How Serious Are Mite Bites?
Enjoying the outdoors on a nice day is something many people do in their spare time. It can make for a fun day to have a picnic at a park. However, the outdoors is full of bugs waiting to ruin your good day. Many of those bugs are mites.
You might be familiar with the common dust mite found in homes, but these are not the mites we are discussing. Dust mites do not bite and won’t harm you in any way. The biting mites are those that live in the outdoors, although they can be tracked into your home on your clothing and body.
Find out more about the different mites you should watch out for, what happens when they bite you and how to treat the bites. Also, discover how severe a bite can be and how to prevent more bites in the future.
What Are Mites?
Mites are very small bugs. They generally are so small that you can barely see them if you can see them at all. There are several different types of mites that live outdoors.
The most common in the United States is chiggers. Chiggers cannot be seen easily. They usually live in grass, weeds and shaded foliage. They like a damp area. They do not like cold weather, so chiggers are not found in the colder months. They become active in the spring and summer with activity slowing in the fall. They are often red in color, so you may notice red dots wherever they are located. The bite from a chigger causes a red rash that may last about a week without any treatment. Bites are usually found around the ankles and legs but may also occur at the waist, behind the knees and in other folds of skin.
Another common mite is scabies. They are also invisible. They burrow under the skin and are generally passed from person to person. They like the areas between fingers and folds of skin in the genital area and at the knees and elbows.
It can take a month for the reaction to occur to scabies. They cause an intense itching sensation and a rash. When an outbreak of scabies occurs, everyone living in the same house or facility should be treated.
This can be considered a public health issue if a large infestation occurs and is not immediately contained. It is important to note that scabies also affects animals, but the type of scabies that would be found on a house pet, for example, will not transfer to humans.
Many other mites are also found on animals. Some may transfer to humans, such as those found on birds, rodents and pigs. These mites can occur on wild or domesticated animals.
The bites from these mites also lead to itching and a rash. Removing the animal will usually help get rid of the mites, along with dusting with a power that can also be used for fleas.
There is also the straw itch mite, which lives in straw, hay and other plants. They usually infect people who handle infected materials. These mites are generally less of a nuisance than other mites since they are restricted to only straw, hay and plant matter.
Are Mite Bites Dangerous?
For the most part, mite bites are just a nuisance and are not dangerous to your health. Most bites will result in itching and rashes. Some people may have allergic reactions which could be severe but are generally not life-threatening. You should try to get rid of mites once you do discover them to prevent an infestation issue.
Mite Bite Treatment
Bites from mites in the U.S. are not going to produce serious effects. Generally, you will just get an itchy rash. Treatment usually includes using topical cortisone creams or taking antihistamines. If you have an issue with mites that burrow in the skin, you may be given antimicrobial therapy. Doctors will treat your symptoms because there is no underlying condition to treat.
It is best and your doctor will probably advise you to not scratch your mite rash. Scratching can lead to an infection which would require more severe medical treatment and could result in sickness.
You may not need to see a doctor if you know your rash is related to mites. You can safely treat yourself at home using over-the-counter products. You can also try herbal remedies that help stop itching, reduce inflammation and soothe. Tea tree oil can often be beneficial when applied topically.
If your child has a mite-bite rash, you should consult with your doctor. Children’s skin is often more delicate and susceptible to infection. Plus, they are more likely to scratch at their rashes thus increasing infection risk. You should get prescription medications to treat their rashes. Your doctor may advise a follow-up visit to ensure infection does not occur.
Mites Outside the U.S.
If you encounter mites outside of the U.S., though, there is a chance for a more serious reaction to a bite. Mites found in Asia and Australia can transmit scrub typhus. This is a disease caused by the bacteria transmitted by chiggers. Only chiggers in certain areas carry this bacterium. Note that chiggers in the U.S. do not carry the bacteria.
If you get scrub typhus, you will usually start seeing symptoms within 10 days. Symptoms may include:
- Muscle pain
It is possible for this disease to put you into a coma. It can lead to organ failure and internal bleeding if untreated. Treatment involves taking an antibiotic, and recovery rates are good when the antibiotic is started early, at the onset of symptoms. Make sure to let your doctor know if you have traveled outside the U.S. to areas where mites are known to be infected with the bacterium.
Mite Bite Prevention
The best thing to do when it comes to mite bites is to prevent them from ever happening in the first place. Since mites usually come from being outside, the best preventative steps include:
- Wearing long sleeves and pants when going in wooded areas
- Avoiding areas of known mite infestation
- Covering baby strollers with netting
- Wearing clothing treated with permethrin
- Removing and washing clothing immediately after coming indoors
- Bathing as soon as possible after coming indoors
One of the best preventative methods you can do is to use bug repellent that contains DEET or a natural repellent that contains tea tree, lemongrass, jojoba, citronella or geranium oil on clothing. Because DEET is a chemical, it is important to follow all instructions about use on the package and to pay attention to any warnings. You should never use a DEET product on a child under two months old. In addition, make sure that you use DEET on top of sunscreen. If you are applying it to children, spray it on your hands first and use your hands to apply so it does not get into their eyes, mouth or nose.
Scabies is a different story than other mites. Once scabies is discovered, the most important task is treating everyone infected. Once the mites are removed from the human hosts, they will die. The home or facility does not have to be treated.
Animal and straw mite bites can be prevented by avoiding infested animals and their habitats along with not handling straw, hay or plant matter that is infected. This means if you work on a farm or around farm animals, be aware of touching straw and hay. This is also a warning for those who work with dried plants, which may also carry straw mites. Always use gloves and throw out infected material as soon as you are aware it has mites.
Mite bites are generally just an annoyance. They do not usually cause issues with your health that are long-lasting. Most bites lead to an itchy rash that will easily disappear if you use cortisone creams and take antihistamines. You can usually avoid such issues by avoiding areas that are known to be infested with mites and by wearing insect repellent.
As long as you are in the U.S., you should be protected from any mites that could cause more serious issues. However, if you plan to travel to Asia or Australia, you need to be aware that mites there carry a bacterium that can lead to a serious illness called scrub typhus. This can be fatal if left untreated and causes severe illness.
In general, you should always avoid areas or animals that are known to have mites as they can and will most likely infest you. You should take precautions to protect yourself and your children whenever you will be outside near grass or other foliage.
Mites bites for the most part will not kill you, but they can lead to serious discomfort. You should always be aware of the risk for mites when you are outside. Make sure that you are paying attention to children especially as they are most vulnerable to bites and to reactions to the bites.