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Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2010 September; 83(3): 447.
PMCID: PMC2929031

Bullous Leg Lesions Caused by Culicoides Midges after Travel in the Amazon Basin

A 36-year-old man presented with 1 day of blistering lesions on the lower extremities. Two days before presentation, he had traveled to several rural communities in the Peruvian Amazon. During that trip, he had hiked through several areas of damp soil, decaying plants, and dense grass reaching up to 50 cm in height. He awoke the next morning with numerous confluent, erythematous, pruritic, non-blanching papules that were circumferential around both ankles. Over the next day, multiple bullae up to 4.5 cm in diameter developed with surrounding edema (Figure 1). The patient was treated with prednisone (50 mg daily) by mouth for 3 days, followed by routine wound care with topical antimicrobials, dressings, and topical hydrocortisone for pruritus. The lesions stabilized in size by the third day and had largely resolved by 14 days with minimal scarring.

Figure 1.
View of the patient's right ankle 1 day after travel, with prominent bullae and numerous confluent papules. Soft-tissue edema is obscuring the medial malleolus. This figure appears in color at www.ajtmh.org.

This case was caused by midge bites, likely from the hematophagous species Culicoides paraensis and insinuatus (Figure 2). These small insects are widespread in the Peruvian Amazon, where they favor wet areas, grass, and decaying vegetation such as the remains of banana (platano) trees.1 Approximately 1 mm in size and noiseless, they are difficult to see and may be overlooked in vector-avoidance strategies despite being vectors for Oropouche virus and other pathogens. Bites to humans may manifest as an immediate-type hypersensitivity reaction with urticaria or as presumably delayed-type reactions with papular, ulcerating, or bullous lesions that can require weeks to resolve.2 Travelers to rural regions in the tropics should adhere carefully to vector precautions, including the use of N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET), permethrin, and physical barriers such as heavy boots and tucked-in trousers to prevent bites and their potential consequences.

Figure 2.
Dissecting microscope images (40×) of a female C. paraensis collected near Iquitos, Peru in the vicinity of where the subject traveled. (A) Thorax and legs. (B) Head. (C) Abdomen. (D) Wing. This figure appears in color at www.ajtmh.org.

Acknowledgments

The authors thank Dr. Kirk Mundal and Mr. Roberto Fernandez of the NMRCD Department of Entomology for their insights and for providing the photographs of Culicoides.

Notes

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or the United States Government. The authors are military service members. This work was prepared as part of their official duties. Title 17 USC §105 provides that “Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government.” Title 17 USC §101 defines a US Government work as a work prepared by a military service member or employee of the US Government as part of that person's official duties.

Footnotes

Authors' addresses: Ryan C. Maves, Department of Bacteriology, Naval Medical Research Center Detachment, Washington, DC, E-mail: lim.yvan.dem@sevam.nayr. Erik J. Reaves, Department of Epidemiology and Emerging Infections, Naval Medical Research Center Detachment, Washington, DC, E-mail: lim.yvan.dem@sevaer.kire. Gregory J. Martin, Infectious Disease Clinical Research Program, Uniformed Services University, Bethesda, MD, E-mail: gro.prcdi@nitramg.

References

1. Mercer DR, Spinelli GR, Watts DM, Tesh RB. Biting rates and developmental substrates for biting midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) in Iquitos, Peru. J Med Entomol. 2003;40:807–812. [PubMed]
2. Steffen C. Clinical and histopathologic correlation of midge bites. Arch Dermatol. 1981;117:785–787. [PubMed]

Articles from The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene are provided here courtesy of The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene