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Friday, April 10, 2015


by Edmund C. Gray, M.D. ~ 1927

There was a time when the fly and the mosquito, those twin pests of the summer season, were regarded merely as common nuisances. As such they have caused great discomfort, even unutterable anguish at times, and added to the widespread use of the profane language.

Came the time when medical science added a new charge to the indictment against these twin pests. It was started when a young fellow connected with the Department of Agriculture at Washington discovered that the tick was responsible for the spread of "Texas fever" among cattle, this discovery causing medical science to conduct experiments with the mosquito and other insects as carriers of disease among human beings. In the process of these experiments heroes were made that the cause of health might be advanced, volunteers offering themselves as a sacrifice to the cause of science by exposing their bodies to the sting of insects that has been inoculated with disease by having bitten diseased persons.

Anopheles Mosquito
As a result of such experiments one hero died of yellow fever in Havana, and others contracted the disease but subsequently recovered. But it was through their heroic sacrifices that the Anopheles mosquito was definitely indicted as the common carrier of yellow fever and malaria, and that yellow fever was ultimately stamped out in Havana, the Canal Zone, and in all the Gulf States of the United States. Had it not been for the discovery indicting the mosquito as a carrier of disease the Panama Canal never could have been completed, as it was the mosquito that handicapped the French in this effort and was partly the cause of their abandonment of the enterprise.

Some insects are merely nuisances; some give much discomfort; and some are even dangerous. Because we are habitually careless with our refuse we are pestered with that general "goat getter," the common house fly. But even the common house fly may be even worse than a pest, as against it, too, there is a new indictment.

House Fly
The fly has been convicted as a disease carrier largely upon conjecture; but to medical men the circumstantial evidence is strong against him. He crawls over what we eat and wipes his feet on it and on our faces, without regard to where those feet have trod but a few minutes before. The more we perspire the more likely he is to trample upon our bodies, our dignity and our patience and good humor, and the tighter he clings. He defecates every few minutes, wherever he is. When he alights in the sugar bowl or on the cake frosting he vomits the contents of his crop upon the sugar to dissolve it, then greedily gobbles up the solution. But his construction is such that he cannot bite. I am writing of the common house fly; there are other flies that do bite, and bite viciously. The chief annoyances of this common domestic fly are its dirty habits and its tendency to become too socially intimate with the humans responsible for its existence. Swatting the fly is excellent exercise and should be indulged in by all when occasion presents. But that will not rid a place of the pest. It must not be allowed to breed!

Among the flies that do bite are the common stable fly, sand fly, bluebottle fly, and the blowfly. These usually are not present in large numbers, but their bites may be vicious and painful. Some of them may walk over wounds and infect them by depositing infected or decomposing material. The blowfly, especially, is a serious pest, as it deposits its eggs in the nostrils, usually of sleeping persons. Maggots develop from the eggs, sometimes in large numbers, and the tissues of the nose and throat may be rapidly destroyed. As the eggs hatch within a short time after being deposited, there is only a short time for removing them.

Perhaps no insect is more of a pest than the mosquito. While the fly is domesticated and sleeps at night, the mosquito is like most sinners in that he travels at night and prefers darkness for his revels. Its singing is a nuisance and music to no human ears, but its bite is much worse. Its long proboscis is plunged quickly into the skin for the purpose of drawing blood--in the process of which it brings torment to the victim. A poison is injected during the time of blood-sucking, hence small or large welts may be produced, depending upon the susceptibility of the individual. A single bite causes as much trouble to some people as a whole flock of them to some others. Several bites are very likely to cause nervousness, irritability, and restless sleep or insomnia. The effect upon children is apt to be considerably more severe than upon adults. Some people seem to just draw mosquitoes and other insects. Doubtless they do, for the more toxic the body the more pronounced the body odor, and this attracts insects. The more toxic one is the more severe the symptoms will be, also.

Female Culex Mosquito
There are several kinds of mosquitoes, but most of them are comparatively harmless except as stated. The term mosquito is popularly given to only one variety of gnats, the Culex. His piping singing gives rise to his name (Culex pipiens). The other important mosquito is the known carrier of malaria, and is called the Anopheles. You may be able to detect these two forms by points of difference: Anopheles is slender, its body is almost straight, its wings are dark spotted, and when it rests it stands on four legs with two rear legs up in the air and its body at an angle of from forty-five to eighty degrees with the surface plane upon which it rests; Culex has a heavier body, a decided humpback, its wings are spotless, and it rests on all six legs with its body almost parallel with the surface plane on which it rests. Aside from the danger of malaria in malarial districts, mosquitoes can do more to take the joy out of vacationing than almost any other influence.

Gnats and fleas are common pests, and especially aggravating because of their perniciously annoying habits and small size and their agility in getting out of the way of hands bent on no caressing mission. They make prodigious leaps to safety, but return to pester again when the cost is clear. Jiggers, chiggers or jigger fleas are a serious pest. There is the tiny mite that burrows beneath the skin and creates an intense itch. It is "picked up" from grass and weeds. There is the larger kind that does the same burrowing. They become as large as peas from the development of eggs within their bodies, and show under the elevated whitened skin. The swellings are painful and may ulcerate.

Spider webs are pretty things to look upon from the tent door or cottage window when covered with dew, but the spiders who weave them are not so agreeable. Perhaps all spiders are not poisonous, but a good many are. They inject a corrosive, poisonous acid similar to that found in ants--formic acid (the Latin for ants is formica). It produces rapid swelling and inflammation, sometimes partial paralysis. Ants are very good for inciting one to do a shimmy dance, but they are not conducive to good digestion of a picnic dinner thoroughly enjoyed. They are inclined to use their biters or stings with a vengeance upon any intruder or  disturber. Whole colonies may attack with great fury. There may be only temporary pain, but some ants are poisonous and the effect of their poison may be noticed for some time.

