Thursday, May 1, 2014

Parasites: Body (part 1)

As the weather warms up and we all start spending more time outside, it becomes more important to start paying attention to the little buggers that want to make a meal of us. In a post-disaster situation the insect/arachnid population will likely grow due to an abundance of food and shelter, so the lessons learned during good times will be even more valuable in the bad times.

WARNING: You may find yourself itching after reading the following!

Outdoor Parasites


Arachnids that don't just bite, they actually stick part of their heads into your skin in order to get to your blood. Once embedded in you, they continue to feed until engorged and will then back out and drop off to lay eggs. Usually found in tall grass and woods or attached to other animals, ticks come in a wide variety of sizes. Ticks carry some nasty diseases like Lyme, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and even a variation of hemorrhagic fever with a 30% mortality rate.

Preventative measures include: keeping the openings of your clothing secure (tuck your pants into your boots, button your cuffs, etc.), wearing a hat or bandanna, and use of repellents to keep them off of you. Periodic inspection of your body for unwanted passengers is a good idea, as is checking children and pets since they may not notice them. Removing a tick that has attached itself is done by grasping it with fine nosed tweezers as close to the skin as possible and lifting up with steady pressure. Several tick-removal tools are available that work quite well. Clean the wound and apply antibiotic cream if you have it.

Free-range chickens and especially Guinea fowl will actually hunt ticks in the grass, keeping your homestead clear of them.


Basically water-borne ticks, these worms will feed on just about anything. They secrete an anticoagulant in their saliva, so wounds caused by them may bleed more freely than expected. Like ticks, they will feed until engorged unless removed before that point. Also like ticks, leeches come in a variety of sizes and colors. Diseases that they can carry range from bacteria to HIV/AIDS.

On the positive side, leeches have been and are used for medical purposes to promote blood flow in injured extremities and for drawing the blood out of severe bruises. Medical leeches are specially bred and raised to be disease-free.

Treatment for leeches is mainly removing them safely. If you get violent with it, it is likely to regurgitate its last few meals into the wound before it leaves. Slide a fingernail or the back (blunt) side of a thin knife blade between the leech and your skin and gently move it toward one end of the leech, while pressing down on the skin. This will break the seal of the leech's sucker. Repeat for the other end of the leech (they have suckers on both ends) and dispose of it. Bandage the wound after cleaning it.


One of mankind's oldest parasites, these disease carrying pests have probably killed more people than all of our wars combined. Since they live on warm-blooded bodies, they are more wide-spread than mosquitoes and are active year-round. The Black Death (bubonic plague) was probably spread by the fleas on rats and killed roughly 25% of the population of Europe. Typhus, tapeworm, ricketts, and sleeping sickness are a few of the other gifts they can carry.

Treating an area for fleas usually consists of the use of a chemical pesticide for at least long enough to break the life cycle of egg, larvae, pupae, adult which varies by the type of fleas you're dealing with. Two weeks to six months worth of chemical warfare can be required to get rid of them, so it's best to avoid letting them into your life in the first place. Preventing infestation involves keeping the living areas clean (eliminate areas for their eggs to hatch), keeping animals and people clean (removes eggs and adults) and use of repellents to keep them from wandering in on their own. Cedar oil has shown some usefulness in keeping them from infesting an area, and is non-toxic (and smells good to most people). I'll cover eradication in next weeks post.


Malaria, many different fevers (Dengue, Scarlet, etc.), and a host of other blood-borne diseases are transmitted via mosquitoes mainly because they will bite one animal and them move to another, carrying the diseases from one host to another.

Prevention of mosquito bites requires the use of repellents and barriers. I carry DEET in the highest strength I can find. Use of DEET on children has come under scrutiny lately, but as long as you use at least 30% DEET you'll get several hours of relief from most biting insects. Citronella and lemon eucalyptus are good natural repellents. Use of mosquito barriers around and over your bed can let you get a night's sleep without waking up feeling like a pin cushion. This is one of the original uses of the four-poster bed, the tall bed posts gave you a way to hang mosquito netting.

Removing small sources of stagnant water and treating larger ones can help break the life-cycle and reduce the population to a more manageable level. Purple Martins and several other species of birds will help clear the skies of mosquitoes, so give them what ever help you can.

Biting flies

Mainly a painful bite, these can be serious because they tend to come in swarms instead of individuals like mosquitoes. While they are capable of spreading disease their main threat is the sheer number of bites a swarm can inflict, leading to massive blood loss. The species that don't bite can be a problem by blocking the airway of humans and animals, leading to suffocation.

Prevention is mainly through avoidance, since they don't respond to repellents very well. Black flies are the most common in the USA and are at their worst in the Spring and early Summer near bodies of clean, fresh water. They prefer to attack when the wind is low, usually around dusk and at night.


Nasty little grass dwellers that will feed on you and make you itch, leading to secondary infections. They are nearly microscopic and don't actually suck your blood, they bite then secrete enzymes that break down your skin allowing them to suck the liquefied tissue up though the wound. The enzymes are what cause the insane itching after they are satiated and drop off. Keep the grass as short as you can around the homestead and apply repellent to your pants legs. Bathe in hot soapy water as soon as you can after a day in the field to dislodge any chiggers that may have found you tasty. Wash your clothing in hot water to kill any that may have hitched a ride home with you, Antihistamines and calamine lotion will help relieve the itching.

Sorry if I have you itching by now, but the little things can make you just as miserable as the big things. I'll cover the indoor parasites next week - fair warning has been given.

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