Bill Gates is on a mission to save as many human lives as possible from the world’s most lethal creature. No, he isn’t trying to protect people from ferocious sharks and wolves that only claim 10 human lives per year each. And his focus isn’t on ending human-to-human violence, even though we do come in second place, causing 475,000 deaths per year.
The world’s most dangerous serial killer is much smaller than a human. Their bites are itchy and irritating. Your best defense against them on a hot, summer night is a tent, but that doesn’t do much to drown out the constant buzz of their wings.
The most feared predator is the murdering mosquito. In an average year, mosquitoes will have killed 725,000 people, most of them children and the elderly. Just recently, mosquito-borne viruses have been making their way to the Dominican Republic; they’ve reported 3,500 possible cases of the chikungunya virus.
Mosquitoes might not be as sexy as sharks, but they sure are more lethal. While we’ve coexisted with mosquitoes for tens of thousands of years, we don’t know everything there is to know about them. Here are a few highlights from Mosquito Week.
Mosquitoes and Malaria
Many mosquito-related deaths are a result of malaria. While most of us are aware that malaria is dangerous, we are probably unaware about what malaria feels like. During Mosquito Week, Gates shed light on what malaria feels like by those affected. In one harrowing account, the lightning like pain consumed the person to the point that they believed that their death was near. The patient described it as being repeatedly shocked with an electric shotgun. The feeling of jolts of electricity only intensified the worst possible headaches, chills and body pain.
If malaria doesn’t kill a person, then it will probably leave them too sick to continue working and supporting their families. The world’s poor can’t afford not to work. Unfortunately, malaria disproportionately affects the poorest of the poor. It’s not just a regional disease. While malaria is common throughout Africa, it isn’t prevalent in the northern and southern hemispheres of the continent; both hemispheres also happen to be the richest areas in Africa.
Despite being around for thousands of years, malaria hasn’t successfully been eradicated. They are pretty smart creatures and so are the strains of malaria; the virus is incredibly drug-resistant. Luckily, new technologies, like Dr. Prosper Chaki’s biological insecticide, are being introduced everyday to mitigate the virus.
Mosquitoes‘ Damaging Dengue
Mosquitoes also expose humans to the dengue virus that they carry. Dengue causes severe illness, usually in children, and it can even cause death. A recent case of dengue was even found in Florida, and close to half of the world is at risk of contracting the virus.
Fortunately, there are recent medical advances in fighting dengue. Scientists believe that the Wolbachia bacterium “can block the transmission of dengue by mosquitoes.” While it’s not always a naturally occurring bacterium, scientists have found ways to inject the bacterium in mosquitoes.
The researchers hope that by breeding and releasing a colony of mosquitoes with the Wolbachia bacterium into the wild, the Wolbachia carrying mosquitoes will breed with wild mosquitoes. Hopefully the introduction of the bacterium will “curb” the dengue virus.
Learn as much as you can about mosquitoes because we help them get the number one spot as the world’s most lethal creature. The irony is that while mosquitoes may only travel a few kilometers, we do most of the legwork for them. Planes, trains, ships and cars make us the perfect host carriers.
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