“Edible: Good to eat and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.” —Ambrose Bierce (The Devil’s Dictionary)
For those of you who read this blog and live in northern urban centers, the tropics might sound romantic, exotic, and even a little bit like paradise, especially if it’s 20 degrees where you live right now. But there are things that are more than a little creepy about living in the latitudes close to the equator.
One of them is the bug situation. I’ve written about our battles with fleas and ants before. And until now I have prided myself on my resilient health and ability to ward off parasites that might make Job have second thoughts about the goodness and justice of his chosen God.
I learned early on to check my skin regularly living in this sauna-like climate. I have caught a couple of fungal infections in the bud this way, and I regularly clean my ears with Q-Tips to avoid what a friend once described as “mushrooms in my ears.”
But the other night I finished my shower and was drying off when I noticed a slight twinge when the towel ran across my left scapula. I reached over my shoulder with my right hand and felt a bump. It was definitely a bump, but I could also sense that there was something soft under my skin. I could move it around a bit and traced out something about a half-inch long and fat like a worm. Yes, I said A Worm!
I had my husband look but he wasn’t much help because it was dark and he wasn’t wearing his glasses. Even though he could not see a hole in the skin, I was sure I’d been infected by a particularly nasty little pest—the torsalo.
These larvae—or maggots if you prefer, although I don’t—are the young of the bot fly, a stout bodied, hairy fly prevalent in the tropics. They lay their eggs on the backs of mosquitoes and other biting insects. I cannot even imagine how that transfer takes place, but this is what the science books tell me, and I’m willing to believe it. (Here is a link to an Animal Planet video about their life cycle.)
Once the egg is attached to the mosquito it rides around until the mosquito lands on a warm-blooded victim, in this case me. The egg falls off and hatches due to higher temperature, and the larva then burrows into the skin through a pore or a hair follicle. Once inside it begins to grow.
Interestingly enough, the torsalo secretes an antibiotic to protect itself and its environment so the area surrounding it—me—is actually quite clean.
You can read an incredible story of a scientist named Jerry who, while studying in the tropics, became infected with one of these torsalo.
According to e-How, the Internet source for everything, you can follow these suggestions:
◦ 1 Apply superglue to the bite. This closes off the air hole so that the bot fly maggots cannot easily breathe. When they come up for air they stick to the super glue. Pull back the glue after it dries, and you will have maggots sticking to it.
◦ 2 Cover the hole with a small cotton ball soaked in heavy camphor oil. Tape it down and wait 8 hours. When you pull up the tape, a bot fly maggot comes out.
◦ 3 Soak in a tub of hot water and Epsom salt for 45 minutes. This will slowly kill the maggots who come to the surface to breathe.
◦ 4 Rub pine tar on the bites and bandage the skin. Remove it in 2 days and the bot fly maggots should come out on the bandage.
◦ 5 Slather on petroleum jelly. When the maggot sticks his head out to breathe, let it die, and then pull it out in one swift movement.
◦ 6 Leave the bot fly maggot alone. It will complete its cycle of life and fall out by itself.
There is also a seventh option not mentioned here. Strap a piece of meat to the blow-hole and wait for the larva to migrate upwards searching for air. Then, when the maggot enters the meat, simply remove the bait with the contained maggot. This is apparently what one of Jerry’s scientist companions did.
The idea of going to bed with a piece of beef strapped to my shoulder-blade was far from appetizing, and what if lightning struck and the basenjis whined and ended up in our bed for companionship—a common occurrence. I’m sure it would take them exactly five seconds to track down the “treatment” and try to remove it.
Suggestion number six is exactly what Jerry did. After realizing he had in fact been infected with a bot fly larva, he felt responsible and simply watched the bump grow, and hatched his own personal bot fly. Not me. For one thing the bump made me itch and according to the chapter about Jerry’s maggot, the area becomes quite sore just before the birth. I’ve given birth to two children and do not feel another is necessary. Thank you.
I used the camphor method, taping a glob of mentholated rubbing compound on the bump for three days. That did it. There is still a form under the skin but it is hard now—dead—and my body is going about its business cleaning up the site. So far, no infection, but it will take a few days I’m sure for the macrophages in my system to devour the bot fly larva. Turn about is fair play.
For those of you who cannot get enough of this, here is a YouTube video of a torsalo removal.