Something’s bugging Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. So obsessed is the billionaire philanthropist that he’s dedicated the first week of May to raising awareness to the world’s deadliest creature – the mosquito.
The tiny pests are not as headline-grabbing as people-munching sharks or polar bears, so Gates is shoving ‘skeeters into the spotlight to start a global conversation that will save hundreds of thousands of lives.
“On my recent trip to Indonesia, I got to feed the world’s deadliest animal,” Gates said in a Reddit post where he uploaded a picture of himself offering up a forearm to a boxful of bugs.
Mosquitoes carry an arsenal of devastating diseases including malaria, encephalitis, yellow fever, chikungunya fever, and dengue fever. “The worst is malaria, which kills more than 600,000 people every year; another 200 million cases incapacitate people for days at a time. It threatens half of the world’s population and causes billions of dollars in lost productivity annually,” Gates wrote.
A single bite from an infected mosquito can cause malaria. Occurrence varies throughout the Middle East; many areas are considered to be malaria free, while others have seasonal risks. The tiger mosquito (aedes albopictus), one of the 100 world’s worst invasive species according to the Global Invasive Species Database, originated in Southeast Asia but has spread to the Middle East, Europe, the Americas, the Caribbean, and Africa. They were detected in Israel and Lebanon in 2003, and in Syria two years later .
Mosquitoes serve as “vectors”, transmitting diseases from one human or animal to another. A mosquito bites to get a blood meal, but if the host is infected, the bug gets a side order of virus or parasite. It’s a prime example of commensalism: the virus reproduces inside the mosquito without harming the insect, who later passes the viruses to others.
“Sharks kill fewer than a dozen people every year and in the U.S. they get a week dedicated to them on TV every year. Mosquitoes kill 50,000 times as many people, but if there’s a TV channel that features Mosquito Week, I haven’t heard about it,” blogged Gates, “Considering their impact, you might expect mosquitoes to get more attention than they do.”
If you’re planning a trip and you’re wondering how to protect yourself from vector-borne illness, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travelers’ Health page.
In addition to blogging about the issue, Gates and his wife Melinda are working with health experts to find innovative ways to cure deadly diseases, like the mosquito-borne virus dengue. They’ve committed a quarter billion dollars to the cause – learn more on the Gates Foundation website.
Images from Reddit