SILIGURI: The Nairobi Fly infection has now spread from Sikkim Manipal Institute of Technology (SMIT) at Majhitar near Rangpo to North Bengal Medical College and Hospital (NBMCH) in Siliguri.
On Tuesday, SMIT officials reported that around 100 students had developed skin infections after coming in contact with Nairobi flies.
The population of Nairobi flies, a species of insect native to East Africa, is growing at a fast pace at the SMIT campus in Majhitar. It has now been reported at the NBMCH in Siliguri.
The infection has also reportedly turned severe for some students at NBMCH. Many have left their hostel either with infection or the fear of getting infected. Many professors and staff are also reported to be infected.
The college administration said infected students had been given medication and were recovering. One student who was recently infected had to undergo surgery in his hand.
NBMCH student Anukul Barman shared, “The flies enter the hostel rooms mostly after dark and the authorities have least concern on the problem faced by the students. Concerned officer or head of the department have shown no interest and have neither visited the hostel campus nor interacted with students.”
Nairobi flies, also called Kenyan flies or dragon bugs, are small, beetle-like insects that belong to two species, Paederus eximius and Paederus sabaeus. They are orange and black in colour, and thrive in areas with high rainfall, as has been witnessed in Sikkim in the past few weeks.
Another student, Sourav Roy said, “Students are leaving the hostel in fear and those infected are forced to go outside for proper treatment.”
Health officials say these flies do not bite, but if disturbed while sitting on anyone’s skin, they release a potent acidic substance that causes burns.
This substance is called pederin, and can cause irritation if it comes in contact with the skin, leading to lesions or unusual marks or colouring on the skin. The skin begins to heal in a week or two, but some secondary infections can occur, especially if the victim scratches the irritated skin.
NBMCH dean Subashchandra Roy said, “We are quite aware about the problem and have also carried cleanliness drive and sanitized the hostel campus. Those who are or have faced problems have been asked to contact us if they have any query.”
Meanwhile, NBMCH doctors Dr. Shon Dutta and Dr. Arup Mondol, while addressing local media in Bagdogra, urged people to not panic as it is not an epidemic and the infection is not communicable.
Experts say sleeping under mosquito nets can help. If a fly lands on a person, it should be gently brushed off, and should not be disturbed or touched to reduce the chances of it releasing pederin.
Dr. Dutta shared, “Precautionary measures including spray of pesticides and using mosquito nets is necessary and if infected must contact nearby doctors without delay.”
Dr. Mondol suggested people to just blow the fly off, not slap them.
“The Nairobi fly is actually a red-and-black beetle of the genus Paederus attracted towards artificial lights. It does not bite, but contains pederin, a stinging acid, to drive off predators. Smacking it on the skin releases the acid, which can leave a nasty welt; touching an eye with the acid can blind it for days. The condition is, of course, not contagious.”
The area where the flies sits should be washed with soap and water. If they are squelched and end up leaving toxic fluids on the skin, care should be taken that unwashed hands do not touch any other part of the body, particularly the eyes.
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