Suppose you were Mother Nature, and you wanted to devise a creature that was fundamentally irritating. What would you create? Well, the sandfly would be a good place to start.
Known variably as the sand gnat, biting midge, sand flea or no-see-um, sand flies are small enough that they wouldn’t seem like a nuisance. What can we say, size is deceptive. Wherever sand flies bite, it feels like a hair has just been violently plucked from that spot. It’s a sharp, quick pain that has you cursing before you know what hit you. Worse, their bites are often larger than those of mosquitoes. And they itch more.
I loved Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. Truly a spectacular place. But my God, the sand flies made it miserable to do anything during the day besides swim or kayak. Want to lay on the beach? Good luck. Want to play cards under a cabana? Better douse yourself in DEET.
What do sand flies want from us?
It’s the female sandfly that’s biting you. She’s after your blood. She needs the protein for her eggs.
Can sand flies infect us with diseases?
You bet they can. Like mosquitoes, sand flies can carry both protozoa and viruses. Fortunately, they cannot transmit malaria. They can, however, share the lovely Chandipura virus with you. This virus is relatively rare, endemic to India, but it has been known to cause outbreaks, including one in 2010.
In addition, sand flies have some protozoa to offer. Specifically, parasites that cause Leishmaniasis, a disease known for its unsightly skin ulcers. Thankfully, there is an effective treatment for this illness, and on the whole, the disease is relatively rare. Most cases are confined to tropical and sub-tropical countries, with a higher concentration coming from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sudan, and Brazil (approximately 90% of global cases come from these 5 countries). Furthermore, within those countries, cases spike among poor and rural populations.
How can you avoid sand fly bites
Your best defense against sand flies is a combination of protective clothing – long sleeves and long pants – and effective insect repellant. Bug sprays that are effective for mosquitoes will also get the job done with sand flies. Aim for something with picaridin or DEET. We have some specific recommendations here. You should also sleep under a mosquito net that has been treated with permethrin (this is an agent that kills insects on contact).
Have any tales of sand fly encounters? Please share them in the comments below.