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carolines Mar 6th, 2007 01:49 PM

WARNING to those travelling in the Serengeti
We've just returned from a MAGNIFICENT first African safari, a private one (thanks, guys, you were SO right about going private!) and are deep in the throes of "post-Africa depression!" Trip report to follow later- our trip was a dream! our ground operator absolutely first rate, our guides astonishing in their skill and knowledge,we got everything we asked for and now understand completely the Africa obsession! BUT, a warning!
It was my misfortune to come in contact with a tiny flying beetle in the Serengeti, the notorious "Nairobi fly", which is normally not prevalent in the dry season, BUT the short rains in the Serengeti and the Mara have apparently increased their population. Our fourth week in Africa was turned into a NIGHTMARE because of this insect. The fly's body, when crushed or smacked against your skin, deposits a powerfully toxic acid which spreads and causes the most terrible chemical burns on your body. The sides of my hips and thighs were COVERED in large red, hot welts 6 inches across, which blistered horribly, filling with acid liquid, breaking and refilling for two weeks. The blisters, 4 inches across and more, developed just after we'd left the Serengeti and flew down to Ruaha, where there is no phone, no doctor, no nurse, no flying doctors! This insect breeds in wet leaves and soil. I STRONGLY recommend anyone travelling anywhere it is still wet to take along a prescription cream called "Celestoderm -V with Garamycin" and apply to ANY red/hot spot you might develop, even if you don't remember a close encounter with a bug. The cream is made in Canada, yet I was given it in Nairobi by a doctor who advised it would have prevented the blistering if applied IMMEDIATELY. Long story short, we spent 6 days in Ruaha draining blisters, had to cancel our beach stay, I couldn't wear clothing below the waist(!), no game drives, developed infection, and after several nightmare conversations with the insurance company and a painful encounter with a doctor in Nairobi (who gave me the cream plus antibiotics), had to fly home to Canada business class because economy seats were too confining for the blisters (and I'm a thin person.)
The doctor in Nairobi informed us that the number of cases of Nairobi fly has burgeoned since January! My horrible encounter with the fly was two weeks ago ( we just arrived home, having extended our stay in Nairobi for medical attention) and I still cannot lie down to sleep or wear proper clothing! Forget the over-the-counter cortisone creams - they DON'T WORK on Nairobi fly!
But our trip was FABULOUS; even Nairobi fly can't rob us of the incredible memories we have of our first three weeks!

Bill_H Mar 6th, 2007 02:38 PM


Sorry to hear about this ruining your trip!

Could you tell us more about how you came into contact with this beetle? Was it in your room or did you meet with it while hiking or were they flying into the jeeps? Just curious, so I'd have a better idea how to avoid them.

Having never heard the term "Nairobi fly" before I did a Google search and found this CNN report from 1998 during the El Nino floods of that year, so it sounds like it's not common but just associated with unusually heavy rains (like this year) ...


atravelynn Mar 6th, 2007 02:45 PM

I am so sorry you had such an awful experience with the Nairobi fly. Thank you for telling us about it.

It's nice to read that you were able to appreciate many aspects of your trip, though.

Patty Mar 6th, 2007 02:58 PM

I'm so glad to hear you had a fabulous time :) and sorry to hear about your unfortunate encounter with the Nairobi fly :(

We were warned about a similar sounding insect while in Selous in December, only they called it a "blister beetle". One of the guests had horrible red welts on his chest. They did say it was because of the heavy rains and we were advised to carefully flick them off if one should land on us.

Hope you're fully recovered soon and looking forward to your report!

Calo Mar 6th, 2007 03:09 PM

Eeeeeeeuw! What an ordeal, carolines!
Thank you for sharing your story so that we can travel with more awareness.

