Eradicated ectoparasites

Three ectoparasites have already been eradicated in Iceland (Table 4.2).

Pediculus humanus humanus (syn. P. h. corporis) was frequently mentioned in Health Reports until the middle of the twentieth century. Quite often the typical cutaneous lesions, which follow a P. h. humanus infestation, were described. Medical examination of school children carried out in the health district of Flatey in 1926 revealed that 50% of the children were infested with P. h. humanus and 54% with P. h. capitis (Health Report 1926). Overgaard (1942) also mentions that the two subspecies occurred at a similar prevalence.

Health Reports (1930, 1934) state that bedbugs, Cimex lectularius, were imported to Iceland by Norwegian whalers, who established a whaling station in Dyrafjordur, NW Iceland in 1890. In 1898, bedbugs were already found on adjacent farms. In the following decades the parasite not only colonized most farms around the fjord but had also spread to adjacent districts and to other parts of the country. Cimex lectularius was reported in Reykjavik in 1923 and soon became a real pest, which had to be eradicated from hundreds of flats in the forthcoming decades (Health Reports 1930-1947). Gigja (1944) and Fristrup (1945) state that C. lectularius was the worst pest that had ever occurred in human dwellings in Iceland. The parasite survived locally until the 1970s. Since then C. lectularius has only been reported on rare occasions and is always regarded to have been imported from abroad. Pulex irritans, first mentioned by Mohr (1786), was probably very common in Iceland; so common and widespread that its occurrence does not seem to be mentioned. Sometimes, however, P. irritans might have been confused with endemic bird and rodent fleas (Table 4.2) (Henriksen 1939; Skirnisson and Richter 1992; Skirnisson 1995). In the nineteenth century fleas were common on most farms in Iceland ( Jonasson 1934). Matthiasson (1920) advises on how to get rid of fleas from turf houses where they could easily complete their life cycles, for example, in beds and hay mattresses (Gigja 1944). Still, in the 1930s fleas were abundant in houses. Thus, Health Report (1934) informs about such a flea epidemic on most farms in the district of Dalir that the local physician regarded it as impossible for humans to stay on infested farms if the individuals had previously not become used to bites of human fleas. P. irritans seems to have disappeared from Iceland during the middle of the twentieth century. Surprisingly P. irritans has not been found in medieval and post-medieval archaeological excavations in Iceland, whereas in Greenland P. irritans has been found in Viking-age deposits from several farmsteads that date from the initiation of the Viking settlement in 986 to its final demise around 1350 (Sadler 1990). The settlers in Greenland mainly originated from Iceland.

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