What Are Sandflies?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Sand flies are commonly found in tropical climates with sandy areas.
Sand flies are commonly found in tropical climates with sandy areas.

Sandflies, or sand flies, are tiny biting insects in the order Diptera, which includes the true flies. The name isn't a technical term, but rather a common name applied to a very diverse group of bugs. They are found in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world, typically in sandy areas, and some of them carry diseases, making them a public health risk in addition to a nuisance.

An insect net can help keep sand flies out while sleeping.
An insect net can help keep sand flies out while sleeping.

People generally refer to any small, biting fly as a sandfly. Typically, only females actually bite, using the proteins in the blood they collect to build their eggs. Most sandflies are extremely small, leading to common names like “no see 'ums” or “punkies.” They are also known as sandfleas, sand gnats, or chitras. The life cycle of the insect requires a moist spot to lay eggs, so they are especially common in areas like the seashore.

Citronella can help deter sand flies.
Citronella can help deter sand flies.

The bite of a sandfly can be formidable. Although these creatures are small, their bites often sting, and an area of swelling may appear around the area. Some people experience allergic reactions when bitten by one, and they may develop hives, difficulty breathing, or other allergy symptoms. For the most part, the bites are painful, but not inherently dangerous. Some species carry diseases like leishmaniasis, however, which can be problematic for their victims.

Aspirin may be useful in easing the inflammation associated with sandfly bites.
Aspirin may be useful in easing the inflammation associated with sandfly bites.

An itchy sandfly bite can be soothed with witch hazel or a similar astringent. Applications of ice and hydrocortisone cream can help reduce the swelling and itchiness, and aspirin can also ease inflammation. People should try to avoid scratching at bites, as this can open up the bite, creating a small sore that is vulnerable to infection.

In areas where sandflies carry disease, such as Africa and the Middle East, most people try to avoid being bitten. Insecticides can help deter the insects, as can the use of citronella candles. Since these bugs are mostly active at night, surrounding an outdoor party with citronella candles can protect the guests while enhancing the decor. While sleeping, insect nets and window screens can keep them out of the home or tent.

Products containing witch hazel can relieve irritation from sandfly bites.
Products containing witch hazel can relieve irritation from sandfly bites.

For travelers, being aware of sandfly bites is a good idea. If a medical problem emerges later, it may be useful for the healthcare professional to know that the patient was bitten while traveling. Without this information, he or she might take longer to arrive at a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Do Sandflies Bite Humans and Animals and Cause Harm?

Sandflies are tiny, even smaller than mosquitoes. However, their bites are often more painful. They can also potentially produce various adverse health effects. You may feel the pain immediately or may not notice it until the itch begins. What's worse, they often strike their prey in groups so that they will bite you multiple times in this case. Female sandflies bite humans and other mammals for their blood. These tiny creatures need the protein from your blood for optimal reproduction; more protein (i.e., more blood) means the ability to lay more eggs. Sandflies enjoy humid areas and also typically come out a little before sunset.

Short- and Long-Term Sand Fly Bites Symptoms and How They Can Affect You

Sandfly bites can cause a reaction such as hives.
Sandfly bites can cause a reaction such as hives.

Whether you are a human or another animal, you will probably know if a sandfly bites you. You are likely to experience itching, pain, redness and swelling in the affected area. You may also see some blood. Like gnats, mosquitos, or many other types of flying insects, sandflies are excellent transporters of disease-carrying microorganisms. One of the most significant disease risks is Leishmaniasis. Because of these risks, you should be safe and seek treatment for the bite(s) as soon as possible. The risk of this type of disease is more prevalent in specific areas of the world than in others. The Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia are three regions where you should definitely be proactive instead of reactive when dealing with these flies.

So, how can you avoid sand fly bites? Taking the proactive approach is a small, simple price to pay to help prevent the pain, suffering and expense you could endure if you get sick.

  • Clean up standing water, such as puddles water in buckets or flower pots that have collected rainwater.
  • Keep as much of your skin covered as possible.
  • Citronella is available in various forms, such as sprays and candles, and repels flying insects. Use insect repellants in the area where you'll be spending time to keep them from coming around. Also, apply skin-safe insect repellant to your body as another layer of protection against bites — insect repellants containing a high concentration of DEET work the best.
  • Mosquito nets are another great option to add an extra layer of protection to your home or tent, especially at night while the bugs are most active, so that you can sleep safely.
A topical cream can be applied to alleviate itchy skin.
A topical cream can be applied to alleviate itchy skin.

