When traveling, the biggest fear for people in regards to mosquitoes is the transmission of malaria. This is completely understandable as malaria is a deadly disease and can at the least really ruin a person’s vacation. For me, mosquitoes pose a far more sinister threat. I have terrible allergic reactions to bug bites, especially mosquito bites, that I just can’t help scratching. These irritating, itchy, little red bites turn into half-dollar sized maroon welts when I get my nails on them. The skin around the welts turns to a light red color and also fill with fluid. There is a slight burning sensation to go along with the itch and the general discomfort that I would feel with a limb swollen with fluid. This all sounds like fun doesn’t it? Such an outbreak occurred for me on a trip I took eight years ago to South Korea.
I was staying overnight at a Buddhist temple high in the mountains outside of Daegu with my girlfriend of the time. Since we were staying at a temple, it was strictly forbidden to share a room with a member of the opposite sex,so I was placed in a room with young Korean man who spoke no English. This went perfectly with the fact that I spoke no Korean, so we nodded to each other and laid down on our mats in the room. I am a notoriously bad sleeper when it is hot, and that evening it was VERY hot. While my roommate slept in pants and completely covered by his blanket, I elected to cool down as much as possible by removing my blanket and rolling my shorts up as high as I could. This is where my great mistake occurred.
During the evening my happy Korean roommate had gotten up and opened the door to our room to allow some air flow. Unfortunately, more than just evening air came into the room. I awoke the next morning covered in big, itchy mosquito bites all over my legs. Soon the scratching began. It took no more than twenty-four hours for my bites to become infected. Cellulitis had set in all over my legs. My right leg had turned almost entirely red with the above noted maroon welts like polka dots all over my legs. My foot had become swollen to almost double its normal size. Walking on my feet could only be described as if someone had inserted a layer of jell-o under my skin which jiggled ever so nicely with each and every step. A course of topical solutions and antibiotics (and a steroid shot in my butt to boot!) helped to quell the infection. Unfortunately, the symptoms began on day three of the trip and did not fully go away until day fifteen of my seventeen day journey.
I was still able to enjoy my time in South Korea even though everywhere I went I stood out not just as the tall Caucasian but also as a leper. There’s real truth behind when people tell you to not scratch your mosquito bites. I know that I can’t help it so I do the next best thing: I keep a pair of nail clippers with me at all times. If I can’t keep my fingers from scratching, I can keep my nails from doing any real damage.