The extraordinary death rate from Covid-19 hasn’t penetrated many people’s awareness, so a little perspective is warranted.
Because of our pathetic response to the pandemic, as of this writing, over 205,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, primarily from the deadly uncontrolled systemic inflammatory response of our body’s own immune system, known as a cytokine storm.
Compare that number to the biggest killers in our society, and also to those that generate the most fear, but don’t kill that many Americans (table below). Note these are generally behavioral causes, e.g., smoking doesn’t kill you directly, it causes health effects like heart disease, emphysema or cancer that actually does the killing. But these examples are things that people can choose to do, or be, to varying degrees.
Averaging over a recent 5-year period to smooth out the short-term variability, some of the big killers are:
These are raw numbers of deaths. Dividing by the number of people doing, or impacted by, the activity provides a gross relative danger index. While not a real risk factor, it is good for comparisons. As an example, smoking has arguably been the most risky behavior in history, recently killing about 480,000 people a year, giving it a huge danger index.
On the other hand, police work doesn’t kill that many officers a year, but there are not that many police officers in America, so the danger index is pretty high. About 5,000 people die every year from food poisoning, but Americans eat almost 400 billion meals every year, so its danger index is small making eating only about a hundred times more dangerous than nuclear power.
While Covid deaths cannot be extrapolated over 5 years, estimates of Covid-related deaths certainly top all other external causes of death in America since April and will continue to do so until we get the positivity rates under control everywhere.
At the same time, the pervasive fear of radiation freezes the brains of the public, even the medical community not trained in radiation, even though radiation causes the least deaths, or even harm, of all other activities in our society. And even though low level radiation is likely the best treatment for the Covid-19 cytokine storm.
In fact, during every week of September more Americans died from Covid-19 than died from radiation in all of history in all of the world, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Most of those who died from those two atomic bombs died from the blast. Of the remaining 90,000 or so people that were hit by radiation from the bombs, the Bomb Survivor Cohort, there were less than 5,000 additional deaths attributable to radiation in the intervening decades.
Other than WWII, the largest loss of life to radiation was Chernobyl, where less than 60 people died from radiation (United Nations Chernobyl Forum Report), not the thousands referred to in Chernobyl mythology. No one died of radiation from Fukushima and no one ever will. No one died from Three Mile Island. Nuclear power has never killed anyone. There have been a couple of dozen radiation deaths from accidents, mostly in the weapons complex of several countries, which brings the total to perhaps a little over 5,000 deaths from radiation in all of history.
All those deaths predicted from simplistic modelling of low doses of radiation (radiation doses less than about 10 rem or 0.1 Sv) never materialized and, in fact, were finally laid to rest by the 2012 United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR 2012).
Among other things, the report stated that uncertainties at low doses are such that the United Nations “does not recommend multiplying low doses by large numbers of individuals to estimate numbers of radiation-induced health effects within a population exposed to incremental doses at levels equivalent to or below natural background levels.”
Background levels range from 3 mrem/year (0.03 mSv/year) to over 10 rem/year (0.1 Sv).
So to recap, fear of radiation is stopping us from saving people’s lives and not enough fear of Covid-19 is killing more people than anything else.
Welcome to 2020…