The lesser-known hazards of major holidays

Dangers lurking in 4th of July celebrationHolidays, while fun, can carry their own brand of peril. We know about the dangers of driving, but what other hazards can sap the joy out of our celebrations?

New Year's Eve/Day
While some people kiss, ring bells or blow horns to usher in the new year, a few resort to a riskier way of making noise; shooting a gun into the air. According to the Mythbusters, a 9mm bullet fired into the air can climb to a height of 4,000 feet and remain in the air for 37 seconds.

The Centers for Disease Control studied the impact of celebratory gunfire in Puerto Rico in 2003-4 during the New Years holiday. In this two-day period, 19 people were injured by probable celebratory gunfire. Four were hospitalized, and one died. Head wounds were the most common form of injury.

Each year police in major U.S. metropolitan areas field hundreds of calls of reported gunfire on New Years night.

Valentine's Day
Is anything cuter than a young couple on Valentine's Day snuggling, and perhaps sharing that joy with a beloved dog? A couple of factors suggest this picture is anything but cute.

Snuggling and influenza are best friends, and statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show that February is the peak of the flu season. That kiss you receive could be a gift that keeps on giving in aches, chills and a general "I wish I could die" malaise.

Valentine's Day is also fraught with danger for your pooch. We all know that chocolate in quantity is poisonous to dogs, but some flowers such as Calla lilies can also be tantalizing and deadly. Fancy present wrappings can also tempt a dog looking for something to gnaw on, and could get twisted in the digestive system.

Easter is a particularly dangerous holiday -- if you're a baby rabbit. According to the House Rabbit Society, thousands of rabbits are abandoned in the wild shortly after Easter each year, where they have a three-day life expectancy.

Few people who give a bunny on a lark for Easter realize that these pets can have a ten-year life span and require the same kind of care as a dog or cat. The Humane Society points out that they are more frail than cats and dogs, as well, and don't make good pets for young children. The best bet on Easter is to follow the Society's request to "Make Mine Chocolate."

Memorial Day

For many, this is time of the year when they begin taking part in softball or volleyball, bicycling, canoeing, horseback riding, ATV riding, and other activities that strain a body that did nothing all winter but punch the remote. The result? Sports injuries.

The Centers for Disease Control found that, among males, the most hazardous activities are
  1. Basketball
  2. Bicycling
  3. Football
  4. Exercise
  5. Baseball
  6. Playground
  7. Soccer
  8. Skateboarding
For females, they are
  1. Bicycling
  2. Basketball
  3. Playground
  4. Exercise
  5. Gymnastics
  6. Soccer
  7. Softball
  8. Horseback riding
In many parts of the U.S., Memorial Day also marks the opening of swimming pools and lakes. In the U.S. in 2007, 3,443 people drowned while swimming, an average of almost ten people a day, while 496 more died in boating-related drownings. Men are 3.7 times more likely than women to die by drowning.

Young children 1-4 years of age are particularly at risk. Of those who died in 2007 from an unintentional injury, a full 30% drowned.

4th of July, Independence Day
The dangers of fireworks goes way beyond risking a hand by holding a cherry bomb. In 2008, the National Fire Prevention Association estimated that 22,500 reported fires were due to fireworks, resulting in one death, 40 injuries and $42 million of property damage. Emergency rooms in the U.S. treated an estimated 7,000 fireworks-related injuries that year. Sparklers and similar products accounted for almost a third of these emergency room visits.

Fireworks are hazardous to more than just the humans that enjoy them, too. Your dogs and cats can be traumatized, especially dogs that thoughtless people drag along with them to the display. Even wild birds suffer from a fireworks display.

Many of us head to state or national parks for a 4th of July camp-out. Unfortunately, this is the height of the poison ivy season, and many of us return with painful, gross outbreaks of blistered skin from brushing against one these plants, which produce the urushiol oil that causes this allergic reaction. It grows everywhere in the continental U.S. except deserts and western high elevations. Poison sumac is much more rare, growing only in very wet areas in the eastern U.S.

