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Bug feeds on professor

October 23, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Bug feeds on professor



Biologist Bernard Murphy's work got under his skin this summer- and he couldn't wait to get it out.

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The biology professor at Hagerstown Community College was doing field research on parasitism in caterpillars in the jungles of Costa Rica in late July when he became a victim of what he was studying.

At first, it just looked like a mosquito bite, he said.

Then it started growing.

The biologist didn't know it at the time, but the blood-sucking insect carried the egg of a native Dermatobia hominis, or human botfly. When the mosquito bit Murphy on his right cheek, it deposited the egg, which hatched into a larva. The larva wormed its way into the mosquito bite, said Murphy, 48.

It started feeding on the professor's fat tissue.

And it grew.

Murphy said he returned to the United States several weeks later and visited his doctor, who prescribed an antibiotic for what he thought was an infected mosquito bite.

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The drugs did nothing, and Murphy started to suspect the botfly, he said.

Murphy examined the discharge from the swollen lump on his cheek under a microscope. Every once in a while, he felt a painful stinging sensation within the bite, he said.

"It just felt strange," Murphy said. "I didn't know whether it was movement or not."

After two more weeks, the bump "looked like a volcano," he said.

When he finally got an appointment with a dermatologist in September, the larva was "close to emerging," Murphy said. "It would've crawled out of my face, fallen to the ground and become a pupa."

The insect's natural emergence would have been much more painful and disfiguring than its surgical extraction, Murphy said.

It wasn't until the larva was removed and the patient saw the 1-inch-long, half-inch thick insect "wiggling out of me and crawling across the table" that he wrestled with feelings of revulsion, Murphy said.

"I got a little queasy," he said.

Murphy keeps the larva in a small vial of formaldehyde on a filing cabinet in his office.

The bands of burrowing hooks that encircle the insect's body caused the weird stinging sensation, he said.

A three-quarter-inch scar on his cheek also serves as a souvenir from Murphy's biological expedition to Costa Rica.

Murphy said he and others with whom he's shared his experience view it with a mixture of fascination and disgust.

"It was actually sort of interesting," Murphy said. "Then again, I wanted it off my face as soon as possible."

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