February 17, 2010
February 17 - Cordylobia anthropophaga
Last year, I was doing some field work in Tanzania and we were staying up at a small station in the highlands. The station staff agreed to do our laundry for us – a welcome thing after several days of muddy work. Our clothes were washed by hand and then put on racks to dry. Soon, one of the women took our clothes – even our underwear – and ironed everything. Are Tanzanians incredibly finicky about pressed clothes? No, she was trying to protect us from tunga flies, Cordylobia anthropophaga. These flies usually lay their eggs in the feces of animals. The larvae hatch out and wiggle around, looking for the warm body of a mammal to latch onto. They proceed to bury themselves beneath the skin where they grow (much like a botfly does) for about a week and a half until they are ready to pupate, when they crawl back out of the skin, drop to the ground, and pupate. Tunga flies also have a predilection for laying their eggs on damp clothes, however – and so when you put these clothes on,the larvae will crawl into your skin. The result is a nasty condition known as myiasis – painful boil-like lesions. Ironing the clothing will kill the eggs - thankfully.
Image from the CDC Public Health Image Library.