You don't even have to come in contact with these plants. If a fool throws some leaves on the fire, the smoke could contain the oil, and breathing it in could seriously damage you and your holiday plans. The oil is very stable and very difficult to scrub off your skin, although there are a number of poison ivy soaps on the market.

For poison ivy, remember the adage, "Leaves of three, let it be." To avoid poison sumac, stay out of swamps.

Labor Day
Keep a close eye on your kids around this holiday, too. A recent study that appeared in Pediatrics magazine found that the five days around this holiday produced the greatest number of injuries for children that resulted in emergency room visits. The majority of these were caused by sport or other recreation activities, or by home structures and furnishings. Children under 5 are at the most risk. The study didn't determine just why Labor Day is more risky, but this would be a good time to look over your house and property and take care of attractive nuisances and things that could topple your toddler.

Labor Day is traditionally the last big picnic holiday of the year. Love that picnic potato salad? It carries a risk. According to the National Institutes of Health, each year 76 million U.S. residents get sick from food contamination; bacteria, viruses and parasites. Symptoms include tummy upset, the runs, nausea, fever, cramping, and worse.

The reason? We fail to keep hot dishes hot and cold dishes cold (40 degrees or less). Given the wealth of options we have today, from car refrigerators and vacuum-insulated jugs and coolers to portable heat sources, there's really no excuse for inadvertently culturing sick-making bacteria.

Also be vigilant about keeping utensils that have touched raw meat from touching the cooked meat. Think about those tongs and forks used on the grill.

Think of danger and Halloween and the first thing that probably pops into your mind is needles or razor blades in candy or fruit, or poisoned treats. There's a reason parents have their children's loot x-rayed. Fortunately, according to Intellihealth, such instances are extremely rare, although, according to the debunking site, urban legends abound.

The real danger on Halloween is pedestrian. Combine young children, candy, vision-compromising costumes and twilight and you have a recipe for disaster. According to the CDC, four times more pedestrians are killed in the street on Halloween night than any other night of the year. Statistics are not available about how many more collisions take place in driveways and parking lots.

A danger or joy, depending on your perspective -- August sees the most baby births in the U.S., and August babies are mostly conceived nine months before, around Thanksgiving.

The season of giving is no time to let down your safety guard, because there are dangers just waiting to give you a broken leg or worse.

Are you one who loves to festoon your house with lights and icicles? Beware. A CDC study from 2000-2003 found that almost 17,500 people were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for falls suffered while holiday decorating. Combine wet or icy conditions, ladders, darkness and perhaps a little libation and you have a recipe to go flying without a parachute.

In another study, the CDC found that most home fires occurred during December to March, and was the second-leading cause of death among kids 1-9 years of age. Remember the electrical lights you put on your house and/or your tree? 40,000 fires covered in the study started with electrical-distribution problems. Do you build a cozy fire in a fireplace that you don't use the rest of the year? 26,200 started this way. Do you heat up the place with a kerosene or electric portable heater? 1,500 fires started that way.

Many of us also like to bring some real greenery in for Christmas decorations. Those too can be a problem. While mistletoe and poinsettias are commonly thought to be poisonous, a nibble by a pet or young child isn't life-threatening, according to the California Poison Control System. Swallowing more than one or two holly berries can bring about nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, though; the same with mistletoe.

Far more sobering statistics are the CDC's 33,300: the number of people in the U.S. that committed suicide in 2006, or 594,000, the number of people that visited the ER for a self-inflicted injury. Contrary to popular belief, however, a 1995 Mayo Clinic research report found no evidence in its study of local suicide victims that holidays played any role in this tragic decision.

So which holiday is most dangerous, traffic accidents excepted?
Each holiday has its own challenges. Weather, tradition, and human behavior all play a role in the dangers of the season. In 2008, more Americans (231,000) died in March than any other month, while the fewest passed on in September (186,000). In general, the winter months are far more deadly.

And there are many more factors we haven't really considered. Bingeing on food could be hazardous. Bachelor parties could threaten your health. Skiing season breaks more than a few legs, and sledding injuries are common. How about sun stroke? Water skiing injuries? Bee stings? Surfing injuries? Exposure to pollution?

Also read Most dangerous holidays for hitting the road
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