Tsetse Fly - our experiences with them. - Roger and Pat de la Harpe Photography

I'm not a medical doctor but I have been travelling Africa for a while now. Before taking or using any of the products mentioned below, consult your doctor - what works for me may not work for you. Your doctor will know...

I’ve become allergic to the bites of Tsetse flies which, besides the health considerations and having to carry antihistamines and adrenaline pens, is a damn nuisance. It seems such a ridiculous thing to be allergic to – their bites are not particularly sore and initially I have some itching but a little later things start to deteriorate.

The trick is not to get bitten in the first place of course, and in this regard we have learn’t a few things, reinforced recently when we spent some time in the Serengeti working on our new book.

Firstly, a little about Tsetse flies: Tsetse flies (sometimes spelled Tzetze) are large flies that inhabit much of the central region of Africa. They feed on the blood of animals and are the primary African carriers of trypanosomes which causes human sleeping sickness in people and animal trypanosomiasis or nagana in animals. They are particularly interesting in that the female tsetse fly fertilises only one egg at a time and keeps each egg within her uterus to have the offspring develop internally during the first larval stage. During this time, the female feeds the developing offspring with a milky substance secreted by a modified gland in the uterus – the only insect to do such a thing.

Tsetses (meaning flies in Tswana) can be very irritating and are tough little, er, critters (we have used other words but they are NSFW) recovering easily and often from a casual swat. And the usual insect repellants seem to have absolutely no effect on them at all. We have found the following to be helpful in dealing with Tsetse flies:

Here’s the big thing. Tsetse flies are attracted to blue and black so DO NOT wear these colours when in Tsetse country. You can see what the insecticide impregnated fly traps look like below, so you do not want to be a mobile Tsetse fly trap!

Conventional insect repellants don’t seem to work at all – at least not in our experience, What does seem to work is a strong solution of Dettol (about 25%) and water. Spray on liberally. You’ll smell like the inside of a hospital but it should keep the little, ummm, critters at bay. (There we go again..)

If you can, travel in a closed vehicle and if you stop for sundowners or a coffee break, avoid the areas around the tyres. They are black and a notorious place for Tsetses. If you happen to be in an open vehicle, try not to sit on the back seat – Tsetse’s seem to fly along in the draught of the vehicle.

If you do get bitten and start reacting to the bites, we found that Celestamine tablets work a treat. Our doctor came up with the brilliant idea of using Fexofenadine (Fexo) 180 mg as a prophylactic and it works like a charm. I take 1 X 180mg tablet once a day while we are in the bush and on our last trip to Tsetse country I got 7 bites in one morning. Normally this would have been disastrous but all I got was a few itchy bites. Disclaimer: We are not medical experts. We have found that the above works for us. Please consult you doctor before taking, or applying any of the above mentioned products.

Wear long sleeve shirts and long trousers that cover your ankles and light coloured socks. Tetses seem to be able to bite through armour plating but if you can keep them away from your skin it does help. We use Columbia Sportswear Omni and Techlite clothing that is light, cool, baggy and dries easily and quickly.


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