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Mosquitos: what to do about our biggest killer

Last updated on September 21, 2019

e are at war with the mosquito. A swarming and consuming army of 110tn enemy mosquitoes patrols every inch of the globe except for Antarctica, Iceland and a handful of French Polynesian micro-islands.

The biting female warrior of this droning insect population is armed with at least 15 lethal and debilitating biological weapons, to be used against 7.7 billion humans deploying suspect and often self-detrimental defensive capabilities. In fact, our defence budget for personal shields, sprays and other means of deterring her unrelenting raids is $11bn (£8.8bn) a year, and rising rapidly.

And yet her deadly offensive campaigns and crimes against humanity continue with reckless abandon. While our counterattacks are reducing the number of casualties she perpetrates – malaria deaths in particular are declining rapidly – the mosquito remains the deadliest hunter of human beings on the planet.

Taking a broad range of estimates into account, since 2000, the average annual number of human deaths caused by the mosquito was around 2 million. Humans came in a distant second at 475,000, followed by snakes (50,000), dogs and sandflies (25,000 each), the tsetse fly, and the assassin or kissing bug (10,000 each). The fierce killers of lore and Hollywood celebrity were much further down our list.

The crocodile was ranked 10th, with 1,000 annual deaths. Next on the list were hippos with 500, and elephants and lions with 100 fatalities each. The much-slandered shark and wolf shared 15th position, killing an average of 10 people per annum.

Yet the mosquito does not directly harm anyone. It is the toxic and highly evolved diseases she transmits that cause an endless barrage of desolation and death. Without her, however, these sinister pathogens could not be transferred or vectored to humans, nor could they continue their cyclical contagion. In fact, without her, these diseases would not exist at all.

Our immune systems are finely tuned to our local environments. Mosquitoes do not respect international borders. Marching armies, inquisitive explorers and land-hungry colonists brought new diseases to distant lands, but were also brought to their knees by micro-organisms in the foreign lands they intended to conquer. As the mosquito transformed the landscapes of civilisation, humans were unwittingly required to respond to her universal projection of power. After all, the truth is that, more than any other external participant, the mosquito, as our deadliest predator, drove the events of human history to create our present reality.

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