This is probably what has given me the hardest time so far: the daily struggle with these little pests. They are everywhere! They’re outside the house, inside the house, in the bathroom, inside our shoes and clothes, and who knows where else.
It’s not a secret that rats, cockroaches, and many other insects flourish in the tropics. But still, I think not everybody visiting the tropics is really prepared for the ubiquitousness of these creatures.
What I have always considered as big spiders or big bumblebees back in Europe seems now ridiculous. Let me tell you, the spiders here are often almost the size of my hand; and the rats remind me of small sized dogs. Although I’ve gotten used to most of the “room mates” in the house, like the house lizards, for example; but there are more little creatures that I hate, especially after the sun goes down, because many insects and bugs in the Philippines come out after dark.
People that know me personally know that I have musophobia (the fear of rats). Luckily, the encounters I’ve had with rats here in the Philippines were from the distance. So my biggest nightmare of a rat running up my legs luckily hasn’t happened (yet).
But not so for the cockroaches. Because those disgusting creatures, in fact, love to mock me. It has happened now a few times already that huge cockroaches have crawled over my arms or feet. Arthur said that this is very rare and usually doesn’t happen. Yeah right, I’m having problems believing that considering just the past 4 weeks alone three cockroaches crawled over me already. And these little suckers bite too.
Speaking of suckers, the rainy season is the main season for mosquitoes; and with many mosquitoes, there is the fear of Dengue Fever and Malaria in the country. Luckily, our area is considered Malaria-free. And since we live at the coast, our chances for Dengue Fever is quite small. Still, we keep strict precautions just to be safe.
How we keep bugs to a minimum in the house:
- We covered all our windows with good aluminum mosquito screens. They only not keep the mosquitoes out, but also flies, moths, geckos, centipedes, roaches, and more.
- Little puddles of rainwater are the perfect breeding place for mosquitos. Covering them with sand forces the mosquitos to move.
- We don’t bring any food into the room. If we do, we keep them inside a tightly sealed/airtight plastic box. Any less than this, and ants will find a way to get to that food.
- We don’t bring any other drinks inside the room beside water. Even with water, ants still swarm around the container’s edges.
- We keep the room as tidy and clean as possible. Wiping every day and emptying the trash helps too.
- We don’t keep any moist or damp towels/clothes inside the room. This is the favorite hangout of cockroaches.
- From time to time we use anti-bug sprays when the ants have taken over. But we prefer not to, because not only is it expensive, but the toxic gas is not healthy.
But sometimes, even with all these safety precautions, some insects do get to me. While most of the bug and roach bites cause discomfort for a few days (pain, itch), there are others that have caused serious problems for me. I’m talking about the red fire ants. It turned out I get allergic reactions after every bite.
Red fire ants are the most aggressive among ants. They can be found all over Southeast Asia and in the Philippines. First, they bite (rip out some skin) in order to inject a toxic venom. To its human victim, the painful sting feels like a burning sensation, hence the name. The after effects of the sting, severe localised pain and itching, can last up to 2 weeks. At the site of the bite there can also develop blister bubbles.
Since the footwear of choice in the tropics are the slippers, the bare feet is open target to these aggressive ants. It only takes one step on their nest or their path and you find multiple ants crawling on your feet and between your toes, attacking as they go.
What to do when bitten by fire ants
In the event that you find yourself the recipient of their collective rage, the following can help mitigate its unfortunate effects:
1. Do not scratch. It doesn’t only make it worse, but the little blisters rip easily under the scratching and may result in infection. I know it’s easier said than done, because based on my experience, my whole body is screaming “Scratch! Scratch! Scratch!”.
2. Use ice bags to numb the itch. That for me is the biggest relief and also keeps the swelling to a minimum.
3. Hydrocortisone ointments can help in calming down the itch.
4. Like me, some people have allergic reactions to fire ant bites. Symptoms include severe swelling and itch, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, or difficulty in breathing and swallowing. In which case, you should go the doctor right away. Doctors can prescribe antihistamine to counter the allergic reactions. I take the antihistamine as soon as a fire ant has bitten me. Mind the big side effect though: it makes you very sleepy.
5. Prevent further bites by either wearing shoes and/or socks (not very practical in the tropical heat though), or by fighting fire with fire, that is, clearing out their nest with fire. Pour gasoline around and at the nest and light it on fire. If it’s too hairy for you, you can use scalding hot water. Using non-boiling water won’t have any effect because these buggers do not drown.
As usual dear readers, I ask you to help me out. Please write your suggestions and tips about minimising bugs in the household in the comment section down below. Thanks guys!