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Flesh-eating parasites strike Australian couple

By Victoria Cotterell

The bite of the bot fly can lead to parasites living under the flesh. Photo / Thinkstock
The bite of the bot fly can lead to parasites living under the flesh. Photo / Thinkstock

Two Australians are trapped in Bolivia for a month after they were attacked by flesh-eating maggots.

The plight of Ally Vaag and her boyfriend Bryan Williams is a timely reminder to New Zealanders travelling to South America or Africa, where the parasites are common.

But experts say that while the infections were not pretty, it was not as bad as it sounds.

The Australian couple contracted the disease during a trip to the Amazon River last month, when they were bitten by what they thought were mosquitos.

It was only when they arrived in Bolivia that they discovered the bites had left them with bot fly maggots crawling under their skin.

After feeding on a host's flesh, the maggots will typically exit the body via wounds they have created on the skin. They will then become bot flies.

Extraction takes place by placing Vaseline - or a similar substance - on the wounds. After the maggots have been suffocated, they can be extracted with tweezers.

Dr Marc Shaw, from Auckland's Worldwise Travellers Health and Vaccination Centre, said the infection was not uncommon amongst New Zealanders.

"I've probably extracted them from about five or six people over the past few years.

"It's not a relatively uncommon event."

He stressed the infection was not as dramatic as it sounded.

"There's a great mythology about the bot fly, but really you just pull them out and forget about it.

"They're quite robust little blighters, but they come out relatively easily."

He also said that it would be impossible for those who suffer from the infection to spread it to other New Zealanders, with our relatively cool climate making it near-impossible.

"There's no history of that in our climate. We just don't have the conditions."

He recommended those travelling to either South America or Africa take particular care on beaches, where people were most likely to be infected.

Because the flies often attach their eggs to mosquitos, who then bite a host and leave then with the infection, he said insect repellent is a must.

Long pants, proper footwear, and light-coloured clothing can also help protect travellers from the bot fly.

Vaag and Williams will remain in Bolivia until at least next month, by which time they should be fully healed.

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