A Safety Net

June 6, 2017

A Safety Net

Painful, itchy bug bites annoying, but not dangerous


Late spring isn’t all it’s scratched up to be.

North Idaho residents trying to enjoy the great outdoors after a long, harsh winter have been greeted by nasty buggers called black flies. “Black flies are annoying but not medically dangerous,” said Dr. Joseph Abate, Heritage Health’s medical director. “The bites can be painful and itchy, and swelling can be significant.”

Also referred to as buffalo gnats, black flies have feasted on people and pets this spring. Black flies will crawl into people’s sleeves, under neckbands and into boots. The bugs especially favor the head, just beneath the rim of a hat. Children are often bitten at the base of the hairline and at the back of the head.

Most people don’t realize they’ve been bitten until it’s too late. Generally, with a black fly bite there’s some blood, then a red welt that itches. Evidence of their bites is hard to miss, often going for the neck and head of humans. “Black flies do not transmit disease to humans in the US,” said Abate. “In other parts of the world, they can transmit a parasite that causes ‘river blindness.’”

What to do about these little bloodsuckers?

“Preventive efforts are limited to protective clothing and insect repellent spray. Ice reduces the swelling, and a topical cortisone cream can help as well,” said Abate. “The puncture site can get secondarily infected so it is important to keep the site clean.”

People can avoid being bitten if they stay away from areas where black flies are active at dawn and dusk. They are commonly encountered near rivers, ponds, pastures with livestock and near rapid-moving water. Black flies are sensitive to weather conditions. They are most active on cloudy, humid days with low wind.

Most bug experts say black flies disappear when the hot weather arrives for the summer months, so help is on the way.