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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Botfly

GUATEMALA | Tuesday, 21 February 2012 | Views [3061]

The botfly. It may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie: perhaps a robotic fly with a camera that can fly into all those little hard-to-reach places and find out what's going on and what we can learn. Trust me, it's anything but! The human botfly (Dermatobia hominis) is about the most disgusting, surreal creature you'll ever come across if you're ever unlucky enough to come across one. That is, if you've had a botfly larva living in your skin! 

A couple of weeks ago I was bitten by a mosquito; I think it was at Quirigua but it could have been somewhere in Honduras or even El Salvador. I've lost track because I've been bitten by hundreds of mosquitoes on this journey. Unlike all the other mozzie bites, this one manifested into a painless lump that just wouldn't go away. Eventually it stopped itching but it just wouln't go away no matter how much I tried to clean it or figure out what it was. In Caye Caulker it was still there, but when I got to the Barton Creek Outpost I talked to Jacquelyn about it: she suggested it was probably the bite of a no-see-um. Thinking it would eventually go away I just left it alone, but it wouldn't. Days passed; I was at Federico's house and Semuc Champey and it still hasn't gone away. Finally I showed it to Santiago earlier. He told me a horrific story about a spider that lays its eggs on your skin, and that he was bitten whilst in Belize. Immediately I ran to the bathroom, but he told me it hurt intensely whereas my lump is painless. I squeezed at it, and I tried to think of what it might be. I was scared and nervous. Could I actually have something living inside my arm? The wound wouldn't even heal in its entirely; there was a little tiny hole and occasionally a miniscule amount of blood would ooze from it. 

A few days from today I would return to California, and I had a much-needed shower at 3 AM. I squeezed aggressively at this lump, and after working at it for awhile this tiny tadpole-like creature came out. "Oh my God" I felt! At first I thought it was a piece of a barnacle; when I was in Caye Caulker I got thrown into a wall of barnacles but then I remembered I was bitten by a mosquito. I ran out of the shower, put this little thing on a piece of toilet paper and then got online and Googled "spider lives in skin Belize." After just a few minutes of research I came across the human botfly with a picture of the larva. My mouth wide open in shock I'm like "Oh my God, that's what just came out of my arm!" Scared and grossed-out I read that the would could get infected if you didn't squeeze out the entire larva. There was no rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide in the medicine cabinet so I ran frantically up to the store to get some. I didn't want to go to the hospital because I didn't want to be stuck with a $700 medical bill just to get a fly out of my arm, so I had to self-medicate. In a cup of alcohol I dipped a slender-tipped knife and then gently made a cut into the wound. Dousing it with alcohol I cleaned out the entire wound before covering it with Scotch tape. Whilst I didn't get any additional parts out, I cleaned it with alcohol and re-taped it twice a day. Eventually the site cleared up with no infection, and all I have left is a tiny scar.

Botflies have a unique method in finding their human hosts. An adult botfly will attach an egg to a mosquito, then the mosquito will bite a human. Once the host is bitten, the egg will drop, the larva will hatch, and then burrow itself into your skin. They will remain in the site for up to eight weeks, when they'll come out on their own. They grow quite large and the site will really hurt after awhile before the fly comes out. I was lucky enough it get it out early enough that it wasn't very big. To coax it out, it's recommended to smear Vaseline and suffocate it before squeezing it out, or place a piece of raw meat over the site and it'll possibly come out. There's dozens of tiny barbs which allow the larva to remain in place and therefore make it difficult to remove. 

If this story hasn't grossed you out, I should say that the botfly experience was one of those it was gross, disgusting, and scary at the time. It's one of those experiences that you don't like when it happens but you like it for the story. Keep in mind that botflies are rather uncommon, and in five months of travel through botfly territory it's my only one. Don't let botflies deter you from travelling to Latin America. Some people have travelled around the region for years and have never dealt with one. The best prevention methods are heaps of insect repellent, eating garlic, and covering up at dawn and dusk. As much of a story it is to share, I sure hope I don't ever again deal with the botfly!

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