Blister Beetle Dermatitis
It’s Sunday morning. I’m enjoying a nice lie in (as the Brits say), watching the sun filter in through my mosquito net and catching up on some of the Master of Rome series (almost done Book V, baby!).
I roll over to get my glasses, and notice a small tick-like bug crawling by my pillow. Anyone growing up in New England has a healthy hazard towards ticks, so I brush the bugger off the bed with the aim of killing him on the floor. Instead the brush kills him, and a streak of blood follows him across the sheet. My blood. Whatever he was, he was snacking on me somewhere in the night.
Well, let’s hope I don’t have some weird tick-borne African disease, I sigh to myself before carrying on with my day.
I absentmindedly scratch at my side somewhere during the day, enough to notice when I do it again the next day. It registered that the day before I had thought that it was a mosquito bite, but I rarely itch at the same mosquito bite twice. I lift up my shirt to see my side. This bite is pinkish-red, and doesn’t have the characteristic white halo around it that’s a telltale sign of mosquito bites here. It looks like some kind of contact dermatitis. Which is kind of a weird thing to see on one’s side.
And my, how it hurts. It has a kind of constant gnawing pain about it, like a wound healing. The closest thing to which I can equate it is a bad sunburn, or a tattoo. A tattoo is closer to the feeling. You want to itch at it, but know that you probably shouldn’t. And it stings. Constantly. Reminding you that it’s there with each minuscule movement.
Of which there are a lot on one’s abdomen.
I spray some pain-relieving spray on it and hope for the best.
The next day, Day 3, the itching is still bad. I do some yoga, shower carefully, and ask my housemate Krupa if she has some gauze to spare. I can’t take having my shirt brush against this all day, and I’m going to be doing a lot of walking.
After some translating (apparently they don’t call it gauze in the UK?), she generously proffers some large adhesive bandage patches and gingerly applies them to my side, which is a huge help because I can’t see all of the bites. There are now two main ones, and two smaller ones still blistering up on my back.
I spend some time searching the Internet and complaining to friends local, expat, and at home alike. It seems likely to be paederus dermatitis caused by pederin secreted by the Nairobi fly, which ironically my friend Rachael had mentioned Sunday night when telling a story about a friend of hers. But I hadn’t seen any blue-and-orange striped bugs around, which would have been likely if I had crushed one in the night. And I luckily didn’t have any blisters on my face or my eyes, which happen as one scratches and then spreads the Nairobi fly poison (transferred by contact, not by injection via a bite) to other areas.
Some more Googling seems to suggest blister beetle dermatitis, caused by cantharidin—another vesicant (blister-causing agent)—secreted by—you guessed it—blister beetles. I send up an expletive to the dead little nymph as I discover this. That was no tick. It was some malicious little poison-injecting beetle baby who managed to get under my mosquito net somehow.
It’s Day 6 as I’m writing this. The bites still sting like the dickens, and more cropped up along my spine, but I’ve made peace with the pain and am able to move past it. I only hope that the blisters subside soon… I’ll keep plying my immune system with tea and placebo thoughts, and covering the vesicles (ew) with warm washcloths soaked in salt water, with triple-antibacterial ointment.
Hopefully the treatment for the next bug that bites me is a hug and a glass of wine.
If you found this post because you were looking for the sexiest blister beetle dermatitis on the planet, then here are some hints I found helpful:
- Carefully wash and dry the blisters with soap and warm water
- Don’t worry about spreading them; they were caused by bites, not by contact
- It may take a couple days for all of the blisters to show themselves
- Spraying pain-relieving antiseptic spray on them makes them feel better
- So does applying a washcloth soaked in warm salt water (1 tsp per pint)
- You may wish to cover the blisters in a thin layer of antibiotic ointment and a bandage, if only to keep them from rubbing up against the fabric of your clothes and itching more
Other than that, stay excited for a few weeks and hope that the residual hyperpigmentation subsides after a couple months.
And I’m not a doctor, obviously. So if you think that you need medical attention, then stop wasting time on the Internet. But if you don’t think that you need medical attention, and just want to make sure that you have blister beetle dermatitis and not paederus dermatitis caused by the Nairobi fly, then here’s a handy table that I made for you:
|Condition||Blister Beetle Dermatitis (click for Wikipedia)||Paederus Dermatitis (click for Wikipedia)|
|Insect||Blister beetle||Nairobi fly|
|Cause||Poisonous venom injected via bite||Poisonous venom spread by contact with a bug accidentally crushed against the skin|
|Irritation onset||Few hours||12-36 hours|
|Location||Usually isolated to one area or a trail of bites||Easily spread in a 'kissing' pattern or to other areas of the body—including face, mucous membranes, and eyes—due to touching the irritated area before blisters have formed and subsequently touching other areas of the body|
|Is it adorning Meaghan’s trunk?||Yes||No|