Friday, January 8, 2010

Its not always bed bugs!The holidays are over, and for those of us sighing at the cold, dreary, vacationless months ahead it is important to remember some blessings.

For instance, that winter means fewer bugs.

That's precisely why Tara Dairman, 30, was confused by a painful itching on her scalp this December after returning from months abroad in Central and South America.

"I thought the bite was really weird when we got home because we were in Indiana and it was cold," said Dairman.

Dairman quickly found she had been infested with not one, but two painful parasites in her scalp. Her run-in with a blood-sucking bug happened in the jungle of Belize, but there are plenty of parasites one can catch in the United States.

Below is a list of some of the more common parasites to avoid at home and around the world, along with some expert advice on how to rid yourself of the worms.

1) The Human Bot Fly
"We're pretty sure that they came from the jungle in Belize," Dairman said of the two bot fly larva that embedded themselves in her scalp.

Dairman and her husband, Andrew Cahill, 30, already had plenty of bot fly (Dermatobia hominis) bites from the trip. But little did the couple know the bot fly lays its eggs in a more insidious way.

"They actually capture a mosquito or a tick and they lay their eggs on their stomachs," said Dairman. The bot fly then releases the mosquito or tick and hopes it will find a good host -- like Dairman -- to bite.

The warmth of the blood the mosquito sucks from the body prompt the bot-fly eggs to hatch. The larvae then embed themselves in the skin either through the new insect bite or a hair follicle, according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

As if that's not bad enough, the larvae start to grow spikes on its body to keep hosts like Tara from pulling them out as they feed on her flesh.

"They have these little barbs in them so either when they move or when they're feeding it feels like this hot needle stabbing into you," said Dairman.

Days after the first symptoms, Dairman discovered she had a second itchy, painful spot on her head that caused a lot of pain.

But Cahill couldn't see what Dairman was talking about. With some Internet searches the couple matched Dairman's symptoms to the notorious bot fly. They also read the best way to find the larvae is to try and deprive them of oxygen.

Put on some form of grease, in this case Vaseline, and the larvae will burrow upwards and fight for air.

The couple would have visited a dermatologist, but wanted to see if they could do it without paying hundreds of dollars for a visit.

"Since we quit our jobs to go traveling we don't have health insurance to cover us in the United States, we only have insurance for emergencies," said Dairman.

If you're fast enough you can grab them with tweezers and (painfully) pull them out. Cahill however, found it was better to suffocate them first.

"We covered them with New-Skin for the night to cut off their air supply," Cahill wrote on their blog, "Andy and Tara's World." "New-Skin is basically fingernail polish that is meant to go on small cuts and scrapes for protection. This morning when we got up, we peeled the New-Skin off one of them and the dead worm was visible."

Dairman said she'd go back to Belize, even after her experience with the bot fly.

"Belize is terrific. So I'd certainly recommend it to anyone," said Dairman. "I think this is really rare."