning.  According to a paper written by Irene Cardoso, there are, worldwide, approximately 6000 people a year dying from lightning strikes.  (Her paper reduces the previous estimate by a factor of 4.)  I’m going to admit, that’s way more people than I could have possibly imagined.  In the US, strikes are fatal in 9-10% of cases, meaning that somewhere around 60,000 people a year are struck by lightning.

That’s pretty amazing for something that used to be considered the Wrath of God (Kind of makes Thor less intimidating, doesn’t it?).  Sharks kill double-digit numbers worldwide.  It is so rare to be killed by a bear in North America, you’re mentioned by name on Wikipedia.  My personal “danger threshold” number is 2500.  That’s because that’s the number of people that are killed in toilet-related mishaps.

What else is dangerous — vaccines, right?  They are victims of their own success; today we can imagine they are useless because they are so effective.  There are potential complications because any medical procedure has complications.  A common antibiotic will make me lose consciousness for a couple of days.  I got a potentially-fatal case of oxygen toxicity from DCS treatment.  (Long story.)

According to what appears to an anti-vaccine site, there are ten million vaccines given out every year.  Ten million, although that seems a little on the low side to me.  Nevertheless, let’s go with that as our base number.  Another says that only 1-10% of vaccine complications are reported.  According to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, a severe reaction to the MMR vaccine is literally a one-in-a-million chance.  This means that out of the 10 million vaccines, only 10 people will have reactions.  Assuming that only 10% of those are reported, that’s 100 people getting sick.  If we then extrapolate the lightning-fatality odds and assume that that’s only 10% of cases presenting as severe allergic reactions, that’s 1,000 people getting sick from vaccines every year. (using the anti-vaccine numbers, which are neither peer-reviewed nor double-blind-studied.)

Back to electricity and those 60,000 lightning strikes.  You’re at least 60 times more likely to be hit by lightning than you are to get sick from getting a vaccine.

(Image courtesy of Georgia Canoeing Association)

I’ve summarized this as a PDF in case you know someone that like to argue but doesn’t like to read: Risks of lightning strikes vs vaccines

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Magnus is a Professional Electrical Engineer from Victoria, BC. He's worked on projects ranging from new code for embedded radios to inspecting [redacted] government systems. He'll relax and unwind by teaching yoga or Cyclefit, or going out for a dive in the cold ocean.

3 thoughts on “Lightning risks”

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