A Dimmick woman wasn’t expecting to get welts and red bites after gardening this week.
“I want people to know,” said Roz Leopold. “I wish I would have known.”
She was covered in welts and red bites on her back and legs after gardening for a couple hours Mon-day.
Her back and legs were the places she hadn’t sprayed her natural bug repellent. She thinks the welts and red bumps resulted from buffalo gnats, also known as black flies.
What are buffalo gnats?
Buffalo gnats are small dark flies that usually appear in late spring and early summer when they bite birds and mammals, including people and domestic animals, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s website.
The bites can be painful and can lead to bleeding, itching, inflammation and swelling and even create allergic reactions that can be life-threatening, the IDPH says.
“While black flies are not known to transmit disease to humans in the United States, human deaths (presumably from allergic reactions) have been reported,” the website says.
Where are buffalo gnats found?
They are usually around fast running water (like river rapids and waterfalls).
They are attracted to carbon dioxide exhaled by people and animals and perspiration, fragrances and dark, moving objects, the IDPH website says.
Can we determine how many buffalo gnat bites there have been?
Gnats are considered a nuisance and usually don’t carry disease in Illinois, so the bites aren’t reported to the IDPH, said Samantha Debosik, vector control program manager for the IDPH.
Buffalo gnats lay eggs in clean, fast-running water in early spring, she said, and they reproduce until water temperatures rise to above 75 degrees.
“Since buffalo gnats breed in water sources, recent heavy rainfall that has caused flooding in many counties could contribute to an overall increase in activity,” Debosik said.
How can you prevent getting bitten?
“Buffalo gnats are more difficult to control with repellents, but can be kept off the face and neck with a fine mesh head net. In patio settings and open structures where livestock are kept, large fans can be operated to help deter the mosquitoes and gnats,” Debosik said.
When outdoors, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and a hat with netting designed to keep flies off the head and neck, the IDPH website says.
The IDPH’s website states repellents containing DEET that deter mosquitoes are much less effective at repelling buffalo gnats and have been reported to attract gnats. But the website says repellents containing Permethrin (labeled for application only to clothing) do offer some protection. Home-remedy advice, for what that’s worth, for repelling black flies ranges from vanilla extract on the brim of a cap to lotions containing cedar, but most government websites do not mention those.
What to do if you’re bitten?
“If you are bitten by a mosquito or gnat, clean the bite with soap and water, avoid scratching the area, and apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to reduce itching. Seek medical attention if the bite becomes inflamed or shows signs of an infection,” Debosik said.
Illinois Valley Community Hospital’s Care Today clinic said a provider herself hasn’t seen patients lately with symptoms that match those described by Leopold to the NewsTribune.
Leopold created a Facebook post and shared photos of her bites to spread the word about what happened to her, and multiple people commented they’ve recently experienced the same thing as her. Leopold has lived in the country her whole life but said she has never experienced anything like this.
She’s coping with situation with oatmeal baths, tea tree oil and peppermint oil.
But the bites won’t stop her from gardening; she said in the future she’ll wear long pants, shirts and spray her face with her natural bug repellent spray.
She encourages people to watch their children and pets.
“I want everyone to be aware of it,” Leopold said.