Nature's most deadly killer? You might be surprised

Thursday, May 1, 2014

It's May Day and it won't be long until we reach the first official holiday of summer -- Memorial Day, 25 days from today.

It's fun to go to a new vacation destination, near or far, but it's always a good idea to keep possible dangers in mind.

Toward that end, Microsoft billionaire and Warren Buffett bridge partner Bill Gates recently blogged about the animals most dangerous to humans, listing them in order of people killed each year.

Headed to the ocean? Watch out for sharks! But don't go overboard -- figuratively OR literally.

Sharks are scary, but they're slackers when it comes to killing people, only about 10 a year. Likewise for wolves, who claim the same number.

Lions kill 10 times that many, the same number as elephants, or 100 a year. Hippos kill 500 people a year, half the number claimed by crocodiles, 1,000, according to Gates.

Dogs with rabies kill about 25,000 people a year world wide and snakes 50,000, but the second-most prolific killer of humans is, naturally enough, other humans. We kill 475,000 members of our own species every year.

What's the number one killer of people?

Mosquitoes, which kill 725,000 people a year, 600,000 by infecting them with malaria. Other mosquito-born diseases include dengue fever, yellow fever and encephalitis.

Gates and his bridge partner have donated millions of dollars toward efforts to combat malaria and other conditions in third world countries. You can read his mosquito blog here: http://bit.ly/1u91hnu

But you don't have to go to a third-world country to be concerned about mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes spread West Nile virus, which was first officially reported in 2002, when it killed seven Nebraskans. Deaths peaked in 2003 with 27 in 1,994 reported human cases, but there were still 226 reported in 2013 and five deaths in Nebraska. Most Southwest Nebraska counties had from six to 10 cases of confirmed cases of West Nile Virus in humans.

While you're making plans to clean up around your yard this spring, here are some things you can do to combat nature's most deadly killer:

* Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water-holding containers that have collected on your property.

* Pay special attention to discarded tires. Stagnant water in tires are where most mosquitoes breed.

* Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers left outdoors.

* Have clogged roof gutters cleaned regularly (spring and fall), particularly if the leaves from surrounding trees have a tendency to plug up the drains. Roof gutters can produce millions of mosquitoes each season.

* Turn over plastic wading pools when not in use.

* Turn over wheelbarrows and don't let water stagnate in birdbaths.

* Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with fish. Water gardens can become major mosquito producers if they are allowed to stagnate. Clean and chlorinate swimming pools not in use.

* Use landscaping to eliminate standing water that collects on your property.

For more information, call the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services at (402) 471-2937.

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