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The Animal That Kills the Most People Every Year

Mosquito kills the most people every year.
Mosquito kills the most people every year. Credit: Vaccines at Sanofi / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the most dangerous animal on the planet is actually the mosquito. This tiny insect may seem harmless, but it is responsible for taking the lives of up to over a million people each year, as estimated by some experts.

Mosquitos Responsible For Diseases Killing Most People

Malaria is an illness caused by tiny, single-celled organisms known as Plasmodium, which are spread from person to person by Anopheles mosquitoes.

Although this disease is not common in North America or Europe, it is prevalent in regions of Africa, southern Asia, and South America. In 2021, malaria resulted in approximately 619,000 deaths across the world, according to WHO.

Although accessible healthcare can often treat the disease, it can be life-threatening for certain groups of people, such as young children, pregnant individuals, and those with weakened immune systems, including HIV/AIDS patients. The WHO states that around 80% of all malaria-related deaths in Africa occur in children under the age of five.

Aside from malaria, mosquitoes transmit a variety of other illnesses, including dengue, West Nile virus, Zika virus, chikungunya, and the parasitic infection lymphatic filariasis.

What makes mosquitoes so effective at spreading diseases?

One reason is that female mosquitoes feed on blood, allowing them to easily transfer pathogens from one person’s bloodstream to another. Their small size and ability to fly also allow them to bite people unnoticed. Additionally, since both mosquitoes and humans rely on water to survive, they often coexist in the same habitats.

Prevention Strategy Against Mosquitoes

Despite the risks posed by mosquito-borne illnesses, there are ways to minimize these dangers. Even minor infrastructure improvements can have a significant impact. For instance, window screens can keep mosquitoes from entering homes, and proper plumbing can prevent the accumulation of water in open pools.

Shannon LaDeau, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook pointed out that better infrastructure in certain parts of the world is why malaria isn’t as prevalent as it is in other regions.

In places where these measures aren’t as common, mosquito nets can be used to prevent these insects from coming into contact with people while they sleep. These preventive measures can also help protect against other mosquito-borne illnesses, like dengue, which is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths each year.

Unfortunately, public health initiatives aimed at mosquito-borne diseases are becoming more challenging in the face of climate change.

As temperatures rise, these illnesses could begin to spread into new areas where they haven’t previously been prevalent, thanks to the emergence of more hospitable environments for the pathogens and mosquitoes that carry them, cautioned Andy MacDonald, a disease ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Other Creatures Lethal to Humans

Although mosquitoes are known for spreading deadly diseases, they are not the only animals that pose a significant threat to humans.

Snakes are responsible for between 81,000 and 138,000 deaths each year, making them one of the most lethal creatures to humans, as reported by the WHO. Rabies, a disease transmitted through bites from infected mammals, most commonly dogs, results in around 59,000 fatalities per year.

Other animals, such as freshwater bugs, can also transmit fatal diseases like schistosomiasis and Chagas disease, each causing thousands of deaths annually, according to the WHO.

However, there is only one animal that rivals mosquitoes for the title of the deadliest creature to humans. According to a United Nations report, homicides and armed conflicts resulted in approximately 553,000 deaths in 2017, indicating that humans themselves are one of the most deadly creatures on Earth.

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