Fan Death

Apparently, there is a widespread belief in South Korea that sleeping all night with a fan blowing directly on a person can be fatal. The Wikipedia entry and Snopes.com entry about fan death are fascinating looks at how easily urban legends gain traction even in contemporary, technological societies.

No other culture appears to regard its electric fans with trepidation, yet the belief that these air circulating devices are capable of killing in their sleep even adult men is rampant among Koreans. It doesn’t help that the Korean media continues to report “fan deaths,” citing this form of demise every time an otherwise healthy-appearing individual is found dead in his bed.

As to how seriously the threat of fan death is taken in South Korea, fan users there are cautioned to always leave a window open to counter the otherwise deadly effects. Korea’s largest fan manufacturing concern, Shinil Industrial Co., issues warnings with its products telling customers to keep fans pointed away from people at night. “This product may cause suffocation or hypothermia,” the warning reads. The Korea Consumer Protection Board advises that “Doors should be left open when sleeping with the electric fan or air conditioner turned on. If bodies are exposed to electric fans or air conditioners for too long, it causes bodies to lose water and hypothermia.” Many fans sold in South Korea are equipped with timers so people don’t fall asleep with the units running all night. Fan death fear is so prevalent that some Korean drivers have made it their practice to open car windows a crack before operating their vehicles’ air conditioners.

This, of course, would never gain traction in the United States where we prefer to believe myths like “water boarding is not torture” or “Lindsey Lohan’s latest escapades are news.”

For the record, I regularly sleep with a fan pointed at me in a closed room and have yet to suffer ill effects for it. On the other hand, I think my cat is trying to suffocate me.

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