MAR 31, 2017 11:14 AM PDT

Diagnosed: Bug Bites Turned Out To Be Burrowing Maggots

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Some people have an irrational fear of having bugs crawling under their skin. However, for one woman, her worst fears were confirmed when doctors did indeed diagnose her with an infestation of “skin maggots.”

Image: NEJM

In a case report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a 46-year-old woman reportedly developed strange sores on her arms. Thinking these wound-like lesions were caused by common bug bites, doctors prescribed the woman with antibiotics.

The antibiotics did nothing and the woman returned to the ER the next day with worsening symptoms. A deeper examination of the lesions revealed something seemingly out of a horror story - her sores were wriggling.

The woman was infected with live larvae from the Tumbu fly (Cordylobia anthropophaga). Likely, the woman came in contact with these flies, which are native to the African tropics, during a trip to the Ivory Coast.

The flies typically lay eggs in soil or damp clothing, but skin also offers a suitable environment too. On skin, the larvae burrow themselves under, causing various strange and unpleasant sensations for the infected person. Indeed, this case report gives credit to all the horror movie scenes portraying creepy crawlies under the skin.

Of note, the parasitic infection of maggots is known as myiasis. This condition most commonly occurs in the tropics and subtropics of Africa and the Americas. Fortunately, the incidence of myiasis is quite low in the US, and infected people often contract it through their travels to the affected regions.

For the 46-year-old patient, the standard treatment of larvae removal was performed successfully through surgery. Her wounds began healing shortly after the removal. She was also given antibiotics and recovered quite well from her ordeal.

For people who have a fear of bugs under their skin, known as delusional parasitosis or Ekbom's syndrome, this case report might have just exacerbated all their fears.

Additional sources: Live Science

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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