Nature’s most wonderful meat can cure nature’s grossest parasite
Bacon lovers traveling to Central America, the Caribbean, or parts of Africa, here’s one more reason to love bacon’s greasy goodness: it can help remove botfly larva.
Last month, PBS’s NOVA program Gross Science aired a short video introducing “bacon therapy” as a treatment for botfly infestations.
But let’s back up a moment. If you’ve never heard of botfly infections—scientifically called furuncular myiasis—consider yourself lucky. (Also, if you’re reading this while eating maybe bookmark it and come back later; you’ve been warned.) Botflies are flies with parasitic larva that feed on the flesh of mammals in order to mature. Botflies don’t have the ability to bite directly, but they can attach their eggs to mosquitoes or other biting flies. When one of these pests bites you, the botfly eggs make their way onto your skin and then underneath it.
You’ll know if that mosquito bite actually contained botfly larva if it becomes red and raised and feels like it has alien creatures crawling beneath it (because it does). If left untreated, the larva will eventually leave on their own, but “they’re painful, they have spines on their body and as they grow bigger and bigger those spines burrow into the skin,” says Dr. Rich Merritt, a professor emeritus of entomology at Michigan State University. “So you don’t want to let it get to that late stage because it would be quite painful.”
Merritt says that in all of his fieldwork in Central and South America he’s seen enough cases to know that botfly infestations aren’t some weird freak occurrence. There are all kinds of ways to “treat” them, which typically involve suffocating the larva within.
“The larva have to have air,” says Merritt, adding that the larva breath via a spiracle, which protrudes out to the surface of your skin. Many people have applied duct tape or glue to the infected area, but it turns out bacon grease might work just as well, Merrit says. “If you cover that spiracle with something like bacon grease, they cannot breathe and they try and get out of where they are.”
Sadly, Merritt doesn’t think that it’s the smoky smell of the bacon that convinces the larva to leave one source of flesh for another, tastier variety. Instead he thinks this works simply because bacon is so greasy. “I know that when I was in the tropics and people became infested with human botflies, we could put Vaseline over the spiracles at the skin surface and that would draw them out. I suspect bacon grease may have the same effect.” It's probably not better or worse than other substances, but it comes through in a pinch if you don't have a roll of duct tape or a container of petroleum jelly handy.
The moral of the story is this: Always bring extra bacon. Whether you need it for botfly extractions or for emergency snack situations, when it comes to cured pork it’s always best to be prepared.