Disconnected Bug-Bites

Lame Tents. . . . Photo by Jane Stroebel on Unsplash . . . If you want to be a nun, join a convent.

When you live in the tropics like I do in Panama, you’re gonna get bitten by a variety of insects and ticks. They have the same bugs in the U.S, but there’s a huge difference in how to manage these pests.

For one thing, nobody in Panama that I’ve seen uses mosquito netting. Why? I think in part because we’re resigned to having bugs biting us. But also, and this applied to me in the U.S. too — mosquito netting and tents get hot and stuffy. Better to let the bugs bite and deal with the bites as needed.

In the U.S. they want you to go to a doctor with your bites. The doctor will tell you to NOT scratch the bug bites, and will encourage you to use permethrin treatments of your clothing and topical benadryl to treat the bites.

In the tropics it’s much simpler. You’re gonna get bitten by six and eight-legged pests. You’ll wake up in the morning with a shitpotful of bites that need scratching. There are also thrips that maybe just kind of abrade holes in your skin — maybe they bite too but anyway they are much attracted to my laptop screen at night. In the U.S. they pick on plants — but here they also pick on me!

The doctors in the U.S. say not to scratch, because you can get infected.

But I say, and not from ignorance but from scientific fact — that the bites themselves are infections. They are biological warfare — inventions of Mother Nature. By depositing weird and specific chemicals under your skin the bugs guarantee that you’ll be itchy and scratchy and your body will have no defense strategy.

Except that you can scratch.

By scratching until you get a drop of blood you can reconfigure your immune response, or actually your healing response, and heal the bites in less than 24 hours. It matters that you do it this quickly because tonight you’ll get a whole new batch of itchy bites.

U.S. doctors would be horrified by this regimen. As for me, I’d be horrified by the cost of seeing a doctor over something like simple bug bites.

Anyway, by scratching until blood rises you pop the droplet of irritating chemicals to where your body can metabolize or reject the venom and heal the tissues. Alternatively you can buy strong corticosteroids that by chemical force of will can stop the itching and/or heal the disrupted tissues.

But scratching is free and those steroids are pretty expensive. I use 90% scratching and 10% steroids to treat my bug bites. (I say ‘bugs’ because some are six-legged insects and others are 8-legged ticks and spiders.) Some are no-see-ums who might have 3 or 23 legs for all I know. These invisibly tiny bugs can be the worst! At least psychologically. You can feel them bumping into your arm hairs, but even with good lighting they are hard or impossible to see.

Then there are the wasps. They don’t necessarily bite or rub holes in your skin. They do necessarily sting you. Same with scorpions, except scorpions can sting, bite, and claw you. Ironically, at least for me, the wasps and scorpions have pretty evanescent toxins. The stinging and burning go away in an hour or two.

I get to be a macho hero when somebody in my neighborhood has trouble with a huge wasp nest on their house or in their yard. I’ve seen the firefighters wearing moonsuits trying to spray wasps to death on somebody’s front porch. But if a neighbor is swinging a broom and retreating indoors repeatedly I go and offer to spray or knock down the nest.

And that’s a funny sight to see, I reckon. I just walk up to the nest and spray it or knock it down. I might get stung a few times, but it seems the wasps can smell my fear or lack thereof. All I know is that I don’t have any fear and the wasps get very confused by that.

Oh, yeah — insects sure can smell you and especially can smell the backsides of your arms and your ankles and other places where it’s hard for us to pay attention. Plus they can see our eyes. If a mosquito has landed on your ankle and you look down at it it’ll fly away the instant you look at it. This is why so many plants and animals have fake eyespots. They scare off the predators.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that I find joy or at least satisfaction in the primal battle with bugs in the tropics. Better than idiotic games with health insurance (if any) in the U.S. and the misplaced reliance on doctors who are leeches themselves in many ways.

Just some random thoughts and observations.
… Fred Ermlich




Living in rural Panamá — non-extractive, non-capitalistic. Expat USA. Scientist, writer, researcher, teacher. STEM mentor +languages.

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Fred Ermlich

Fred Ermlich

Living in rural Panamá — non-extractive, non-capitalistic. Expat USA. Scientist, writer, researcher, teacher. STEM mentor +languages.

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