Editor’s Note: This story originally ran in April to warn the public about buffalo gnats, also known as no-see-ums. At that time they hadn’t been seen yet, but now they are here and Plumas News is reposting this article to remind people how to avoid being bitten, but what to do if you are a victim of these pesky gnats.
By Debra Moore
No matter what you call them — buffalo gnats or no-see-ums — the results are the same. These tiny blood-feeding insects that resemble fleas with wings, can inflict painful bites that sometimes require medical attention.
Local residents are no strangers to the creatures, which emerge often during springtime when water is abundant. Once the weather turns hot and dry, they usually disappear. Thus far, there have been no reports of the painful bites, but that’s anticipated to change.
Michelle Romero, the infectious disease specialist for Eastern Plumas Health Care, said “We haven’t seen them yet, but we know they are coming.”
Each year, patients present at the clinics and in the emergency rooms, complaining of the painful, swollen bites. The treatment prescribed is antibiotics.
Not all bites require medical attention; it depends on the individual. “Everyone heals differently,” Romero said. “If you’re unsure, it’s best to have a doctor check it.”
Dr. Jeff Kepple, from Plumas District Hospital, said he hasn’t seen any of the gnats yet this season. “They seem to go in cycles,” he said. “There are good years and bad years.” With the abundant precipitation, it’s anticipated that this could be a bad year for gnats and their human victims.
Describing the gnats as rather clumsy and slow, Dr. Kepple said that outdoor activities such as brisk walking or bike riding are usually safe. But if you are walking through tall grass or in creek beds, there is more of a chance that you will be bitten. As for golfers, who can complain of bites at their ankles, Kepple said it’s due to the abundance of grass on the course.
Gnats tend to attack along the hairline and ankles, but they can also bite along the waistline. The bites result in swelling, numbness and soreness, often lasting for more than a week. In some cases they can also cause fever, nausea and allergic reactions. The bites are easily infected, especially if scratched. While the bites can be uncomfortable, Dr. Kepple said that most will heal on their own. However, if a child receives multiple bites and they seem to be having a bad reaction, care should be sought immediately.
Dr. Kepple warned that most people experience some swelling and often mistake the bites for spider bites. An infection typically won’t set in for two to three days and that’s when antibiotics would be needed.
If you are bitten, Dr. Kepple offers this advice:
- Apply 1 percent hydrocortisone immediately
- Use cool compresses; never apply heat
- Don’t scratch – it will only make it worse
- Take Benadryl; or if that makes you too sleepy, try Claritin
- Elevating the area helps
- Wrap the area if it will prevent you from scratching
As far as prevention, Dr. Kepple recommends avoiding areas where they are swarming; tucking pants into shoes; and using a repellent. He said he has tried many products with varying degrees of success.
The California Department of Public Health, which uses the general “fly” description that includes gnats and no-see-ums, offers these suggestions:
- Use insect repellents containing the active ingredient DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535. Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants to provide an effective barrier against biting flies.
- Turn off or limit the use of lights at night to discourage those flies that are attracted to light.
- Various traps, baits, and insecticidal sprays are available for fly control. Read the product labels or consult a pest control professional to determine which products are available to control the specific nuisance fly problem.
Other tips include:
- Stay away from places known to be full of ticks or mosquitoes or during seasons or times of day they are known to be most active (summer, usually, and dusk and dawn)
- Avoid wearing strong-smelling cologne
- Wear a hat and light-colored, loose clothing (no red)
- Tuck pants into boots, wear long sleeves
Avon’s Skin So Soft has been hailed as particularly effective against no-see-ums, and that can be used with some success — but it’s the lotion’s barrier rather than its scent — that is credited with any effectiveness.