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.
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.
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.
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.
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.