Sandflies are tiny insects, only a couple of millimetres in length. In Thai, sandflies are called ‘Pung’ or ‘Lin Talay’. They are a beachcomber’s nemesis all over the world and also called a Sand Gnat, Sandflea, No-See-Um, Granny Nipper, Chitra, Punky, Biting Midges or Marumakshika.
Their most important ability is to bite and suck blood. You might want to compare it to a mosquito. Females need blood from mammals, reptiles or birds to make their eggs. When female sandflies bite, they inject saliva that contains allergens which trigger the body’s immune system and cause an allergic reaction.
The sandflies in Thailand are black with either black or white wings. The ones with white wings are known to cause more allergic reaction. As they are so small and make no noise they aren’t easily noticeable. Which is why people often wonder why they have bites when they didn’t see or hear any, far larger, mosquitoes.
In general, you can find sandflies on beaches at any time of the year. As the name suggests sand flies love sandy areas hence they are mostly found at beaches, coastal lagoons, mangrove swamps, and tidal flats. They are mostly active during dusk and dawn. They become inactive in case of strong breezes, wind, and drop in temperature or rain.
Not everyone is affected the same way. A family can go to the beach and when they return to their hotel they find that one of them is covered in itchy, red spots but the others are fine or have very few. In the worst case, symptoms include skin irritation, persistent itching, red bumps and swelling. If you see people with legs or back that looks like they have measles then it’ll be spots from sandfly bites.
Symptoms don’t always show up immediately. It can take a few hours. You could be bitten repeatedly in the afternoon and not notice until you are out for dinner. When it starts, you will feel itchy and become aware of the red bumps.
The severity of the symptoms varies from person to person, depending on your immune system. For those who are not overly allergic to sandfly bites, the bumps will disappear by themselves after 3-5 days, as long as you don’t scratch. Scratching intensifies the itching and aggravates the skin irritation meaning, it takes longer to heal and you may end up with scars.
A hot shower can reduce the itching, however this is only temporary. So, as soon as you notice bites, the best course of action is to head to the nearest pharmacy.
Firstly, the obvious clothing tip. Wear light-coloured, loose-fitting, long clothing (cotton and linen) as much as possible. Also, a lesser known tip that actually works is to avoid using sweet smelling, scented soaps, shampoos, deodorants and perfumes. Use odourless equivalents if possible.
Staying in a built up area also works. You won’t find any complaints from people being bitten on a busy beach. Stay in a busy area with lots of people walking on the beach daily or at a resort where the sand is raked daily. Sandflies lay their eggs in the sand. If there are a lot of people on the beach, these eggs will be destroyed and there will be no sandflies.
The more lonely and natural the beach is, the more chance of finding sandflies. However, sandflies are more active early morning and late afternoon. In addition, they like cool, sheltered areas.
Sandflies cannot handle wind. It simply locks them where they are and they are unable to take off. So pick a windy day or a windy spot by the river and you will be much less annoyed by the flying insects. So if there’s bright sunshine and a sea breeze blowing you are less likely to encounter them.
Applying coconut oil on your skin makes your skin sticky and deters the sandflies – as they don’t want to get stuck to you. The downside is that you’ll smell like a Pina Colada and will cook yourself in the sunshine. Plus you have to regularly apply the oil.
Take a Vitamin B tablet. Apparently doing this long-term creates an odour in the body that sandflies and mosquitoes don’t like. You’ll need to take it for a couple of weeks in advance for it to have any effect. Women that attracts these pests as a hormonal issue hence the Vit B complex tabs which alters the balance. Likewise, Marmite or Vegemite that are rich in vitamin B, have been shown to be an excellent insect repellent after only a few days.
A legend says that sandflies were created to punish laziness and it is easy to see where the legend comes from. Sandflies tend to go crazy on people that just sit there and wait. However, keen hikers that are constantly moving or beach-goers that are having fun in and around the water seem to be much less attractive. So keep active and stay sandfly free!
There are a ton of insect repellents on the market, from the hardcore chemical ones that will kill you before it kills the sandflies to the one that smells like a candle but is not effective at all.