Chiggers

Chiggers: I often see chiggers as an external parasite that is really, really itchy. The term chigger is a common name for the six-legged larva of any of several blood-sucking mites. Chiggers normally feed on the blood of animal hosts such as birds, reptiles, and small mammals, but they also bite humans. People who go hiking, camping, or simply playing in the backyard or park can pick up a case of chiggers. Chiggers cause tiny red itchy bumps on the skin. These bites can be differentiated from flea bites because flea bites usually make a tight grouping of 3-5 bites. Chiggers attach themselves to your skin, inject saliva with digestive enzymes that helps to break down your skin cells, which the chigger drinks. It is these enzymes that cause the itchy rash. Chiggers, also called redbugs, jiggers, harvest mites, harvest lice, and harvest bugs, are common in the southern United States and are barely visible to the naked eye. They cling to grass stems and foliage and attach themselves to any animal that brushes against them. Their feeding on humans causes intense itching and irritation 12-24 hours after being bitten. Chigger bites are often confused with chicken pox lesions. Chigger bites are usually not dangerous but the bites themselves can become infected. One species of chiggers in Asia can spread the human disease scrub typhus. Scrub typhus is a Rickettsial infection where the chiggers spread an intracellular organism that really trashes the system out–kind of like Lyme disease. Once on your body, chiggers move around looking for a good place to feed, which is usually a thin layer of skin. They will also begin to feed if they reach a barrier, such as the waistband of your clothes or your armpit.

Treatment for Chiggers: Most of the time chiggers are easily knocked off the body by scratching and/or showering, but I once had a case where the entire family got chiggers. They were in the temporary log cabin housing the family was staying in. No matter how many times they washed their clothing, the chigger bites kept appearing. We finally decided that a clove-scented pet flea shampoo was the way to go and this easily eliminated them. I don’t know if it was the clove smell or the chemical in the fleas shampoo, but the case cleared up within a day or two. An oral antihistamine and steroid creams have also been used, but there are natural alternatives for these products. One old wives’ tale includes painting the bites with clear nail polish to suffocate the chigger. This is silly. So, if you are walking, hiking or playing in areas where there are tall dry grasses, you might want to take precautions for chiggers.  Don’t wear sandals, tuck your pant legs into your socks or shoes, and wear a natural bug repellent like Buzz Away, which you can get at your local health food store. Wash your clothes when coming inside—and a shower should rinse the body of annoying insect freeloaders and bug sprays.

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