We hear a lot about shark attacks. Just this week, in fact, we posted a story about Dylan McWilliams who fended off a shark attack in Hawaii after surviving a bear mauling and a rattlesnake bite.
But what’s more dangerous than all of those critter attacks are mosquitoes. They’re so dangerous that Bill Gates, in a post, says that’s what keeps him up at night.27
Most people list shark attacks, heights, enclosed spaces as the things that scare them the most.
But for billionaire Gates, mosquitoes don’t usually make the cut. It’s an irrational fear, Gates knows because in Seattle, where he lives, the climate is too mild for the types of mosquitoes that harbour serious diseases.
In other parts of the world, however, families have good reason to be afraid. Mosquitoes and the diseases they carry kill more than half a million people every year. Of all the illnesses mosquitoes spread, malaria is the worst by far. More than 200 million people suffer from it every year, and a child dies from malaria every other minute of every day.
Anyone who survives malaria remains vulnerable to other debilitating diseases and chronic anemia.
Melinda and I encounter a lot of suffering through our work, but one of the worst things I’ve ever seen is a child having seizures from cerebral malaria in Tanzania. I will never forget watching his small body twist in agony, as his parents waited to find out if he would survive. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone.
Gates has some theories as to why people are more fearful of sharks than mosquitoes. One theory from the late Hans Rosling is that humans are hardwired to fear things that cause us physical harm.
This instinct is practical if you live in poverty (on level 1 or 2), where an animal attack is more likely to kill you. But if you can afford life-saving healthcare, it can distort your perception of how significant a threat really is.
Even if people know they’re 50,000 times more likely to get killed by a mosquito than a shark, human instinct wins out, according to Gates.
Give someone a photo of a shark attack victim on the evening news and it evokes a visceral reaction because the threat is obvious.
A picture of a malaria victim in a hospital ward doesn’t trigger our fear instinct in the same way, Gates wrote.