Right now, it’s hot and humid on the island of Utila, the smallest of the Bay Islands in the Caribbean Sea and just off the coast of Honduras, and I’m itching and scratching and quite miserable.
I’m literally covered in hundreds of bites from tiny biting sandflies, or as everyone on this island calls them, No-See-‘Um’s. They spoil what would otherwise be an idyllic and perfect way of life here.
I’ve encountered biting beasties in several places around the world. In Scotland, during damp summers, we suffered from the pesky midge making walking or camping a trial. Here, in the heat and humidity of the tropics, we have plenty of mosquitoes and the dreaded yellow fly that everyone calls the ‘Doctor Fly’ – but at least they are large enough to be seen. The No-See-‘Ums, like the Scottish midge, are so tiny that, well um, you can’t see them. Unless they are swarming and by then it’s too late and they are all over you and you are also breathing them in.
I have hundreds of raised red welts all over my body. They are painful and as itchy-as-hell.
Although sandflies are non-venomous, and they can carry disease in certain areas, their bites are mostly harmless although highly irritating as I’ve found out. They can be found in many places around the world and of course, being practically invisible, they can turn what looks like a paradise into a nightmare.
I wasn’t even aware that I was so badly bitten until several hours later and it will no doubt take several days to recover. Until then I’ll walk around attracting sympathy while looking like I have the plague.
One thing that a No-See-‘Um has in common with a mosquito is that they are often more prevalent just before rainfall and afterwards and it’s only the females that bite. This is because they need blood proteins so they can produce eggs and more pesky sandflies! And, not only are they almost impossible to see, they are annoyingly hard to avoid or repel.
Although preventative measures can and should be taken to avoid being bitten these can include:
1) Staying indoors with all doors and windows closed and the air-con on cold. Not fun or practical!
2) Covering up. The second-best way to avoid being bitten by any biting flies but, like staying indoors all summer, who wants to be covered up from head to foot in the heat and sun of the tropics?
3). Wearing a repellent. This works to a degree against mosquitoes but frustratingly it doesn’t seem to work against the No-See-‘Ums. Who knows, maybe they don’t have a sense of smell?
Interestingly, it seems to me that there are three types of people in this world.
1) There are those that get bitten by sandflies and go around looking like they have the plague and with a look of misery about them and most of their body parts covered in big round angry itchy welts.
2) Then there are the rare lucky ones who for some reason don’t seem to ever get bitten.
3) Then there is the third type. The type of person that gets bitten but is totally immune.
Ninety-nine percent of the tourists I see here fall into type one. I believe type two must be practicing voodoo, taste really sour, or have skin like leather. All the locals living on the island are typically a type three. This means there is hope. It means it is possible for most people – given time – to become a type three because the body will finally start producing a natural antihistamine against the bites.
I’ve been here for almost a month now, but two years ago, I lived on this island for many months and indeed after about three, I started to notice that I was still getting bitten by the sandflies – their bites feel like tiny painful pinpricks – but I was no longer reacting to them. I was not getting the swollen red welts and the bites didn’t itch. And, if the bite didn’t itch and I didn’t scratch then it wasn’t an issue anymore. I had finally joined those immune types and paradise had indeed been found.
But, as it has been two years, I’m apparently back to being type number one. And of course, that’s no help at if you are here on holiday/vacation for just a week or two.
So what can you do in the meantime to avoid being attacked by No-See-‘Ums?
1) It seems that sandflies can’t bite you in a breeze so try to sit next to a fan or any stream of moving air.
2) I’ve heard some people advocate eating marmite. I’ve not tried this. I would try this, but being on an island where a boat brings supplies on a Tuesday and a Friday, no one I know has marmite.
3) I do know that sandflies can’t seem to bite you if you are wearing oil on your skin. Any oil might work but I advocate wearing plenty of coconut oil. The little devils might get stuck on you but they aren’t able to get their teeth in so easily.
Have you ever had your holiday/vacation or your summer spoiled by those pesky No-See-‘Ums?