Public Health Importance

Humans are not normal hosts of any hippoboscoid species. Occasionally, however, species such as the sheep ked and the pigeon fly bite humans and can be annoying to those routinely handling sheep or domestic pigeons, respectively. Pigeon flies also can be a problem to inhabitants of buildings that have become infested with feral pigeons. Hippoboscids that parasitize nondomesticated animals will bite, and even occasionally feed on, a human host. For example, Olfersia coriacea, normally a parasite of gallinaceous birds, has been reported attaching to and feeding on the back of the neck of a human in Panama (Harlan and Chaniotis, 1983). Deer keds in some parts of the world may constitute an annoyance because they swarm in large numbers and land on humans, getting into the hair and under clothing.

Human reactions to hippoboscid bites are variable. A redness and swelling at the bite site is reported by some individuals. Others report that the bite is painful or that there is subsequent irritation at the site of the bite. Individuals have even reported severe pain and swelling that required emergency medical attention. In India M. ovinus reportedly causes painful bites to shepherds engaged in shearing (Joseph etal., 1991). On the other hand, the author has been bitten on numerous occasions by the sheep ked and has experienced no associated pain or swelling. In Russia, in the area of St. Petersburg, a dermatitis was reported among more than 300 individuals bitten by L. cervi during mass flights of volants in August and early September (Chistyakov, 1968).

The restriction of streblid bat flies and nycteribiid bat flies to bat hosts minimizes the potential for transmission of pathogens to other animals, including humans. Nycteribiidae have not been reported as biting animals other than bats (Marshall, 1970). Streblids, however, apparently will bite humans. Fritz (1983) has suggested that streblids might be important in maintaining and spreading disease-causing organisms among bats. As frequent blood feeders that move readily between bats, streblids have the potential to quickly spread pathogens from one host animal to another.

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