May 1, 2019

Bugs of Belize

Journal Entry #1

It was a beautiful, sunny day…blue skies…the sound of the waves lapping the shoreline…a soft breeze.  An iguana lay restfully upon a palm branch not 10 feet away…lazily, as he did every day.  The kids were swimming, laughing and loving life in a beach house that also boasted a pool and cabana.  The men were off fishing in their kayaks and my friend and I lounged looking out to sea and marveling at how blessed we are to spend Christmas Day together, doing exactly nothing but enjoying the moment and this beautiful place called Belize.

It was the next night, at 2am, when we awoke…itching fiercely. Enough, that upon turning on the light to see what was happening to my legs, I found approximately 200 bites. Red welts upon the front and backs of my legs, a few on my arms and hands.  And an itch that couldn’t be squelched with anything.  My friend had no less than 300 bites on her lower body and her back too.  We suspected that we had been hit by a swarm of sand fleas…the ones we were warned about. Mind boggling though, considering we were both wearing sunscreen, OFF and a blend of essential oils (peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus etc.) to protect against these pests that we were warned of.

Off to the local pharmacy we went – and the pharmacists confirmed our suspicions, gave us Benadryl and tried to sell us more peppermint oil (that is what the locals use to protect) and recommended cortisone cream. Topically, nothing squelched the itch. The Benadryl took the edge off, but we intentionally wore socks, long pants and long sleeved shirts to prevent us from itching until we bled.  Basically we duked it out…for about 5 days until the itch subsided.

We returned home from our amazing Christmas Vacation on December 30, 2018…and both of the men started to itch – the deadly itch.  We knew to go to the Benadryl immediately, and within a few days their itching ceased.

Home to carry on with life, start the new year with intention, life resumed quite normally.  About 11pm on January 16, the itch started again in my legs. I was rubbing my foot on my leg to itch – I was already in the place of falling asleep and was annoyed that I was itchy.  But it persisted, and then my husband had had enough – we turned on the lights to find that my legs were indeed flared back up with bites – about 80 of them on both legs, feet and a few on my left arm.  What-the-what?!  Immediately I knew that this wasn’t good.  Red welts, little black flecks in the center when you looked closely…

Now bugs in the skin is a gross thing, so when I took to google, I chose not to look at pictures or seek out the worst case scenario. Instead I googled the Central American Sand flea and Sandfly from an entomology website to learn about the life cycle of the bug, how it lives, what it needs from its host (me) and when it will die.  There is a difference between the sand flea and the sandfly…and my fingers were crossed that it was the sand flea that had burrowed into my skin.  In a nutshell, the female sand flea will burrow into the skin, but they are sneaky – the itch in the hosts skin doesn’t start for about 24-48 hours post invasion.  They then live there for approximately 3 weeks, at which point they are ready to lay their eggs…outside of the hosts body – you see, they only burrow their head into the skin, they leave their bum outside of the surface of the skin and poop and lay their eggs on the surface of the skin.  So, January 16 was egg-laying day in my body.  I was relieved to know those black pepper-like flecks in the center of the welts were outside and not inside my skin.  But that isn’t the end of the sand flea’s life. They continue to feed on their host for an additional 2-3 weeks before backing out of the body to die.  A total life cycle of roughly 6 weeks.

Now the sand fly has a different cycle – it is similar in ways, but the big difference is that it lives completely under the skin, has its babies under the skin and then breaks through the skin when it is time for them to take flight.  A much grosser process for the host and often dangerous as sand flies carry really terrible diseases.  From my research and the pattern for which I had been experiencing, I believe that I am hosting sand FLEAS. But this is of course based upon my google diagnosis.  I should mention here, that my friend also followed the same pattern, however she only had about 6 bites that re-festered.  Her bites all healed naturally and normally.

January 29-31 found me itchy again.  As the bugs died and evacuated my body, I found myself extremely tired and relieved that the whole disgusting ordeal was over.

But, it wasn’t.

xo Juli

9 thoughts on “Bugs of Belize”

  1. Very courageous, Juli, not only to live this, but to retell it as you finish off the life experience. Thank-you for sharing. I’m sure I’ll leave a longer comment on other posts, after I stop scratching!
    Much love on your journey of healing. I am still sending to you each evening.

  2. An incredible journey….that obviously tests the mind,spirit and body. Writing your journal is exemplar in that it brings awareness to many vacation travelers who have never given thought to the potentially health comprising sand fleas or sand flies when all they seek is a relaxing time on a warm beach. Bless you,Juli for writing this journal. May it bring you strength and energy as you continue your fight. My thoughts and prayers for your quick healing are with you.

    1. Thank you Laurie! I love to write – but much like art can be hard to share our vulnerabilities :). I hope you are hanging in there!

  3. Juli, I was saddened to hear about your situation. Continue to stay on top of medications. Sand fleas like ticks bite and can make you very sick. Symptoms may play for months. If you pulverize some oatmeal and put half a cup in warm bath water will help ease the itch. The itch is similar to shingles. Baking soda also helps relieve the itch when put on in a thin paste. I hope some of these suggestions help you. Love you always and I’ll pray for a quick recovery. Aunt Holly

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