Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Deadliest weapons and causes of death

There's an apocryphal story in the international public health sphere about the time someone tried to figure out total mortality in Africa in any given year.  Apparently they went through the newsletters/press releases of  charities dedicated to various diseases, and found that if you added all the "x number of people die every year" numbers up, everyone in Africa died every year.  Twice.

While there's likely some data inflation there, the other explanation is that it's really hard to classify causes of death (I've covered some of this before).  Even with infectious disease, this can be tricky.  If an HIV positive person contracts tuberculosis and dies, do they go under HIV mortality, or tuberculosis?  If malnutrition leaves on susceptible to other infections, what's the real cause of death?  How about a bad water supply that carries ringworm?

I bring this up because I saw a fascinating stat today over at the New Yorker (via Farnam St):

What Is The Most Effective Killing Machine Man Has Ever Seen?Mosquitoes.
There has never been a more effective killing machine. Researchers estimate that mosquitoes have been responsible for half the deaths in human history.Malaria accounts for much of the mortality, but mosquitoes also transmit scores of other potentially fatal infections, including yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungyunga, lymphatic filariasis, Rift Valley fever, West Nile fever, and several types of encephalitis. Despite our technical sophistication, mosquitoes pose a greater risk to a larger number of people today than ever before. Like most other pathogens, the ciruses and parasites borne by mosquitoes evole rapidly to resist pesticides and drugs.
via “The Mosquito Solution,” ($$$) The New Yorker, July 9 & 16, 2012, p. 40
Definitely made me a bit nervous, especially since it seems malaria, etc would actually be some of the more accurately counted causes of death.  So, um, take care of yourselves this summer, okay?


  1. The British used quinine water in India to ward off malaria. For over 20 years now I’ve made a point of drinking at least a quart of tonic water over the course of each week (contains quinine). And you know what? It’s protected me from malaria all these years. I order tonic water and lime on plane trips instead of a coke and I’ve never gotten Malaria on a plane either.

  2. Great, first you ruin info-graphics for me, and now the out doors.

  3. Your grandfather has complained about having filariasis for years. Says he picked it up during his tour of duty in the South Pacific during WWII. But he's still alive and kicking at age 88! Personally, I have a thing against ticks, but you know why. But mosquitoes are not a particular favorite, either.