Aussie's warning over 'little-known' danger at popular Bali hotspot

Emma Rose Lowry is sharing her experience with the venomous tomcat beetle.

An Australian woman has issued a desperate warning to Bali travellers after her leg was left completely covered in blisters and bruises following a run-in with a "little-known" insect.

Victorian resident Emma Rose Lowry said she was holidaying in Indonesia, visiting the resort town of Kuta when a small insect "walked over her body" during a dinner late last month. The bug, "small and similar to a bull ant" in appearance, "but is very venomous", was later identified as a tomcat beetle.

Tomcats are type of rove beetle that carry an extremely toxic venom which causes paederus dermatitis — a severe type of skin irritation that stems from physical contact. The insects are found all over the world, but prefer to live moist habitats like crops and riverbanks — a reason why the creatures tend to favour Bali.

Australian woman Emma Rose Lowry lying near the beach in Bali.
Emma Rose Lowry returned from Bali with a huge blister on her leg. Source: Supplied.

Tomcat beetles puzzle Aussie traveller

The 28-year-old said she didn't even notice the insect at the time of the dinner, but the next morning found a five centimetre-long blister "on my leg and couldn’t figure out what it was". The following day, the blister "burst" and the redness began to spread further across her body.

By the third day, her bruises began to deepen and spread even further, and, she began presenting with flu-like symptoms, including hot and cold flushes and swollen lymph nodes.

"My partner and I were walking around the shops and he's like, 'everyone's gonna think that I've slapped you'," Ms Lowry told Yahoo News Australia. "It happened about two days before I was coming home. I googled it and was thinking: 'What the hell is this?'

A view of Emma Rose Lowry's blisters.
Ms Lowry has issued a warning to those hoping to travel to Bali, urging people to be cautious of rove beetles. Source: Facebook.

"So, I got it looked at in Australia at my GP and all the GPs had never ever heard of that. All the pharmacies said they'd never heard of it, they were like bringing people over to look at it."

Blister 'explodes' over woman's leg

Ms Lowry said that eventually it was determined that the blister was a result of exposure to the beetle, which required a round of antibiotics.

Dr Swaid Abdullah, an expert in Veterinary Parasitology, previously told Yahoo News Australia that the injuries would've not been inflicted by a bite or sting, rather from the beetles crawling on skin, clothes, bedding or towels. Due to the fact venom isn't injected into the bloodstream, it's a persons skins that cops the brunt of the toxins.

A view of Emma Rose Lowry's blisters.
Ms Lowry's sting went from barely being noticeable to taking over her entire leg. Source: Facebook.

"We were just sitting in the corner at dinner next to where some plants were," Ms Lowry said. So it could have been in there and just made its way over. But apparently it's more common for them to be found in remote areas.

"Once the blister burst, it really started to spread. It still looks terrible now.

"But a lot of other people suffer from vomiting, like, a really serious reaction. I've been a bit lethargic and stuff, but not too bad. But the scars are full on."

Rove beetles, more commonly known as Tomcats, carry toxic venom than cause a skin irritation called Paederus dermatitis. Source: Wikipedia
Rove beetles, more commonly known as Tomcats, carry toxic venom than cause a skin irritation called Paederus dermatitis. Source: Wikipedia

'Please be careful'

A self-described Bali-lover, who has spent a lot of the time on the island, Ms Lowry made it clear she does not wish to deter people from travelling to the hotspot, but does think Aussies should be aware of the beetles before they arrive.

She said it's a good idea to "tap the bottom of chairs" in places like restaurants before sitting down, to ensure any insects drop off. While the young Aussie explained she felt little pain, the bruising and swelling had lasted a lot longer than she expected, and it's very noticeable on her skin.

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