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Painful boils that erupt into squirming maggots—it sounds like something from a horror movie. But mango worms are all too real. Mango worms, also known as mangoworms or tumbu worms, are an African parasite that afflicts dogs and other mammals. Dogs step in a puddle with newly hatched worms, and within 25 seconds the worms will burrow into the host dog’s skin to start growing on their journey to becoming mango flies.1 Mango worm infestations lead to painful boils that run the risk of infections or other diseases, but they are generally not fatal.
What Are Mango Worms?
Mango worms are the larvae of the mango or tumbu fly. They are native to Central Africa and survive best in hot and humid environments that can be tropical or subtropical. Although mango flies are mainly found in Africa, there have been rare cases in other parts of the world, transported via travel. Because the larvae and eggs are known to get into clothing, they can ride along in luggage and cause infestations outside of their main environment.
Mango worms are parasitic, burrowing under the skin of a host mammal until they are ready to pupate. In most cases, a mango worm infestation will lead to great pain and discomfort as the worms grow, followed by a high chance of infection. In severe cases, mango worms can burrow deeper into the tissues, leading to gangrene, serious infection, and death.
Life Cycle of Mango Fly
Adult mango flies lay eggs in batches of about 100 to 300 at a time. Eggs are usually laid in dry sand that has been contaminated with feces or in clothing that has been left on the ground. Mango fly eggs are small enough that they can barely be seen without a microscope. The eggs hatch within three days, and for the next several days the tiny worms wait for a host to come. They wait near the surface of the sand, waving about and waiting for something to touch them. When a mammal sits or steps on the sand, the worms start burrowing into the skin. They burrow into thin skin more quickly than thick skin, making them a greater danger to smaller and younger dogs and people.
Once mango worms have found a host, they stay just under the surface of the skin for 1–2 weeks, eating the inner skin to continue to grow. At first, they are painless and nearly unnoticeable, but over time a painful boil will develop over each mango worm. The boil will be red and solid with a small hole in the center. The worm will molt multiple times as it grows, and the boil will begin to fill with pus.
Finally, when the mango worm is ready to pupate, it will burst out of its boil and fall to the ground. Over the next few weeks, it will pupate and transform from a maggoty worm into an adult fly.
Mango Worm Prevention
If you live in an area with a large population of mango flies, it can be hard to protect your dog, but there are things you can do. Keep your area clean of feces and remove anything that could attract flies, such as rotting fruit. Use insect repellent where possible to keep flies away.
Because mango worms can lay eggs in clothing, avoid leaving bedding or clothing on the ground. If possible, dry clothes and bedding using a high-heat dryer or iron clothes and bedding regularly to kill eggs and larvae.
It is also important to kill mango flies at other stages of life. Adult mango flies are most active at dawn and dusk and during the hotter parts of the day, they often rest on ceilings, where they can be killed. Mango flies can also be destroyed while pupating. Any worms removed from a mango worm boil should be destroyed.
If you are traveling to an area with mango worms, follow the same prevention tips above. After returning to your home country, clean all clothing and luggage thoroughly. Wash and dry clothes in the hottest setting that is safe for your clothes.
How Can I Tell If My Dog Has Mango Worms?
The first step in identifying mango worms is looking at travel history. If you live in an area with endemic mango worms or have recently traveled there, your dog may be at risk for infestation. They are native to East Africa, South Africa, and Uganda, but there have been cases in other countries, like the United States, on rare occurrences. Inspect your dog’s skin closely for bumps or boils that may develop.
Mango worm infestations start as small red pimples that will usually fade before a larger boil forms. These boils are reddish and hard, with a small opening or hole in the middle that might ooze liquid. If there are many worms close together, the whole area might become tender and swollen. The best way to identify mango worms definitively is by finding and removing a worm, which can then be identified visually.
How to Treat Mango Worms
If you think your dog has mango worms, contact your vet to get help in dealing with the infestation. The best way to get rid of mango worms is by removing them from the body. There are various methods to do this. Some people try to suffocate the worms out by covering the boils with petroleum jelly or wax. This cuts off the worms’ air supply and forces them to wriggle out.
You can also squeeze the worms out, especially in the later stages of infestation. Pinching the sides of the boil like you are popping a pimple can force the worm out. Tweezers can be useful in removing worms completely. However, you should take care to remove the entire worm—if part of a worm remains in the skin, it can rot and cause further complications.
After removing the worms, the next step is to treat the wound with antibiotics. An antibiotic solution should be used to clean the boils. Your vet might also prescribe an oral antibiotic.
Treating your dog for parasites like mango worms may be a little costly, but you may be able to manage the cost with good pet insurance.
If you’re considering health insurance for your pet, you may want to look at Lemonade. This company offers balanced, customizable insurance and helpful customer service.
Can I Get Mango Worms From My Dog?
Mango worms attack all types of mammals, including humans. Mango worms do not pass directly from host to host—once they are in someone’s body, they stay there. That means that you won’t get mango worms from your dog. However, if your dog has had a mango worm infestation, it is possible to get them from the same source. Mango worm infestations are similar in humans and dogs. If your dog experiences a case of mango worms, the same prevention tips above will help keep you and other humans safe from the parasite as well.
Mango worms are a severe and dangerous parasite that can affect dogs, humans, and other animals. If you live in an area with mango flies or have plans to travel through an area with mango flies, take proper precautions. Mango worms aren’t usually lethal, but that doesn’t mean they should be taken lightly. Severe infestations can lead to a painful death, and even if your dog avoids them, he or she will suffer from high levels of pain, infection, and an increased risk of disease. A few small precautions to prevent infestation can prevent so much suffering.
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Featured Image Credit: LightField Studios, Shutterstock