Really looking forward to your trip report when you're feeling up to writing it.

joeyi Mar 6th, 2007 03:19 PM

sorry to hear you had that experience with the Nairobi fly. we were in Kenya in Dec and a friend of my sister in law's from the embassy got it on the face. the next month they had an article in the embassy news letter that they fwd to us. i'm going to paste that in:

Paederus Sabaeis—Commonly Known as Nairobi Fly or Blister Beetle The most striking characteristic of these beetles is the metallic and yellow color. The hindmost tip of the abdomen is often dark. The adults can fly well. The penultimate hindbody segment contains an extremely fine comb on the posterior border, which helps in the unfolding of the wings. At rest, the wings are folded up so as to find a place beneath the short wing sheaths. It doesn't sting or bite, but when it is crushed, potent toxins spill onto the skin causing itching, a burning sensation and swelling. The adult beetles and their larvae often live in damp environments. The adults are active during the day and are attracted by light at night, which can bring them into contact with humans. This beetle contains a natural toxin called CANTHADRIDIN, a blistering agent and results in severe dermatitis or eye inflammation when in contact with the skin. Many blister beetles contain a specific bicyclic monoterpenoid, cantharidin (C10H12O4). Cantharidin is not soluble in water, but is fat-soluble. On skin contact with cantharidincontaining blister beetles, local tissue irritation occurs after a few hours. The toxin is very stable and dead beetles are still dangerous. Control by means of insecticides does not remove the danger. The toxin protects the beetles from predators and is found in the haemolymph and gonads. A beetle contains 1-5% cantharidin by dry weight. Males contain more toxin than females. A male beetle transfers cantharidin to a female during copulation ("nuptial gift"). This is then passed on with the eggs so that these too are protected against predators.

Leely Mar 6th, 2007 03:33 PM

Welcome back and thanks for the warning. So sorry you had to suffer! Sounds terrible.

Someone else mentioned nairobi fly semi-recently, someone who had been traveling in Kenya. He used toothpaste to alleviate some of the symptoms.

I am very glad you still had a great trip.

jenack Mar 6th, 2007 04:11 PM

That sounds horrible, I am very sorry you had to go through that, and I will keep an eye out for that cream.
On the other hand...could you tell me about your Ruaha experience...were you out the whole time due to blisters, or were you able to get out and about? How were 6 days there? I am going private camping there for 4 days this Sept. What areas were you in, and how many campsites did you use? What were the campsites like?

sundowner Mar 6th, 2007 05:41 PM

What a horrible experience! I'm so sorry it happened to you. One of the camp managers on our recent trip warned us of the beetles. She said in Africa, always flick bugs - never squash them. Since hearing of your ordeal, I'm sure I'll remember to "flick" in the future.

santharamhari Mar 6th, 2007 07:12 PM

sorry about your ordeal...thanks for the info on Nairobi fly. I hadnt heard of it prior.....

I will learn to flick the bugs, here in India too.....


sallysaab Mar 6th, 2007 10:00 PM

What a terrible experience for you, hope you're better very soon.
May I ask if you used insect repellant at all?

Kavey Mar 6th, 2007 11:20 PM

Oh my - when we were in Namibia we saw a bright beetle flying very close by and our guide told us it was a blister beetle and all about the symptoms you describe - the acid blisters bursting and then creating new ones...

I'm so sorry to hear about your horrendous experience on that front but pleased your safari made up for it. Looking forward to hearing more on that.

Thanks for the tip on the cream!

sandi Mar 7th, 2007 04:20 AM

How terrible, but thanks for the heads up on this nasty beetle. Much appreciate the details, that your insurer worked with you and you're getting back to yourself.

Question? Can you clarify your comment "no flying doctors?" Did you not have the membership, or could they not fly in to treat you or get you to a medical facility?

Cdnfolks Mar 7th, 2007 04:32 AM

So sorry to hear of your misfortune with the Nairobi Fly. I have made a note to ask my MD for an RX for
Celestoderm -V with Garamycin to take along. Thanks for the heads up.
Also will put the "flick don't squash"
in the memory vault.
Glad to hear it didn't entirely ruin your vacation.

moremiles Mar 7th, 2007 05:06 AM

So sorry to hear of your misfortunes on your trip but lucky that you were still able to enjoy most of it. Would like to hear more about flying doctor situation too.

carolines Mar 7th, 2007 11:21 AM

Thank goodness for this website which I hope will help save other fodorites from having the awful experience I had with "Nairobi fly". Patty, the blister beetle you were warned about, and Nairobi fly, are one and the same!

Bill H., I do not even remember contact with this bug specifically. I do recall that whilst we were driving in the Seronera, poptop raised, some insects invaded the Landcruiser, mostly tsetse flies and I have a vague notion of a bug or two (but apparently not Tsetses) flying inside my blouse. I vaguely recall feeling "something" like a bug bite but thinking, well, if that was a Tsetse fly it sure didn't hurt as much as fodorites said it would (like a hot needle, I think someone had said.) I never felt anything more than a mosquito-type bite the whole of our safari.

