Mango Worm: Another Creepy Crawly that Emerges from the Skin

May 3, 2012

mango worm

I think we’ve maxed out our “photos that make you queasy” quota, so we will go with a g-rated picture of some mangoes for this post. If you want to see more graphic content, you can scroll down to the video we have embedded in the post.

What are mango worms?

First, the mango worm goes by many names. It is technically a fly larva and it also goes by the names mango fly, putzi fly and tumbu fly depending on where you are. It is found throughout tropical areas of sub-Saharan Africa, but is more common in certain regions (Central Africa, for example).

The worm works like this:

1. Adult female worm lays a few hundred eggs into the soil OR onto some damp clothing that is hanging out to dry.
2. The larvae hatch and look for a host. Dogs work well. Unfortunately, so do humans (although, they are not commonly found as hosts compared to other animals).
3. The larvae penetrate the skin of the host and take up residence in the subcutaneous tissue, a layer of skin that has fat and connective tissue filled with blood vessels and nerves.
4. Then they grow and fatten up.
5. After 8-12 days, a boil will have formed.
6. It will itch and then get increasingly painful before it…
7. actually opens up so the worm can come out to play.
8. The worm then falls to the ground where it buries itself in order to go into its final stage of growth before turning into a fly.

How can mango worm be prevented?

Mango worm is generally very uncommon for travelers to come across, but there are certainly a few steps you can take to really minimize your risk. For one, do not walk around barefoot on soil. By the same token, don’t roll around in the soil. Never a good idea.

As far as your clothes go, if you are in an area where mango worm is prevalent, it would be best to machine dry your clothes or iron them after leaving them out to line dry. The heat will effectively kill the larvae.

Mango worm treatment

There is no medication you can take that will kill the mango worm. You simply have to wait for it to come out. Alternatively, you can cover the boil with vaseline or a similar product and wait till the worm pops out on its own (the vaseline will cut off its access to oxygen). In rare cases, a visit to a clinic may be required to extract the worm.

Mango worms do not pose a serious health risk. They do not carry other diseases with them and they do not cause complications themselves outside of the boil that they create. It is important, however, to remember to thoroughly disinfect the area after the worm has emerged from the body.

For a (graphic) visual demonstration of mango worm extraction, have a look at the video below.

Mango worms should not be your primary travel health concern when traveling. In most cases, travelers will not come across them. That said, you should always visit a travel health clinic before traveling to your destination to become familiar with the possible health risks that exist there. If mango worm is present, the doctor will be able to offer additional advice on the level of risk, prevention, and treatment.

Have you ever had mango worm before? Please share your experience in the comments below.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bert-trapp/5874529488/

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather April 8, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Hi, just wanted to let you guys know that the YouTube video has apparently been removed. Just wanted to let you know so that you can put a new video up on this article. c:

Reply

phil May 5, 2013 at 11:13 pm

Hey Heather,
It looks like it’s still there. Working for me, anyway. — Phil

Reply

Sarah May 5, 2013 at 11:12 pm

I have been living in Africa for the last ten months. I have heard so many stories about people and animals animals getting mango worms….
I never thought the day would happen, when I would get them. For a few days I just thought that I had big mosquito bites, but they became really painful…until tonight I just decided to squeeze the bumps, and sure enough a little worm popped out!
I had put neosporin on them, and I guess that is what suffocated them to come out.
I am currently freaking out, as this all just happened about twenty min. ago.
I was reading some articles that said that it is important to take antibiotics when you realize you have mango worms, but I am not sure.
It looks like from this article, that antibiotics may not be necessary.
Well, I think I will go back to freaking out now.
Just wanted to share my story.

Reply

phil May 5, 2013 at 11:16 pm

Hey Sarah,
Sorry to hear this!! The good news is that while mango worm is certainly an unsettling thing to have, it is not life threatening by any means and there shouldn’t be any further complications once the worm comes out. You should make sure to clean the area, however, and then apply a topical antibiotic (like neosporin). If the area does get red and swollen in the coming days, and it’s hot to the touch, you may have an infection and you should go to the doctor. If you clean it and apply the topical antibiotic, however, you should be fine. Thanks for sharing your story, I hope you feel better!
- Phil

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Sarah May 6, 2013 at 12:53 am

Thank you so much Phil, you have helped me not freak out as much.
I am going to throw all my clothes in the dryer as well..to make sure all of them are gone forever!
I really appreciate your reply. Thank you!

Reply

Tami May 9, 2013 at 8:42 pm

I heard about this worm when a German doctor who had spent many years in Nigeria asked me if we had tumbo worms in Kenya. After he described how they come out your skin, telling me he’d experienced them, from neglecting to check his air-dried clothes once – I was like, NO, we don’t have them, THANK GOD. Happily, the only problem you can get from hanging clothes to dry in Kenya is if you don’t pull them down before the afternoon rains and the wind knocks them into the mud.
Anyway thanks for the article, Phil! Always like hearing what you have to say, even when the ewww factor is pretty high! :)

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phil May 10, 2013 at 9:27 am

Yeah, it’s a relief knowing that they are not around! They are a lot more prevalent in West and Central Africa it seems. I’ve never had a bout of them, though, *knocks on wood* and I can be careless at times when drying my clothes. Thanks for stopping by, Tami – always good to hear from you :)

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hailey February 3, 2014 at 1:34 pm

im 12 and I was just wondering what mango worms were I heard my my mom talking about it it sounds gross I would like it if you had a picture of them because I was wondering if my cousin had some please write back ASAP.

Thank you,
Hailey

Reply

phil February 3, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Hi Hailey,
We didn’t want to put a lot of pictures here because they are quite graphic. However, you can do a simple google image search to see photos of the mango worm.

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john April 2, 2014 at 2:12 pm

We have a Keets mango tree here in hawwaii, the mangos are sometimes infested with small maggots or worms, are they sub-dermal parasites as well?after reading about the african mango fly, I am turned off on Mangos. and papayas and guavas. I am not really excited about being an incubator for parasite larva no matter how good the fruit tastes, I guess I should eat only radiated “Safe store bought food?”

Reply

phil April 2, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Hey John,
This parasite is mainly found in sub-saharan Africa. You shouldn’t have to worry about a thing in Hawaii!! Enjoy your mangos!!

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Naomi April 20, 2014 at 8:28 am

I have been struggling with a mango worm in my let, I have tried Vaseline etc., its getting more inflamed and won’t come out, the pain is absolutely excruciating, can I put quadriderm on as I live in South Africa? The whole just seems to be getting bigger, please can someone give advise

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Naomi April 20, 2014 at 8:29 am

Does hot water help to smother the mango worm, so that they don’t get oxygen?

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phil April 20, 2014 at 9:18 am

I don’t see why quadriderm would do any harm. It also may not bring a resolution, either. I have never heard about hot water working in this matter and I’d be worried that you could burn yourself. If it is really excruciating you should go to a medical center and have it looked at.

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