Bites and Stings
Mosquitoes and Sand Flies
Mosquitoes are found just about everywhere in Honduras and can be particularly bothersome during the rainy season. Everyone has a favorite method for dealing with the bloodsuckers. It’s hard to beat a thick coat of DEET, but many travelers are loath to put on such a strong chemical day after day, especially on a long trip. There are many natural repellents available, including in Honduras (look for Cactus Juice on Roatán, or Nuvy’s Repelente de Insectos in grocery stores and pharmacies on the mainland). Best of all are loose, long-sleeved shirts and light pants, with socks.
Sand flies, or jejenes, can be a plague on the Bay Islands, depending on the season and the wind level. Insect repellent will keep them away, and some swear by Avon Skin-So-Soft lotion, which is sold on the islands. The bites are annoying but will usually stop itching quickly if not scratched. As their name suggests, sand flies live on the sand and can be avoided by swimming, sunning yourself on a dock over the water, or just staying away from the beach. A few spots on the islands are known to be free of the pests, and on Roatán and Utila the government has started spraying some areas with environmentally friendly products to eradicate them. Sand flies are generally not as much of a problem on mainland beaches.
First, the good news: Lyme disease is not present in Honduras. However, incredibly itchy little ticks, known locally as coloradillas, inhabit pastures in rural areas of Honduras. They normally live off cows and donkeys, but are in no way averse to infesting the flesh of an unsuspecting backpacker who decides to camp in a pasture because it’s the only clear land around for the tent. You will likely not see them at all, as the ticks are tiny—practically microscopic. If they get into you, the itching starts a day or two later and is usually concentrated around the ankles and the waist area, though they can spread everywhere if given a chance. The torture doesn’t go away for at least a week, and sometimes lingers for several weeks, long after the little buggers are dead. Some topical creams are helpful in alleviating the infestation and itching.
Larger ticks, called garrapatas, are found also. The best way to get rid of them is to pull out their heads with tweezers as soon as possible. You can also rub the spot first with a strong alcohol like aguardiente, which should make the beastie come out easier. Make sure you get the whole tick out, to avoid infection. Ticks favor warm, moist environments, like armpits, the scalp, and pubic hair.
The chronic Chagas’ disease, caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, is transmitted by the bite of certain bloodsucking insects (notably the assassin bug and conenose) found from southern Texas through South America. The disease is estimated to affect 12 million people in the Americas. The bugs prefer to bite while victims are asleep and usually bite the victim’s face. While taking in blood, the bugs often deposit feces, which transmits the disease to the victim’s bloodstream. Such bug bites are common in Honduras, but before panicking, note that only about 2 percent of those bitten will develop Chagas’ disease. Young children are the most susceptible.
After an initial reaction of swollen glands and fever, 1–2 weeks after the bite, the disease goes into remission for anywhere from 5–30 years, with no symptoms apparent. It may, in fact, never reappear, but if it does, the disease causes severe heart problems sometimes leading to death. There is no cure for Chagas’ disease.
To avoid Chagas’, avoid being bitten. The bugs are most prevalent in rural areas, often living among dead palm fronds or piles of wood. If you are sleeping in a thatched-roof hut and do not have a mosquito net, try to cover your face with a cloth or put on a bug repellent containing DEET. A spray of pyrethrin insecticide will kill the bugs. If staying in an old hotel, check the room carefully for bugs, including under the mattress.
Chagas’ is present in all departments of Honduras except the Bay Islands and Gracias a Dios (the Mosquitia). Infestation is minimal in Atlántida, Colón, and Yoro, while it is a particular problem in Intibucá and parts of Olancho.
Snakes, Bees, Scorpions, and Roaches
Honduras has its share of scorpions, wasps, bees (including the aggressive Africanized honey bee), and poisonous snakes. Most of the dangerous snakes live in the tropical forests of the Atlantic coast, particularly in the jungles of the Mosquitia, where pit vipers (including the deadly fer-de-lance) and coral snakes are common dangers.
The fer-de-lance is considered one of the most venomous snakes in the world. Bites are fatal unless the victim receives medical help within a few hours after being bitten. The fer-de-lance is easy to spot by the bright patch of yellow under its throat, a marking that earned it the nickname barba amarilla (yellow beard). Other poisonous snakes include the black-, red-, and white-striped coral, or coral snake, and the cascabel, or rattler.
When hiking in the jungle, wear boots and long pants. Watch where you put your feet, and if possible, let a guide precede you. Be particularly careful around piles of dead wood or stones, which offer shade to snakes during the day. Jungle lore holds that fer-de-lance are most frequently found near water holes and light gaps created by fallen trees.
While roaches are generally harmless, a friend of ours who is a triage doctor at the public hospital in Tegucigalpa reports having to remove roaches from patients’ ears on a not-infrequent basis. (If somehow you are unlucky enough to have a roach in your ear, and are far from medical care, know that you must drown the roach in order to remove it safely from the ear.) If you are staying somewhere that you know or believe might have roaches, tuck a tiny wad of tissue into each ear to avoid this problem.
© Chris Humphrey and Amy E. Robertson from Moon Honduras, 5th Edition