Sandfly, Flesh Eating Bugs, and Leishmaniasis

How dangerous are sandflies? Very dangerous if they are carrying the protozoan parasite that causes leishmaniasis and you get bitten by them. Apparently, leishmaniasis is another kind of flesh eating disease which you can contract if you’re bitten by a female sandfly.

Some famous people who were infected by this disease include British television host Ben Fogle who got it during a trip to Peru. Thankfully, he was able to recover from his infection.


Another British media person, BBC producer Jonny Young, also got infected during a shooting in Guyana. Here’s how it happened and how he survived the deadly parasite.

From This Is Bristol:

Mr Young, 39, was camping with presenters Gordon Buchanan, George McGavin and Steve Backshall in Guyana, when he was bitten by a sand fly carrying the parasite.

The parasite lurked unnoticed in his arm for three months before it developed as a deep and weeping sore on his tricep that refused to heal.

Doctors referred him to specialists at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, where he was diagnosed with leishmaniasis, a potentially fatal skin disease.

If untreated, the parasite tunnels through flesh, muscle and organs.

Mr Young, who has directed more than 30 documentaries including Life of Grime, Vets in Practice and Expedition Borneo, told of the moment he was diagnosed.

He said: “I’d seen what horrific injuries local people from the jungle can suffer with this parasite, so I was terrified it would spread. We were in the middle of nowhere at the time. The camp itself was infested with just about every jungle nasty.

“The largest tarantulas in the world were metres from our hammocks and lurking in the river banks were giant anaconda snakes 25-feet long.

“There are thousands of insects in the jungle, many of them bite or sting; so, at some point you are going to get bitten.

“It’s incredible that the parasite was in my arm for months and I had no idea about it.”

Having successfully shot the the programme, Mr Young and his crew flew home where he noticed the strange red bump.

Eventually it formed a deep lesion about the size of a thumbnail on his arm that refused to heal.

“I was sitting in the comforts of the BBC editing suite about three months later, when I looked down and realised something was wrong,” he said.

“It was really red and weeping and getting deeper by the day. It was quite a horrific sight.” Luckily, his GP referred him to the tropical diseases department at Southmead Hospital where leishmaniasis was diagnosed.

He needed emergency medical treatment and was rushed to a ward where he spent the next 20 days receiving strong drugs to kill the parasite.

He said: ”It’s unnerving having something eating away at your flesh, especially when there’s no way of knowing if it’s been totally killed off.

“By day 15 of my drip I needed to use my arms to lift my legs out of bed, such was the pain in my pelvis and knees. So in some ways the treatment was worse than the disease.”

Mr Young added: “There’s a risk that in years to come it may burst out of my face. That’s quite a scary prospect.”

Who’d have thunk that a simple insect bite could be so deadly, no?