Plane Crashes

The Risk Factor: Very low.
The Stats: Of the roughly 38 million commercial U.S. flights between 2009 and 2012, exactly two crashed.
The Facts: When jetliner accidents happen (like the crash landing in San Francisco in July), they dominate the news cycle, but flying continues to get safer. "Planes are put through rigorous safety checks, including daily inspections and electrical checkups about every 200 flights," says former Delta Air Lines pilot Kevin Hiatt, now president of the Flight Safety Foundation. "Roughly every five years, mechanics nearly dismantle a plane to look for cracks and corrosion." Yes, we know you're thinking of all the other things that can go wrong: Bad weather! Pilot error! But the risk of dying on a U.S. airline flight declined by 83 percent from 1998 to 2008.

Bird Flu

The Risk Factor: Even lower.
The Stats: Less than 1 percent of people worldwide have contracted bird flu in the past ten years.
The Facts: A snapshot of the ideal candidate for the current strain of avian flu (H7N9): She lives in China, and she's had direct or indirect contact with the secretions of infected poultry or a surface contaminated by those secretions. Is this you? Thought not. Only one case of this strain has been reported as being transmitted through human-to-human contact. The majority of people got it directly from bad poultry, but not by eating it; the virus is killed if poultry is cooked properly. "Even if an infected person boarded a plane right now and landed in the United States, the chance of the virus's spreading is small," says Gregory Härtl of the World Health Organization.

North Korean Nukes

The Risk Factor: Super low.
The Stats: No one can say for sure if or when a nuclear attack may happen— but keep reading...
The Facts: North Korea has been threatening to develop WMDs since the mid-1990s, and, yes, it does have nuclear weapons (between four and eight, according to The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation). But though Kim Jong-un talks tough, this is not a Cold War Superpower Standoff like the one that scared your pants off in the '80s. Here's why: North Korea doesn't have missile technology capable of carrying nuclear warheads all the way to the United States. To deploy a nuclear weapon, you need a delivery system; without one—well, imagine trying to hit a homer without a bat.


The Risk Factor: How low can you go?
The Stats: You have a 1 in 75 million chance of getting killed by a falling asteroid this year.
The Facts: Space rocks the size of basketballs enter our atmosphere every day, but they burn up well before they reach the ground, says Donald Yeomans, PhD, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program. House-size meteorites (like the one that hit Russia in February) do strike Earth, on average, once every 100 years, but NASA keeps close watch on the roughly 1,000 known asteroids big enough to do serious, Deep Impact–like damage. And objects that big make contact approximately once every, oh, 700,000 years.

Superbugs: Super-Unlikely

Recent headlines may lead you to believe that superbugs are taking over the world. But infections for which there are few treatment options, or none, are quite rare, says Arjun Srinivasan, MD, associate director for the CDC's Healthcare Associated Infection Prevention Programs. Bacteria such as CRE (a dangerous strain that's extremely resistant to drugs) are mostly confined to hospitals, where the high concentration of patients who depend on antibiotics creates an ideal scenario for potent bacteria to breed and spread; last year, less than 5 percent of U.S. hospitals reported cases of CRE. The FDA has formed a task force to facilitate a crop of new antibiotics, and thanks in large part to greater awareness, the prescribing rate has fallen 17 percent since 1999. You can also help (listen up, hypochondriacs): The fewer unnecessary antibiotics you take, the harder it is for bacteria to develop resistance.

More on Overcoming Fear


Next Story