Expat Magazine

How I Got Maggots in Uganda (and How to Avoid Maggots)

By Hanna

This was a post I was in two minds about writing… It is something that I really hate talking about – especially with everyone’s disgusted reactions at me. (Seriously, it wasn’t my fault). But whilst, I was in Uganda I ended up getting flesh eating maggots under my skin. Amidst all the smiling photographs and amazing memories, there are things that can really go wrong when traveling. So hopefully sharing my experiences will prevent anyone from having to go through the same thing!

After two weeks in Uganda I got a rash on my back an it became super itchy. It just looked like little spots which made me a bit concerned. But, it didn’t really remind me of mosquito bites (and I’ve had my fair share). Being in a village, I  could only show my friends and they told me it would be fine it could just be a heat thing. Yet after a couple of days it didn’t get any better so I traveled into the town to go to the hospital where we had insurance.

As it turned out, the Dr was a complete jackass. He was more interested in trying to chat me up and get my number. Eventually, he tested me for malaria (no idea why) and then prescribed me some antibiotics for my ‘rash’. I went home feeling hopeful that it would go away. Alas, it didn’t help in the slightest and the spots started growing into what looked like boils. I still couldn’t see my back, there was no mirrors and I could only go on what other people were advising me. The itching was weird and painful. It felt like tickling and I said more than once that it felt like something was moving inside of me. It was incredibly painful and it made me feel sick all the time.

After a week of this, the spots had become huge boils like the size of small berries. I couldn’t touch them, sleep on my back/side or even wear a bra. It kept getting more and more painful and I went whole nights tossing and turning unable to sleep from the pain. I was so nervous about what to do. I never liked to cause a commotion and I was in a little room away from the family we were staying with. What is the correct protocol when not being able to sleep? I said to myself. I thought I was a little old to go and wake up a family as I was unable to sleep so I kept suffering in pain.

I had no mirror, no google and no pain killers. I was going on what other people were telling me and it really didn’t help. I was so scared what could be wrong with me. That next morning as I was on the way to fetch water, the mother I was living with ordered me to lift up my top so she could look at my back. She squeezed one of the boils and exclaimed “oh it’s maggots!” as one fell out of my back. She squeezed another and again a maggot came out. It was an excruciating – and what felt like forever – process of removing maggots. In total, 16 live maggots had been squeezed out of my back. I had left them to develop fully that they were already eating there way out of the skin on my back. If I had left them completely then they would eat there way out and drop to the ground on their own accord.

The mother told me that maggots were caused by change in weather. That everyone had maggots living within their bodies but that it depended on change in weather for them to come to the surface of the skin. She said that babies often got maggots as there skin was so soft like my white skin. I didn’t really believe that could be true and felt really glum.

I went back to the jackass Dr that morning and he didn’t even believe me that I had even had maggots. He was also not happy with me as I had complained about his lack of professionalism at the previous visit. I was so angry that no one could have told me two weeks before and saved me all the pain that I had gone through. As well as being super angry at the jackass Dr for not being able to tell me why I had them or believe me once it had happened. I was even more scared how on earth I had managed to get maggots in the first place and was constantly paranoid about getting more. I left the Drs surgery with a prescription telling me to ‘iron my clothes’ and a bag of Tramadol and Temazepam. I went back home, took the huge doses of medicine I had been given and had the best nights sleep I’d probably had since arriving in Uganda.

The charity that I was working for, urged me to go back to the hospital to see a different Dr, after a couple of drugged up days in the village. I went back and finally saw an amazing Dr who gave me the best advice, gave me closure, and a new prescription with less hardcore drugs. He told me not to let anyone in the village keep putting alcohol on the open wounds and he gave me new creams to help fight against infection and speed up healing. He also advised me to be careful when showering (as we shower outside) so the flies don’t come near my wounds and start laying eggs in there again! My head was spinning and I hated that this was my initiation into Uganda! But, with my closure and healing wounds I was able to continue the rest of my time in Uganda. Although I still could not wear a bra for about two months!

I finally understood that the first week I was in Uganda, we had stayed on a mountain where it rained and was so cold the whole time. We were sharing dorm rooms with so many people and with all those conditions, the flies had managed to lay eggs in my clothes as they were drying. Then when I wore my clothes, the eggs transferred into the skin on my back. The Dr had prescribed ironing my clothes as the heat can often kill the eggs that have been placed there (although he didn’t explain that at the time). Also, flies can also lay their eggs in open wounds, even small mosquito  bites that are open. So proper wound dressing is always advised.

Important note: this is not all flies around the world. There is a particular type of fly in Africa/tropical countries which lays its eggs to transfer into/or lays directly into human skin.  Here is another persons story of maggots.  Also there is more useful information here . If you do end up getting maggots it is always advisable to put petroleum jelly on the area which dehydrates the maggot and causes them to die. That way you don’t need to undergo the full two week birth process like I did! Just don’t worry about getting them, but if you are paranoid just iron everything or let your clothes stay for ages in the midday sun when you have no electricity!

My maggot scars after three months of healing.

My maggot scars after three months of healing.

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