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death

KN, p.185 “Is the mouse dead yet?”

 

It’s been a very wet year. We have lived through a hurricane, flooding, high water levels, squishy lawns, damp/wet cellars, and fewer sunny days during the summer than I can ever remember from the past. That leads to outdoor creatures being flooded out of their nooks and crannies below the ground and in the woods. Mice and most snakes and insects don’t like wet feet any more than humans do, so they tend to go to places like houses and barns to dry out.

 

Not long ago, Sheila had a late evening craving for a cup of tea, went to the kitchen and turned on the overhead light.

 

And saw a mouse racing toward the stove along the top of the half-inch wide backsplash.

 

Then screamed that horrible, deep-throated scream that always makes me think that Freddy Krueger is headed our way with a meat cleaver.

 

After the screaming and barking stopped – I’m not admitting to more than one person screaming – we did the snap mousetrap bit, but he was smarter than we were. He knew what we were up to – or else he just didn’t like our goodies. Almond butter? Bird seed? Bits of fruit? Cheese? Nope, not a nibble. Placing poison inside the house was not an option because of Hammett, our wonderful Irish Setter.

 

We finally called the Killer Elite Squad – the exterminators. They came, they saw, and did things under the house. We wanted the furry creature gone or at least chased back to his old home in the woods. The plumber came and plugged up holes under the house. The electrician came and closed up gaps near a socket in the garage. Mission hopefully accomplished.

 

We haven’t seen the invader since and Sheila has finally returned to the kitchen after a week of carefully avoiding that scary room. Hammett has snuffled at the doorway. Big sigh of relief here. I can cook, but only to survive, and take-out dinner from a limited selection of restaurants every night is not as exciting as you might first imagine.

 

Part of the solution under the house involved poison and it made me think about the consequences of it getting into conniving, possibly murderous  hands. Mice and humans are both mammals, after all, and what is lethal for one might also be deadly for the other in the right quantities. Rodent poison is readily available to anyone, sitting on grocery, hardware, and big box store shelves alike. Bonus? There is a perfectly good reason to buy it. Who would suspect anything devious behind the simple purchase of a couple of boxes of the stuff, especially this time of year?

 

Why does it work? The main ingredient, brodifacoum, causes blood to stop coagulating. Brodifacoum causes death in mice by thinning their blood so much that they hemorrhage. Death is not immediate, so they crawl away or return to eat more of the stuff, oblivious to its harmful effect.

 

In theory, mouse poison could kill a person if administered in enough quantity over a period of time, also causing them to hemorrhage. But, in all honesty, the flu-like symptoms of nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, etc. would send you to the doctor long before death could occur, especially if the symptoms worsen. Who would want to deal with that any longer than necessary? Plus, the amount needed to do in a grownup is considerable. And there is an easy antidote – vitamin K – which acts as speedy coagulant.

 

Poisons are used in books and other media to get rid of victims all the time, but is feeding rat poison to the potential victim a method that is used outside the entertainment industry?

 

It turns out that about ten years ago in real-life, a disturbed teenager from the Midwest decided to make his family sick, a little at a time. He mixed the poison in with their food over several weeks until they finally realized that they were getting lots worse, with numerous bouts of painful symptoms. A doctor visit revealed the truth.

 

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2005/01/can_mouse_poison_kill_you.html

 

At this point I usually say that no bodies were found while researching and/or writing this post. Maybe not this time, but if you hear screaming in the future, I promise you: There will be. Of the furry kind.

 

*Photo credit? PestWorld.org. Sheila was too busy screaming to take a photo.  😉

The Kerrians are fictional characters, but the mouse debacle really happened.

 

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KN, p. 182 “Deadly Poisons in the Animal Kingdom”

 

Have you ever been bitten by an insect? How about a snake? Or a frog? Or a snail? I’ll take a fire ant bite over the bites of some of the animals in this article any day.

 

I would bet that most of you have endured the after effects of a mosquito bite – the itchiness, the redness, the swelling, but rarely does anyone die from it. There are nasty diseases that a mosquito can carry – i.e., Malaria and the Zika virus – but the everyday, backyard variety generally just delivers an annoying couple of days of discomfort. We can’t tell the difference by just looking at them as they dive at us, so we use insect repellent to ward them off. There are couple of great products that golfers use to keep pesky gnats, horse flies, and skeeters away, but, there is no magic spray that works to chase away the deadliest animals that co-exist with us on the planet. We have to rely on treatment after the fact, or the best idea of all: avoidance.

 

Here are ten of the worst:

Some animals have developed neurotoxins to dispatch their victims. The worst spider in the world is found in Australia – just in Sydney, to be exact. The Sydney Funnel Web Spider can kill a human or a monkey within 15 minutes. Apparently, no other animal is susceptible to the poison. There is an anti-venom, but you’d have to be really close to the hospital to get treated in time.

 

The South African Spitting Scorpion uses three neurotoxins to protect itself – one to stun, one to paralyze and one to kill. It spits the lightest dose when chasing the victim away, but it only needs a billionth of a gram of the deadly dose to kill a small animal. Death is not pleasant, with tremors and convulsions that go on even after death.

 

The Lonomia Caterpillar is responsible for over 500 deaths in the past twenty years and kills by causing hemorrhaging near the site of the bite. The victim’s blood no longer clots and this condition spreads as the body tries to cope. Scientists don’t yet know the composition of all the toxins involved.

 

Unlike other poisonous animals, the Poison Dart Frog creates its toxin from its diet. Scientists have discovered that in captivity, the frog is rendered harmless by changing its diet. That means that even if the frogs in my photo above had escaped, they would have hopped around, doing no damage to me at all if they had touched me. Good thing, because one little wild frog from Central or South America has enough toxin to kill about ten fully adult humans. Hop, hop, hopping about, enticing us to touch its pretty skin, doing its worst by causing heart attacks.

