Horseflies

What does it look like?

Why is it dangerous?

Female horseflies have sharp cutting parts which can saw through even the skin of an ox, and then drink the blood from their wound. Only the females bite, as they need protein to produce their eggs: the males feed only from plants. The photograph above of a horsefly beneath a leaf is a female laying her eggs on its underside.

The females’ bites are extremely painful. Since ancient Greek times, they have featured in literature as being able to torment people to insanity.

In some countries they spread a variety of serious and potentially fatal diseases. Luckily in Britain they do not spread any dangerous diseases, but their bites can still become infected and cause very nasty reactions.

Symptoms of a horsefly bite:

  • a larger red, raised rash (called hives or urticaria)
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • wheezing
  • part of your body becoming puffy and swollen, including around the eyes or lips.
  • Some people are allergic to horseflies which can cause hives, which can be very painful, and in some people they can trigger anaphylactic shock.

There can also be complications:

  1. Horseflies can cause bacterial infections.
  2. If the skin continues to stay red and swollen or if there keeps coming out moist, then keep an extra eye on it.
  3. Wash the area thoroughly twice a day with water and soap or disinfect it with alcohol.
  4. If the situation doesn’t improve then go see your general practitioner
  5. Horsefly bites can take a while to heal and can become infected. See your GP if your wound does not begin to subside after a few hours, or if you have symptoms of an infection, such as pus or increasing pain, redness, heat or swelling.

How can I avoid it?

Horseflies are often found near water, so be alert. Do not pitch tents near ponds or large bodies of water, especially stagnant water.

Horseflies are active in sunlight but they avoid shady places and do not fly at night.

What to do if it bites me?

Cool the area of the horsefly bite with a wet cold washcloth, a coolpack or some ice cubes in a washcloth.

Disinfect the bitten area by washing thoroughly with water and soap or treat it with (for example) alcohol. Disinfecting with vinegar is also an option.

Keep an eye on the bitten area for a few days. There’s a small chance a bacterial infection might occur. If the area stays red or you see little yellow crusts, then go see your general practitioner.

Treat the area with special medication. Your pharmacy sells several treatments for insect stings and horsefly bites.

Take an anti-allergy tablet (e.g. one you use for hay fever) to reduce the itching and allergic reactions.

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