There were never any bugs in our tents and I wore repellant in the evening (though not anyplace covered by clothing). I did have a large red swelling on an ankle at the same time which itched like mad, but no blister developed there. It was the doctor in Nairobi who pinned down the time of bug contact, as the blisters appeared the day after the redness started. I had just initially applied OTC hydrocortisone cream from home, as the red patches resembled wasp stings at first, and I had had those many times before in Canada, so wasn't worried, and continued to travel from Arusha down to Ruaha. If I had known about Nairobi fly I would have seen a doctor in Arusha, got the right meds and then probably the blisters would not have developed! Haste in treatment is key.

Jenack, we stayed at Ruaha River Lodge, a Fox family property. We LOVED this lodge and would love to return and actually go on the game drives! Sarah and Peter Fox were terrific, helping us as best they could with no medical aid available, and Sarah checked up on my "condition" every day and raided her stores for iodine and cotton so we could "operate" on the blisters each afternoon. It was very stressful on both of us, my husband even giving up the game drives as I was in so much pain and discomfort, he wouldn't leave me.

The landscape at Ruaha was other-worldly, so beautiful, but was not typical, as the rain had been steady up until the day we arrived there. All was bursting in green and flowers, birds everywhere, the river a huge torrent. Lucky for me, being stranded for 6 days on the beautiful deck of our cottage (right over the river) there were hippos for constant entertainment and a brilliantly coloured lizard who kept friendly company (aside from my poor worried husband!) The food at Ruaha River is terrific, which also put bright spots in my days (especially the fresh cinnamon rolls baked over the fire every morning!) If I had to spend time convalescing anywhere, the lodge was a beautiful, sympathetic place and I was thoroughly spoiled by all the kind staff.

Sandi, we had indeed subscribed to the "flying doctors" and in fact because of this we felt secure in staying at a remote spot like Ruaha. HOWEVER, as we found later, the service only extends within a 500 mile (kilometre?) radius of Nairobi!

There were two Chinese doctors staying at Ruaha but that is a whole other story!!!!

Regarding the insurance company: once all is settled and we are completely recompensed I will give the full low-down. And I won't be mincing my words!

Patty Mar 7th, 2007 11:57 AM

There are two membership levels with Flying Doctors, one covering 500km from Nairobi Wilson and the other 1000km. I believe Ruaha would still fall within the 1000km limit (someone please correct if I'm wrong).

<i> If I had to spend time convalescing anywhere, the lodge was a beautiful, sympathetic place and I was thoroughly spoiled by all the kind staff.</i>

That sounds like me at Sand Rivers! :D

LyndaS Mar 7th, 2007 12:01 PM

Oh my goodness, Carol, Kennedy told me that you had swelled up from a bug bite, but I didn't realize how serious it was!!! (no wonder you never answered my email!) This sounds terrible, and I do hope you are OK &amp; I am SO glad it didn't ruin your safari!

Kennedy told me of the good things too - he said you guys had a GREAT day with him, I'm dying to hear all about your trip.

This really makes me wonder about my 'rash'. I was first concerned about it in the Mara, which was right after the Serengeti, but I don't recall where I first noticed it. Although it wasn't as bad as what you had, my 'rash' was blisters, very uccky looking blisters all over first my left arm, and then my right arm. I still have purple scars all over my left arm from it.

David was a real trooper - wow!

Hope to hear all about the rest of your trip soon!

PS - is Celestoderm an OTC or should I go to the doc for this?

carolines Mar 7th, 2007 12:07 PM

Patty, you know I'm not even sure if flying doctors could have helped me, as they are purely for evacuation purposes, no? I couldn't have flown anywhere, just needed meds and dressings, so I doubt they would have come out for that. The Foxes got me on a Safarilink plane the minute I could sit down properly (after 6 days) with a length of fabric (from Sarah Fox) safety-pinned around my hips!

Patty Mar 7th, 2007 12:22 PM

Yes, it's for evacuation to Nairobi only. It does say only for &quot;life threatening medical emergency&quot; so I guess your situation wouldn't apply.

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