Health Issues: CHIGGERS

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By Dr. Michael Miles

Though we are thankful for the monsoons, along with the much needed moisture and consequent vegetation come the bugs. Some of the more bothersome ones of this season include mosquitoes, kissing bugs and chiggers.

Chiggers will be our topic of discussion today. These little critters are extremely small mites. In fact, the term chiggers refer to the larval stage of the harvest mite.

They are related to ticks and spiders. They hatch in grassy areas and by the time they are only 1/50 of an inch in size they are in search of food. They instinctively climb to the top of tall blades of grass and await passing animals on which to feast.

Once a larval mite jumps onto a host animal (including humans) they will latch onto the skin with their mouths and secrete saliva that breaks down skin cells to ingest. They do not burrow into the skin nor do they ingest blood. Their meal of choice is skin.

The irritation that we feel is our own reaction to the saliva. Our bodies have an inflammatory response that swells the skin tissue and creates a cavity within which the mites reside while they eat. This inflammation also results in intense itching. Though the bugs may be rubbed or washed off before they finish their usual three to four day meal, the inflammation will occur as soon as the saliva is injected and the resulting welt and itch may last from seven to ten days.

The itch can sometimes be relieved with creams and oils that bring down the inflammation. I am not fond of steroid creams, but they may help diffuse the inflammation and swelling quickly.

This situation is another case where the best treatment is prevention. In other words, do not come in contact with these little mite larva. Avoid brushing through grassy areas during this time of year. Trim down the grassy areas around your house. If you will be maneuvering in and around such areas wear long sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into high boots. Insect repellents can be helpful as well. Immediately upon returning from a suspicious area thoroughly wash yourself with soap and water. Particular areas of the body that are attractive sites for mites include the belt line, under the arms and in and around the groin. Rubdowns with a towel will help dislodge chiggers that are clinging on. Don’t forget to wash the clothes. Many people suggest that a diet with generous portions of garlic in it helps to repel insects like these mites and mosquitoes. Garlic has many beneficial qualities and as such can only be a worthy consideration.

This is a beautiful time of year. I hope that you can enjoy it in comfort and in health.

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