Everyone knows something of bees, wasps and hornets, perhaps all of these. Anyone who inadvertently prods a hornet's nest or a bumble-bee ground nest and thereby provokes these winged minutemen to try the power of their sting and poison is most likely to walk a mile to prevent doing so again. Usually these winged sentinels do not molest one unless disturbed; but their very presence is disconcerting, for one never knows what innocent little act will be misinterpreted by them as a challenge or when he will be guilty of a faux pas. They are very touchy and unamenable to reason. So try to avoid letting wasps or hornets build their homes in the corners of your tent or cottage and do not erect your tent in the door-yard of a bees' home. A few stings from the vicious attacks of these, or "yellow jackets," will last one a lifetime.

Moths and butterflies are innocent enough any way you take them in their adult stage. But some of them are poisonous in their caterpillar or larval stages. Some of them produce itching eruptions like hives; some secrete a poisonous fluid; others have minute irritation spines that break off in the skin. In those forms that are at all harmful the spines usually have some fluid that causes an intense nettling sensation. Some of the moth larvae, especially those of the brown-tail moth, are extremely poisonous, though not fatally so. Their spines are particularly harmful if inhaled.

Some beetles are poisonous. Some merely exude a disgusting fluid, others have a fluid that raises blisters. The effect of this is much worse if there is sweating. This holds true of other poisonous insects, usually in somewhat less degree.

Buffalo Gnat
The black fly of the Northeastern States and the buffalo gnat found in the Mississippi valley have very painful bites and also inject a poison that produces marked swelling, and general symptoms if one suffers many bites. Buffalo gnats appear in great swarms in the lower Mississippi valley, and often are a terrible torment. Gad-flies, breeze-flies and horse-flies are more troublesome to animals that to man, but often cause much human distress. Their bites are not poisonous, but are very annoying and irritating. They frequently make bathing and boating very unpleasant.

One would think that with these several pests there might be little pleasure obtainable while picnicking, camping or vacationing. But except for flies and mosquitoes the pests are fairly easily avoided. You might as well try to sweep back the waters of the Mississippi with a broom as to try to clear your vacationing spot of all pests. But you can do much to make your vacation pleasurable by keeping your surroundings as clean as is humanly possible. If everyone took nothing into and left nothing in camping places upon which insects could breed there would be more enjoyment for them and more comfort for the next occupants of the grounds. But just now we are interested in what to do if any of these insects go on the rampage and make their presence painfully known. Here are some remedies:

House flies don't bite. But "swat 'em" at every opportunity. And keep your place screened and your waste properly disposed of. Sticky fly-paper is as effective in camp as in the home. Make traps for the flies, also; but avoid poisonous baits, such as arsenical papers, for these are dangerous if children are around.

Mosquitoes, gnats, ticks, fleas, lice and the large flies dislike oils of eucalyptus, cinnamon and cloves and weak solutions of carbolic acid. They won't interfere when these are applied to the body; and the last named is a good remedy in case of their bites and stings. The pain of these may be relieved by beta-naphthol, one-half dram to an ounce of water, menthol or ammonia water. But boric acid compresses are as good as anything else for reducing inflammation. When mosquitoes are breeding in great numbers in small bodies of water there is such congestion that the mosquitoes are dwarfed. These may require very fine screening to exclude them. But screen there should be, against full-sized mosquitoes anyway. Also small pools should be drained or a tablespoonful of kerosene (coal oil) for each square yard of surface water should be poured on the pools and renewed every ten to fourteen days. Smudges, or body application of fish-oil or other repellant substance, is of advantage to deep off black flies and buffalo gnats, and may other insects, as well.

Jiggers are killed by some natives of tropical and semi-tropical countries by holding a lighted cigarette over the skin. Don't take to smoking, however, merely to have a cigarette handy for an invasion that probably won't take place. A better way is to remove the parasite with a sharp knife point, taking care not to break its skin, for its contents may produce distressing sores. When the parasite is removed the cavity may be cleansed with boric acid solution and covered with a boric acid compress or with antiseptic powder.

Stings of wasps, bees and hornets may be relieved by applications of ammonia, baking soda, camphorated chloral, or merely by moist clay or a cold wet compress. Spider poison is an acid, hence an alkali will antidote it: calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate, ammonia, baking soda, etc. The maggots of the blowfly may be destroyed by irrigations of weak solutions of clove oil or carbolic acid or with chloral; but these require such careful using that a physician should be consulted. Spraying and gargling with boric acid or Listerine or diluted lemon juice immediately after probable exposure will remove the danger of later trouble. Ticks should be removed, taking care to get the heads which are burrowed into the skin, then boric acid compresses may be applied to soothe the irritation. Holding a lighted match to the tip of the tick will cause it to release its hold. Solutions of Epsom salt applied by compress is excellent to relieve the irritation and inflammation of most of these bites and stings as well as of poison ivy. Common salt applied damp gives wonderful relief in stings of bees, wasps, hornets and beetles.

Woolen blankets make excellent traps for fleas, for they cannot jump from the wool.

One does not carry along a medicine chest when he goes vacationing, of course. But usually one will be fairly near some town where some desirable things may be obtained. But if one takes along boric acid for cleansing purposes and compresses, and oil of eucalyptus, cinnamon or cloves to prevent attacks by insects, or perhaps one of the marketed solutions for this purpose, uses every reasonable precaution to prevent attacks by insects, and keeps healthy so that an occasional bite or sting may be laughed off, the chances are that he will not be greatly disturbed by these pests and nuisances, or that he will be able to take care of their bites and stings and still enjoy his vacation and get a great deal of relaxation and benefit from it.

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