 

The famed Puffer Fish carries a neurotoxin that is 100 times deadlier than potassium cyanide. What may not as widely known is that same toxin can zap you if you touch certain varieties of sea snails as well as the blue ringed octopus, a small but nasty bit of sea life. Contact with one of these unfriendly sorts can cause blindness, paralysis, and/or death. And while the Marbled Cone Snail may be gorgeous to look at, there is no known antidote for a strong enough dose of its venom. I’ve never been a strong ocean swimmer, but when I stick my toe in a wave at the shore, I expect to be alive afterward, pretty sea snails or not. Maybe I’ll forgo the next snorkeling trip.  😉

http://listverse.com/2012/12/26/10-animal-poisons-with-amazingly-specific-purposes/

 

The Inland Taipan is among the deadliest snakes on Earth. Anybody that gets bitten by one of these can die within 45 minutes. It’s an Australian snake and there is anti-venom for the bite, but I wouldn’t want to count on getting back to civilization in time to get the treatment. If I was a snake handler Down Under or if I lived in the Outback, I’d think seriously about keeping a vial of the remedy on hand.

 

The King Cobra can strike fear into the heart of anyone that gets within spitting distance. Just a 1/4 ounce of its venom (about 7 ml) can kill a full grown elephant within minutes. To put that into perspective – about twenty grown men could die from that same 1/4 ounce dose. The good news is that unless you’re traveling to India or China, or the local zoo lets one escape, you’re safe.

 

Several varieties of Jellyfish can deliver stings that cause a great deal of pain and sometimes death. They are physically brainless, but their make-up is all about survival. Tentacles can be anywhere from less than an inch (the translucent Irukandji) up to ten feet long (the Portuguese Man O War). They are found in oceans all over the world, can be almost invisible or quite colorful (the Sea Nettle found near the Chesapeake Bay in the USA). My advice? If you see one, swim away as fast as you can.

http://www.conservationinstitute.org/7-deadliest-poisonous-jellyfish-world/

 

If you’re using the information in a book you’re writing, choose your poison source carefully. Somebody has to gather that poison before it can be injected or mixed with food. Will it be the villain or someone she/he hires?  There are medical uses for some of the neurotoxins – those can be purchased legally with the proper credentials. On the other hand, snake venom is not easy to collect, and somebody might actually have to catch the snake first.  Snake bags anyone?

 

Do you have a favorite villain in literature that has used a rare animal-based poison to do his/her evil work? Please share in the comments below.  🙂

 

 

*Photo credits:

Poison Dart Frog & Jellyfish – Patti Phillips

Puffer Fish – ListVerse

 

 

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KN, p. 174 “Death by Swimming Pool”

 

Pool-JWWaterVolleyball copy

Sheila and I watched a British TV show the other night that included a ‘death-by-drowning’ scene. The wrong person wound up dead in the pool in this mystery because of an identity mix-up. By coincidence, the very next night, an old movie featured the same cause of death. We began to wonder how often death by drowning actually occurs.

 

While no stats were available specifically concerning murders caused by drowning, the general answer is that an average of about 10 drowning deaths happen every single day in the USA. It’s actually a huge problem worldwide, not just here, and is among the top five reasons for deaths. A 2014 report from the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that about 372,000 people died in 2012 from drowning. This number excluded deaths by vessels capsizing, natural disasters, or intentional drowning deaths (suicide or homicide).

 

http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/global_report_drowning/Final_report_full_web.pdf

 

Surprising as that number might be, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the USA lists an additional alarming fact – that nearly 20% of the people who die from drowning in the USA are under 14 years old. Similar information exists for the global stats cited by WHO. Plus, for every child that dies, there are several others who have to get treated for their injuries in the water.

 

But before you jump to the conclusion that the injuries are all happening at home pools in the USA, think again. About 47% of those who had to get treated were swimming at a home pool, but a full 27% of the swimming injuries happened at a public watering hole.

 

Then there are the drowning deaths, still accidental, but pushing the limits of that definition. A recent story in the news involving a controversial SEAL training death points to a seemingly universal opinion that we are indestructible, that swimming is at best a risky enterprise, but that people in good shape can survive with less oxygen getting into their lungs on a regular basis. Hmmm… not true. Even great swimmers get tired and can drown.

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/navy-seal-trainee-s-drowning-death-ruled-homicide-n604566

 

 

Lots of private pool owners swim alone. Why not? The pool beckons on a hot day and it’s a relaxing way to cool off. But, what if you are tired at the end of a work day, and slip on the edge of the pool, knock your head on the way in and… if you are alone, nobody is there to pull you out of the water or to call 911.

 

That may be what happened to a guy who was found floating in his pool back in April.

http://www.click2houston.com/news/crews-responding-to-drowning-in-spring

 

 

So, what can you do to stay safe in the water?

 

  1. Don’t swim alone.
  2. Make sure that your children know how to swim.
  3. Don’t allow your children to swim unless there is an adult with a phone present.
  4. If you have a pool, fence in your yard.
  5. Be aware of ocean water dangers – undertows, etc
  6. Wear a lifejacket when boating on a lake or in the ocean.

 

 

For other water safety measures see:

http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Drowning-Swimming-Drown-Water-Pool-Beach-15-Things-You-Need-to-Know-This-Summer-about-the-Fifth-Leading-Cause-of-Death–263491391.html

 

 

For more information on this subject go to:

 

http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6234a9.htm

 

 

http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html

 

 Above all, stay safe in and near the water.

 

*Photo by Jennifer Worley

 

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