Yes, I put the lions in the title so I could use the Wizard of Oz reference. I haven’t seen anything larger than a house cat here, but the other two, chiggers and ticks, qualify as a small Biblical scourge.
The Ticks of Chiggers and Ticks
We have ticks. We have big ticks, medium sized ticks, and very tiny seed ticks here in the Azuero. We have black ticks, brown ticks, red ticks and green ticks. And these ticks, especially the brown dog tick, carry erlichiosis, which brings dogs a long, painful illness often ending in death. The disease is worldwide, but found more frequently in hot climates such as Florida and Central America. Cats and humans are also occasionally infected.
My precious baby, my three pound, miniature Chihuahua Zozo, was bitten by an infected tick two years ago. She is a regular little furnace of a being most of the time, so at first I didn’t realize that she was sick. But in addition to being feverish, she was listless and uninterested in her food. The moment immediately following the one in which I realized she was ill, both of us were in a cab on our way to the vet.
He took blood and ran it though a machine that analyzed it and provided a print-out. As the analysis was in Spanish, most of it swept right over my agonized brain, but I do remember seeing the word “erlichiosis” in some form. And of course, then I looked it up on the internet.
Erlichiosis is a disease which, once contracted, usually remains with the animal for life. It becomes dormant, but can be passed from a dam to her pups. And it leaves the animal’s immune system in a weakened condition, no doubt why it is sometimes referred to as the Aids of the canine world.
After three trips to the vet for injections on three consecutive days, followed by a 28 day regime of twice daily medication, my Zozo recovered. However, for at least 18 months afterward, she seemed more susceptible to other illnesses and generally less vital. Now, she seems well, but some of her fur has turned white and she acts like the octogenerian she is. The only good news in all of this is that veterinary care here in Panama is extremely affordable – the vet only cost $28, plus pills.
Obviously, the best way to handle this is prevention. Unfortunately, the product sold locally at $7.50 a pop under the name Fronil does not appear to affect the local tick population the same satisfactory way that Frontline handled them in the States. I do not know whether this is because Fronil is a different product, whether it is produced under less controlled circumstances like the internet-sold varieties of prescription dog meds your vet scowls over, or because the local ticks are simply indifferent to it. Nor do I have any way to find out.
So what to do? Once again I asked my neighbors what they do. It seems there is a product called Riggi, which is sold in a very small bottle as a concentrate that turns into gallons and gallons of the stuff, and that is what most of the local folk use. It is $5 or $7 per bottle depending on where you buy it. The process is to wash your dog with dog shampoo, rinse him or her, apply the diluted Riggi, then let the dog shake off and dry. As you won’t be using the remainder of the day’s diluted Riggi for the next TWO TO THREE MONTHS, you might as well spray the yard with it and prevent problems before they hatch.
The Chiggers of Chiggers and Ticks
I really don’t care for the company of ticks, but at least you can see them. And you can usually avoid being bitten. Not so for me, with chitras (chiggers). For some reason chitras absolutely love me. I can’t set foot on grass of any length without getting bitten to the knees. That, in itself, would not be such a big deal, but the bites don’t really make themselves known until the next day, when it is too late to do much about them besides scratch yourself bloody.
A chigger bite is the gift that keeps on giving. When you scratch for relief, the sensation is heavenly – for exactly three seconds. Then your nerve endings all start screaming for more scratching and communicate that desire clear down to your nerve roots. Chigger bites itch from the inside out.
Part of this is due to the nature of a chigger bite – when the tiny bichos (insects) bite you and crawl into the hole they have just made, it seems they inject you with a bit of chigger spit which hardens into a little tube. Then they just keep on sucking juicy you through that tube for the next few days. It isn’t until the tube is gone that the itching stops.
That is why it feels so good to scratch yourself bloody. You scratch out the tube in the process. Now, quite often this process leaves a scar. Not to mention that it hurts. So it’s not my favorite method for dealing with chigger bites.
I got my first batch of Panamanian chigger bites shortly after I moved here. I was half-crazy from the intensity of the itching, so, naturally, I went to the farmacia (pharmacy) to buy some anti-itch cream. Imagine my shock to learn they not only didn’t carry anything like that, but had no idea why I would want it (!).
So I just scratched myself bloody. I asked around for local remedies, but no one seemed to know anything. Then one day I was at a Panamanian home when my host’s nephew came in from running through a field. My host hollered for the Seco, a cheap, local variety of demon rum. It may have been the demon in the bottle, or maybe not, but the kid did not wind up with any chigger bites.
This was a definite Hmm moment. I had another later on, after spending a careless twenty minutes on the beach at dusk even though I knew I was going to regret it in the morning. I was right. But a Panamanian friend had just been raving to me about the benefits of limones. Limones seemed to be the cure for a lot of things, so I thought, why not chigger itch?
I cut one in half and rubbed it on. The relief was amazing. Of course, it pretty much only lasted until the limon juice dried, but it was better than nothing. I just kept scrubbing the area with limones, as needed.
Let me just say the best way to handle chigger bites is not to get them in the first place. Wear real shoes, socks and long pants when you go into long grass. And wash yourself off or rub down with Seco as soon as you can. But if it’s too late, then use the limon.