It sounds like the scene from a Hitchcock movie, but it’s actually happening.
“Vampire horseflies” are sweeping the UK, causing serious concern over the fatal infections they can carry.
As Summer turns up the heat in Great Britain and the rest of the UK, it’s also waking up the horseflies.
Horseflies are large insects, reaching up to 1-inch in length with a 2-inch wingspan, and they have an interesting diet.
While they generally feed on plant-nectar and, as such, are actually important pollinators for many flowers like the Cape Orchid, the females also like to suck your blood.
The reason? Procreation, of course.
The female horsefly has to consume blood when it reaches sexual maturity for protein in order to breed, or produce more horseflies.
To add insult to injury, these vampiric creatures can also carry a variety of diseases and infection on top of their agonizing bite, including parasitic worms like Loa loa.
This has raised a dual concern over the lack of attention being given to the research and development of new antibiotic medications.
According to Colin Garner, Chief Executive and Professor of Antibiotic Research UK, a.k.a. ANTRUK, we may be overlooking a prime opportunity for the advancement of life-saving drugs.
“Here is a prime example of why we need to develop new medications fast to keep up with our changing climate and unexpected situations such as a horsefly bite epidemic.”
Horseflies are nearly everywhere but prefer moist habitats like ponds, woodlands, bogs, and marshes.
ANTRUK claims the current heat wave combined with these habitats has caused the presence of the little bloodsuckers to reach “Mediterranean levels”.
This is worrisome because wounds from a horsefly bite are more likely to get infected than, say, a tick or mosquito bite which, according to Professor Garner, can easily be fatal.
“It is entirely possible in 2018 that you can die of an insect bite, not just in some hot foreign clime, but here in Britain.”
The female horseflies have a long knife-like mouthpiece they use to cut and push your skin apart to reach your blood.
The resulting wound is more like an open gash than the pin-prick you would see from a mosquito bite and takes much longer to heal. This is also why their bite is so immediately painful.
Longer healing time means more chances to itch and scratch, allowing the wound to become infected and certain diseases to thrive.
So… an infected bite is no big deal, right? Wrong.
Over the years scientists and doctors have become increasingly concerned with the overuse of antibiotics creating a tolerance or resistance in certain bacteria.
This tolerance has led to superbugs, like MRSA, and in order to keep up with the adapting ‘bugs’, ANTRUK says we have to find an effective formula.
“We have been warning for some time that our antibiotics are so ineffective that we could reach the situation where people will once again die from an infected scratch or bite.”
For now, at least, you can prevent infection in most bites with diligent use of over-the-counter treatments. Professor Garner himself said he was recently bitten and is self-treating the wound to prevent infection.
“I personally got bitten recently by a horsefly and it is very painful. I am self-medicating with creams and an oral antihistamine tablet to ensure the bite site does not become infected.”
Garner warns that with the recent development of high tolerance to broad-spectrum antibiotics, we won’t always be able to get away with these conventional treatments, though.
We have not invested in the kinds of antibiotics we need to keep up with devious and ever-changing bacterial infections. Now we are in real danger that we could return to a pre-antibiotic past, where dirty wounds, bites and conditions like TB and Typhoid might kill.”
In the event of an epidemic like this, it’s a good idea to know the signs of infection.