A Vacation Bug Bite That Keeps BitingBy Tara Parker-Pope
After a recent trip to Belize, wildlife filmmaker Vanessa Serrao returned with a bug bite on her head ”” and an unknown stowaway.
About a month after her trip, Ms. Serrao, 33, noticed a raised and oozing bump on her head. A doctor offered antibiotics because it appeared to be an infected bite. But as she was leaving the doctor’s office, Ms. Serrao mentioned that she had recently been in Central America. She had heard stories about botflies ”” Dermatobia hominis ”” a hairy fly that uses a mosquito as a vector to deposit larvae under human skin.
“Then the doctor looked with a magnifying glass,” Ms. Serrao said. “And she said, ”˜Yes, there is something living in there.’ ”
The doctor needed to study up on how to remove the larvae, so Ms. Serrao went home but had difficulty sleeping.
“I was really aware of every time it would move,” said Ms. Serrao, a former producer for the Discovery Channel. “It did wake me up from sleep at 3 a.m. I heard it crunching.”
Botfly infestations are endemic in Central America, but it’s not clear how often travelers return with the unwelcome passengers. Several cases of botfly infestations are documented in medical journals.
Ms. Serrao wanted to remove the wriggling, chewing larva as soon as possible, but she also realized that the botfly in her head presented a unique opportunity for a nature photographer. As a result, she videotaped herself and the efforts by her surprisingly stoic husband, Greg Hiemenz, to remove the worm-like creature.The video footage, recently posted on Ms. Serrao’s Web site, www.NatureBreak.org,has become something of a hit on YouTube after the Web site BoingBoing linked to it. (The full video is embedded below).
The video documents Ms. Serrao’s mix of disgust and fascination with the botfly. When her husband tells her he can see the larva she screams, “Oh my god!” and then adds, “Maybe we’ll get a tripod.”
The couple also tries to “smoke out” the larva as recommended by Belize locals. Finally, the doctor recommends putting tape on the bump to smother the creature, which allows Mr. Hiemenz to pull it out with tweezers. Be warned, this video is not for the squeamish.
Although the larva removal happened about a year ago, Ms. Serrao only recently created the film and posted it.
“I couldn’t watch the footage,” she said. “It was so gross to me. I couldn’t get the nerve up. Some time had to pass before I had enough separation to be able to watch it.”
FROM A PATIENT:
Dear Dr. Weeks:
I had my own botfly – removed in a similiar way while on the Dartmouth Tropical Biology program in Panama & Costa Rica. I didn’t get to watch the removal because it was on my butt! We smothered it with fingernail polish. The way to tell it is a botfly is that you can feel the critter as it turns itself deeper and deeper with a spiral motion. Mine was much smaller when it was removed. Apparently if you have a doctor cut it out it can leave a scar the size of a quarter. The biologists that lived at the Smithsonian research center on Barro Colorado Island were pretty experienced at it. One of them had let one fully develop and watched it fly off….but that wasn’t recommended as it can leave you with a permanent pocket in your skin. Weird. There are bot flies in the Arctic but I think they only affect moose and caribou not humans. Thanks for the great video link!