Bed Bugs: YUCK.
Kill: The freezer does NOT kill bed bugs. Isolation for 100-300 days can work, but the fastest effective way is HEAT. Isolate your infected items in a SEALED bags until you can wash them at 45 degrees C / 118 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes to kill adult bed bugs. Per Dr. Miller, a researcher on bed bugs, a loose filled dryer on HIGH can kill bed bugs (of all stages) within 30 minutes. So if you’re in a warm place, leaving your clothes in the hot sun for hours might work. If it’s not washable, you’ll need a steam cleaner to steam it and/or get an exterminator to help you. (More information here.)
You’re probably better off throwing out what you don’t need, isolating your contaminated clothes and/or anything that was inside the room, getting new clothes to wear, buying a new suitcase (they can live in the zippers/corners!), washing your backpack, and making sure that anything that came into touch with your contaminated stuff is isolated/cleaned.
Bocos del Toro in Panama is a pretty wild place. With my luck, of course, the one day I decided to take a relaxing snooze on the beach is the day I woke up with a horrible itch. I looked down at my legs covered in large red blotches and shuddered, fighting the urge to rip my own skin off from itching. I did what any normal backpacker would do and fought through the pain for a few days assuming it would go away. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer.
I went to the local pharmacy and explained in broken Spanish my situation. The attendant looked at me and handed me a bottle of clear nail polish. Confused, I tried again. “She clearly misunderstood,” I thought. I was the one who misunderstood. My mouth dropped when I realized what I was supposed to do. I asked where the alcohol was and grabbed a bottle of rum and purchased it along with some soothing cream and the nail polish.
I went back to my hostel and began chugging booze as liquid courage is the key. I then dotted each bite with the nail polish. This was supposed to suffocate them. I later learned that not all my bites needed to be covered in the polish as there is a difference between male and female fleas, but after several hours I definitely had a few bugs to pick out of my own skin. Trust me, the rum helps.
What are sand fleas?
Sand fleas live in the sand in tropical and subtropical climates. They’re the smallest flea and tend to bite feet and ankles- between the toes is their favorite spot. They can’t jump very high, so unless you’re laying down you will only get the bites on your lower legs. The males will bite a chunk out of you and seal you up with venom. This causes inflammation, redness, oozing of fluids and itching. The females on the other hand will bite and burrow into your skin to lay their eggs. The symptoms are the same for the first few days, but the major difference is you will see a tiny black dot in the center of your bite. The area they bite tends to scab over eventually and the itching will die down, but you will feel an uncomfortable pressure. Click the link above for photos.
How do I cure the bites?
Well if you only have male bites, I suggest the standard treatment of applying cortisone or anti itch cream, you may need an antihistamine as well. If you are not near a pharmacy you can try the standard oatmeal or baking soda wash/bath.
If you have female bites, this is where it gets fun. You need to get the females out before they breed in your skin and cause serious infection and loss of skin! Any sealant, like nail polish, works to suffocate them and some people suggest “drowning” them by covering yourself in oil for several hours. If any symptoms continue, you have an allergic reaction or you can not get the fleas out, please see a doctor.
How can I prevent them in the first place?
Sand fleas tend to be very active after it rains, dawn and dusk. Do not go to the beach during these times to avoid serious bites. As nice as it may look, laying on some beaches is not a good idea, as your entire body will be covered vs your legs. If you’re really paranoid perhaps wearing long loose pants to the beach is a good idea. Bring insect repellent. Talk to your hostel or hotel as they may know if your location and beach is infested with this little buggers.