If someone asked you what the most dangerous animal in the world is, what would your guess be? Sharks? Crocodiles? Some other creature with big, scary, core-crushing teeth?
Well, believe it or not, but the deadliest animal in the world is also one of the smallest.
Yep, the mere mosquito trumps any other creature in the killing department by a country mile. Accounting for over 700,000 deaths a year, the next biggest killers after the mosquito are humans, with 475,000 deaths, and snakes, who sit on 50,000 - a fractional figure when compared to the mosquito.
The reason mosquitoes are so deadly is the range of viruses they carry and subsequently spread to humans, horses, dogs and other animals. Here's a quick rundown of the 6 most concerning mosquito-borne infections that humans are at risk of.
Malaria is by far the most devastating virus carried by mosquitoes. The World Health Organisation estimates that 438,000 people died of malaria in 2015, most of them being young children in Africa. While malaria isn't considered a major threat in western countries such as Canada, it's a major concern for travellers visiting Africa and South Asia.
Fever is a major symptom of malaria, which includes shaking chills, aching muscles, tiredness, headaches and nausea. Symptoms usually occur within 10-28 days of being bitten by a malaria-carrying mosquito. Due to the loss of red blood cells, a malaria infection can result in kidney failure, seizure, coma, or death if not treated promptly.
West Nile Virus
West Nile Virus was first identified in the West Nile region of Uganda in 1937, but has attracted greater attention from Western countries in recent years. In 2012, the US had one its worst WNV epidemics, with 286 infected people dying of the virus.
West Nile is known to cause a fatal neurological disease in humans. The biggest concern when it comes to West Nile is the fact that 80% of infections in humans show no symptoms, making it incredibly difficult to diagnose. With no vaccine currently available for humans, the best way to reduce risk of contracting West Nile is mosquito control.
Probably the most talked about mosquito-borne disease right now is the Zika virus, due to a recent outbreak in Brazil. The virus causes Zika fever, an illness which carries little to no symptoms. Symptoms (which include fever, red eyes, joint pain and rash) generally last less than a week.
Zika is spread by the Aedes mosquito and can also be sexually transmitted by a man. Much of the attention Zika has drawn is due to the fact that it causes microcephaly; a skull deformation in babies. Infected pregnant women can spread the infection to their baby, resulting in an underdeveloped brain and a smaller than normal head.
Dengue is a virus carried by mosquitoes, and has been a global problem since World War 2. Dengue is more common in tropical climates such as South East Asia and Latin American countries, and results in around 10,000 deaths a year. Symptoms generally begin within 2 weeks of infection and can include a high fever, vomiting, muscle and joint pains, and a characteristic skin rash.
Although a vaccine for dengue has been approved in three countries, it isn't commerically available yet.
Causing around 200,000 infections and 30,000 deaths each year, Yellow Fever is most common in Africa, with 90% of infections occuring in African countries. Symptoms include fever, chills, a loss of appetite, headaches and muscle pains, particularly in the back. These symptoms typically improve within 5 days, but in cases where the fever comes back and the infected person enters the 'toxic phase', liver damage begins to occur. This liver damage results in jaundice; a yellowing of skin.
Fortunately, there is an extremely effective vaccine for Yellow Fever, however like many mosquito-borne infections, it's difficult to diagnose in the early stages.
Most commonly found in the Caribbean, Chikungunya is a virus characterized by joint pains which can last much longer than the fever itself, which generally lasts for less than a week. With a low mortality rate, the best prevention for chikungunya is removing water-bearing containers and reducing breeding areas for mosquitoes.