They come in many names; sand flies, no-see-um, sand fleas, sand gnats, but they are all the same tiny evil creatures. Stay away from them because once you’re bitten, you’re in hell.
I got devoured by them when we were in El Nido, Philippines in August of last year. Devour is the word because half of my body was left with bite marks while the other half flared up as an allergic reaction to the bites. I didn’t even know I was their lunch until the next morning when I woke up itching like it was the end of my days.
The itchiness was a complete nightmare. I wanted to constantly scratch the bites. Then there was the sight of my legs and arms covered with reddish and darkening spots. It was so depressing it probably required a happy pill for some to overcome. In my case it helped thinking that it could have been worse, that I could have contracted a terrible disease, that at least I still have legs.
I had so many questions which my doctors didn’t really answer so I turned to Google, of course. The internet didn’t help much though. I had to fill in the blanks myself.
There are quite a lot of repellents for sand fly bites but if you’re in the Philippines your best bet should be OFF LOTION. It’s sold nationwide in pharmacies and “sari-sari” stores. I had a big bottle of it when we were in El Nido but for some reason I forgot to use them that day. Just my luck.
In the course of two months I went to four different doctors and got prescribed the following:
First doctor in El Nido, Philippines, gave me hydrocortisone cream, applied 7 days twice a day and a round of antibiotics for a week which I didn’t take.
Second doctor, a dermatologist in Cebu City, Philippines, told me to take Cefalexin 3 times a day for ten days, 1 tab of Virlix for 10 days and Cutivate cream applied twice a day for 2 weeks.
Third doctor here in Prague, Czech Republic, injected 40mg of Solu Medrol in my right thigh.
Fourth doctor, a travel medicine specialist also here in Prague told me to apply Bactroban cream on bites that are still itchy twice a day for a week.
Q & A
These were the questions I had in mind and the answers I came up later through research and ultimately, through the experience of living and surviving the nightmare:
Q: Do sand fly bites bring any kind of disease, like mosquitoes causing dengue or malaria?
A: Yes, it’s called Leishmaniasis. Some African and Asian countries are known to have sand flies that carry such disease. Luckily Philippines is not among them but the first doctor here in Prague still took samples from one of my bites. It came out negative, thank goodness.
Q: How long does the itchiness last?
A: In my case, the worst lasted for 6 months. Then it was on and off for another half of the year.
Q: Will the spots ever go away? What’s the best cream or ointment to use so there won’t be any scars?
A: Yes, they will go away but it may take time. It took a year for mine to disappear.
For them not to scar, I tried Palmer’s scar serum but it didn’t seem to help. Then I remembered what the second doctor in the Philippines said. She said the bites will darken and will look awful for a while but they will go away eventually. She also said the most important thing to do is to not scratch the bites. If you scratch they will definitely scar, otherwise no need for any lightening cream. She’s right.
Q: What helps relieve the itchiness?
A: Tea-tree oil, Fenestil cream, baking soda and water paste. The most effective for me was tea tree oil.
Q: Hot shower or cold shower?
A: Both. Hot shower helped relieve the itchiness but it also made the bites looked more swollen. So I always ended each shower with a squirt of cold water on most affected parts. I also made sure to just pat my skin with the towel when drying myself. The cardinal rule in surviving sand fly bites is to never scratch. Not ever.
It probably wouldn’t have been so bad if I took the antibiotics prescribed by the first doctor. I was just so wary of them. I had terrible allergic reactions to Augmentin and Zinat just a couple of months earlier. I felt like any kind of antibiotics would just be a menace to my health. This was also the doctor’s mistake. Had she took the time to explain why I had to take them, I would have swallowed one in a heartbeat. But no, she just told me to take the medicines as prescribed and off you go.
I know some would think C’mon they are just bites, they wont kill you. Just that there’s something about the combination of not sleeping well due to the itching and the sight of yourself turning into a cheetah that makes you lose your cool. If you’re experiencing it now, hang in there. It will pass.
If you have more questions about how to survive sand fly bites, please feel free to ask or write in the comments section below.
11 May 2014
Dina’t Hart pointed out that antibiotics should only be taken if the bites are infected. (Please read comment below.) She’s right, of course. I shouldn’t have taken them since I only had an allergic reaction and not an infection. Doctors are supposed to know what’s best but this is proof that not all of them know what they are doing.