Cutaneous Leishmaniasis may not appear to be anything serious at first. However, if the bite area keeps growing, despite treatment, and becomes painful, there's a good chance it is Leishmaniasis. The parasite that has invaded your body is destroying your skin cells, and they can leave permanent scars if not treated quickly or adequately enough.

Sand Fly Bites Treatment for Itch and Pain Relief

Sand fly bites tend to be more painful than mosquito bites. They are more painful mainly because of the difference in the way that they bite. A mosquito uses its beak like a straw, injecting it into the skin to suck out the blood. However, sandflies tear the skin open to get to the blood. They also inject an anticoagulant before they begin feeding to spend more time feeding before the blood clots.

1. Avoid Scratching

The first rule after you get bitten is to avoid scratching the area. It will probably be extremely itchy for a while, but scratching the area will increase the risk of a skin infection or a disease. Besides, the more you scratch, the more intensely it will itch and get more painful.

2. Clean the Area

Clean the bite area as soon as possible with mild soap and water. Continue to clean it a couple of times a day.

3. Sanitize the Area

Reduce the risk of infection by applying an antiseptic. You will probably find the antiseptic provides a soothing for a while, also.

4. Relieve Itching and Inflammation

You can use an anti-itch cream to relieve itching and soothe your skin. Aloe Vera is a great natural way to soothe and heal inflamed, itchy skin.

5. Reduce Swelling and Irritation

You can reduce swelling and irritation by using a cold compress for about 10 minutes each day until healed. A malleable ice pack is ideal for this.

If you properly take care of the area, you should see signs of healing in a few days. However, if it is not healing or you're experiencing other symptoms, it's time to see a doctor. Some of these other symptoms could be:

  • Breathing issues
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Swollen face
  • Nausea
  • Fever
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon999701

I am pretty sure that the sand fly is one of the pesky that's that have been invading my home for the past four years.

My question is this; Do they leave a reddish/pink residue behind? Gritty like dirt? I have to clean/disinfect my kitchen before I cook, and leaving any type food out was a bad idea. Even fruit has to be stored in a cabinet and covered. It is totally gross! Now I guess we get to go to our doctor and get tested.

chrisinbama

@cmsmith10: There have also been Gulf War veterans that have experienced sand fly fever. Their symptoms were flu-like at times. They also experienced lower back pain, fever, headache, shivering, and meningitis.

Carrion’s disease can also be attributed to sand flies. It causes high fever, soreness, painful blisters and sores, and even death. The symptoms typically don’t appear until two weeks after being bitten by a sand fly. The symptoms can continue for three or four months. Strong antibiotics can lessen the symptoms.

momothree

@cmsmith10: There is one disease called leishmaniasis, also called Baghdad boil, which has affected many people. There were several cases in Texas in 2007. It causes sores or boils on your skin. It also causes weight loss, fever, and swelling of the spleen. It can even affect your organs.

It had previously been in Mexico, South America and the Middle East. 2007 was the first year that it was discovered in the United States. People affected had never traveled to any of those places. Scientists determined that the infection came from sand flies that had taken blood meals from animals that carried the virus.

cmsmith10

What kinds of diseases do sandflies carry?

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    • Sand flies are commonly found in tropical climates with sandy areas.
      By: luisapuccini
      Sand flies are commonly found in tropical climates with sandy areas.
    • An insect net can help keep sand flies out while sleeping.
      By: Thomas Launois
      An insect net can help keep sand flies out while sleeping.
    • Citronella can help deter sand flies.
      By: Bert Folsom
      Citronella can help deter sand flies.
    • Aspirin may be useful in easing the inflammation associated with sandfly bites.
      By: blueskies9
      Aspirin may be useful in easing the inflammation associated with sandfly bites.
    • Products containing witch hazel can relieve irritation from sandfly bites.
      By: dianamower
      Products containing witch hazel can relieve irritation from sandfly bites.
    • Sandfly bites can cause a reaction such as hives.
      By: Jürgen Fälchle
      Sandfly bites can cause a reaction such as hives.
    • A topical cream can be applied to alleviate itchy skin.
      By: picsfive
      A topical cream can be applied to alleviate itchy skin.