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When Bill Gates set out his list of the world’s deadliest animals, he put the mighty mosquito on top, saying it accounts for 725,000 human deaths each year. Way down at the bottom of the list, after snakes, crocodiles, even elephants, is probably the world’s scariest animal: the shark. But despite all their lore and the fear that surrounds them, sharks killed just six people last year.

That makes sharks 70,000 times less deadly than the mosquito and 1,000 times less than an animal you’d probably never guess would even make this list: killer snails. These are certain types of freshwater snails that carry a deadly disease called schistosomiasis.

In this episode of Signal we explore the shark and the snail of medicine. How do our perceptions of risk, and our outsized — or undersized — fears affect our health?


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The Signal podcast is produced by Katie Hiler.