If you’re going to have nightmares about a deadly animal on the prowl out for blood, your blood, it shouldn’t be a shark or an alligator causing you to wake up in a sweat; it should be a mosquito. Yes, that tiny, blood-sucking pest that can ruin a backyard barbecue, or an otherwise lovely sunset stroll on the beach, is the world’s deadliest animal.
According to the World Health Organization, “Of all disease-transmitting insects, the mosquito is the greatest menace — spreading malaria, dengue and yellow fever, which together are responsible for several million deaths and hundreds of millions of cases every year.”
In comparison, the International Shark Attack File confirmed 88 unprovoked shark attacks on humans worldwide in 2017, with only five fatalities; and your odds of being seriously injured in an unprovoked gator attack are greater than 2-million-to-1.
The United States is home to many mosquito species that can transmit viruses that cause infectious diseases including Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the deaths of 121 Americans from West Nile virus, which is typically transmitted to humans by mosquitoes that have fed on an infected bird. In 2016, the CDC reported seven cases of eastern equine encephalitis, three of them fatal.
World Mosquito Day
The notorious mosquito even has its own holiday: World Mosquito Day, observed annually on Aug. 20. The holiday commemorates the date in 1897 when British doctor and Nobel Prize winner Sir Ronald Ross proved that female mosquitoes transmit malaria. It’s also a day to raise awareness about mosquito-borne illnesses and prevention.
Do’s and Don’ts to avoid mosquito bites
By now you probably know what you should do to avoid mosquito bites:
• Cover up when you’re outside – wear long pants and long sleeves.
• Use repellent on bare skin and clothing.
• Drain standing water. Mosquitos can breed in amounts of water as small as a bottle cap.
But do you know what you should not do to avoid mosquito bites? Here are three no-nos, according to Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease specialist at Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, who once contracted dengue during her travels as a Navy doctor and whose work often takes her to areas around the world infested with mosquitoes and diseases like malaria.
1. Don’t drink beer around mosquitos. Drinking beer makes you more attractive to mosquitos. Researchers believe the pests are attracted to odor and breath changes caused by alcohol.
2. Don’t swat wildly. Everyone does it, but studies show this can actually double the number of mosquitos attracted to you.
3. Don’t forget your deodorant. Mosquitos are attracted to stinky bacteria on your skin.