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by Hayley Andrews Turner
Visitors to the Virgin Islands don’t have many complaints. They fall in love with our beautiful sunny home. What does upset the tourists though, are biting bugs. Stateside media bombards them with “Bed bugs!!” but actually lots of biting insects enjoy the taste of our blood, sorry to say!
Bed bugs largely disappeared when modern insecticides were introduced after WWII but since the late 1990s, infestations have remerged across the county, especially in more recent years. Hysteria really took hold two years ago when New York famously had a number of infestations in hotels, houses and even shopping centers. Fortunately we don’t have bed bugs in the Virgin Islands, it is the mosquitoes and no-see-ums (sand flies/fleas) that both tourists and locals must endure.
Todd Roskin of St. John Solutions has been doing pest control on St. John for around twelve years and has watched the resurgence of bed bug problems in the states. In the first six years of his service he hadn’t been called to a suspected bed bug infestation even once. He said: “As bed bugs became part of the mainstream American consciousness, complaints about ‘bed bugs’ began to arrive with vacationers. Fortunately there have been no confirmed sightings of bed bugs on St. John.”
In fact, the only sighting of bed bugs in the territory was on St. Thomas but this wasn’t an infestation, rather “an arrival,” which was nipped in the bud. Terminix states on their website that “factors such as increased international travel and immigration have likely contributed to the rapid spread of infestations.” So the isolated St. Thomas case probably flew American Airlines and enjoyed a comfy hotel bed! Todd continued, “I get asked to check for bedbugs on average once a month now. Not monthly, but in clumps around still times when the sand flies increase their range and stray from the beaches. When the breeze picks up, things quiet down again.”
Bed bug bites do look similar to sand fly bites, which may account for some confusion, but here is what we know about our native pesky little island no-see-ums.
Like mosquitoes, they develop in standing water, rot holes of trees or other decaying organic matter. This is why they are more of a problem during rainy season, when water is left standing and doesn’t have the opportunity to drain. They congregate in marshy and sandy areas and like most small biting insects they are mainly nocturnal and do not like the warm temperature of the day. Sand flies bury themselves in the sand until the day cools down. Only then do they come out to feed and they can become unbearable at dawn and dusk, especially from mid to late summer.
No-see-ums are tiny enough to even sneak through screens and almost too small to be seen but they make their presence felt with their hot, painful, stinging bites. Different people react differently to being bitten by any biting insects. For some individuals there will be no skin reaction, for some there may be immediate or delayed reaction, and peoples’ immune systems can overreact, so the bites create welts and lesions, which may last for days. Scratching bitten areas, as good as it feels, prolongs the symptoms. It is better to medicate the effected area with whatever remedy you are used to (After Bite and Caladryl help a little).
Prevent the painful itch by avoiding the bites:
1. Eliminating breeding sites like stagnant water or moisture will reduce their numbers.
2. Moist and cool conditions put fleas at their friskiest state, so avoid the beach at
dusk, dawn and after rain.
3. Our pests love sweet scents, so avoid scented deodorants, perfume, scented
lotions, shampoos and after-shave products. Body odor also attracts them, so bathing regularly will help too
4. Create a barrier between the sand and you by sitting on a towel. Wearing longer sleeves and pants will help too.
5. Non-chemical controls are favored over DEET, but wearing insect repellent made for both fleas and mosquitoes remains a highly effective deterrent.
6. Bugs can and do travel home in beach towels. Wash or shake them and leave
them outside. Showering after the beach will also remove them from your skin
before you get into bed.
So sleep tight Virgin Islands, knowing the bed bugs won’t bite!