Which animal kills over 725,000 people a year? The answer is not snakes, sharks, canines, or the deadliest mammal – humans. It is mosquitoes. The number of people killed by mosquitoes every year is astounding. In fact, according to information published today by Bill Gates, mosquitoes kill more people worldwide in a given year than all other mammals, insects, and reptiles combined. Gates has declared this week, April 28 to May 2, Mosquito Week in his blog to raise awareness about the deadly insects.
Gates – yes, that Bill Gates – is using his blog and fame as the founder of Microsoft to draw attention to the tiny insect and the carnage it leaves in its wake. Known for his philanthropic efforts and addressing issues impacting developing countries, Gates believes that “Mosquito Week” should be adopted by the mainstream, much like “Shark Week.” “Considering their impact, you might expect mosquitoes to get more attention than they do,” Gates commented, noting that sharks only kill about a dozen people a year and get a lot of attention, but mosquitoes should get more. Toward that end, he is devoting his blog this week to a series of articles to educate about mosquitos. There will be posts about the threats they carry, and efforts to mitigate the deadly risks they spread.
There are few animals as hated as mosquitoes. Their itchy bites have ruined many a hike. However, in parts of the world, they have ruined many a life. As Gates noted, their name sounds innocuous – Spanish for “little fly” – but they are truly dangerous. To be fair to the insects, the “killing” they do is done by infections they spread from infected animals to non-infected ones. The problem is that they are very good at spreading those infections in parts of the world least equipped to handle them.
Besides being a nuisance, mosquitoes are clearly the number one public enemy in the global fight against infectious disease. Mosquito-borne diseases cause an estimated 700,000 to one million deaths globally every year, including a disproportionate number of children and elderly in developing countries.
While they spread encephalitis, dengue fever, yellow fever, West Nile virus and other diseases, malaria is the deadliest disease mosquitoes carry. In 2012, malaria killed approximately 627,000 people and made 200 million ill.
Eradicating malaria is a top priority for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which committed $2 billion to the effort, according to their Web site. Malaria is found in nearly 100 countries, and takes a huge social and economic toll in developing countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.
Mosquitoes are found in every part the world except Antarctica, and outnumber every other animal, except for termites and ants. There are approximately 3,000 species of mosquitoes, but primary responsibility for the spread of human diseases is only attributed to three types: Anopheles mosquitoes are the malaria carriers. They also spread filariasis (also known as elephantiasis) and encephalitis. Aedes and Culex mosquitoes carry the latter two diseases and all the other deadly types.
While found worldwide, a mosquito requires standing water to complete its life cycle, and does not need a lot of it. The water can range from melted snow to sewage effluent to any beverage container.
Gates will be sharing a variety of Mosquito Week posts articles to raise awareness about this deadly creature all week long. He wants to educate about efforts to combat some of the diseases being spread by mosquitoes, Gates and his wife’s recent travels to South Asia, information on malaria and more. As Gates put it, he cannot promise his posts will be “as exciting as Hammerheads and Great Whites, “ but he hopes to create greater awareness about mosquitoes or, as he put it, “these flying masters of mayhem.”
By Dyanne Weiss