CINCINNATI—Chigger, flea, tick and mosquito bites are not merely an irritating nuisance—they can be dangerous.
that annoying itch, warns University of Cincinnati (UC) dermatologist
Charles Heaton, MD, creates a sore that can become infected.
July, August and September are prime time for these critters to feed on humans, says Heaton, professor of dermatology at UC’s College of Medicine.
tiny red bugs called chigger mites are actually baby harvester mites,
which are small enough to enter the skin through pores or hair
inside, they are able to burrow into the skin with their piercing mouth
tube. Then, they inject their saliva to digest skin cells and suck out
the liquefied skin.
The intense itching comes from your own allergic reaction to the protein found in the chigger mite’s saliva.
crawl onto you quickly when you sit or walk on grass. Attracted by
warmth, they are frequently found where clothing fits tightly, such as
under socks, waistbands or cuffs.
usually wander around your body for 45 minutes or more before finding a
suitable place to make their entrance. So following up outdoor
activities with an immediate bath or hot shower can avoid the problem.
six-legged larvae (baby chiggers) are the ones that want you as a food
source. Once they mature into eight-legged adults, chiggers feed on
grass and green leaves.
your pet walks in infested grass,” Heaton says, “there’s a good chance
it will pick up these little hitchhikers (or fleas or ticks) on its
fur. Then, when you stroke or cuddle with your pet, they can transfer
itchy chigger welts are frequently found under the armpits, in the back
of the knees, in front of the elbow or in the groin, where tender skin
is easy to penetrate.
Fleas can be dangerous, too. It was fleas that carried bubonic plague from rats to humans in Europe in the Middle Ages.
disease-causing microbes for the plague are carried in the flea’s
salivary gland. When a flea bites, it injects anticoagulants to keep
the blood thin and flowing.
a flea bites an infected rat or squirrel before biting you, its saliva
transmits the disease-bearing virus or bacteria to you,” says Heaton.
can easily invade your house via small mammals. Once inside, they can
be difficult to exterminate. It’s important to pest-proof your pets and
keep all wild creatures from taking refuge in your attic, garage or
other parts of your house.
ticks and deer ticks can transmit the bacteria that cause Rocky
Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. You should inspect your dog or
cat regularly for ticks and use flea and tick-repellant protection
products as advised by your vet.
of Rocky Mountain spotted fever include fever, headache, a spotted rash
on wrists ankles, palms and soles and a patchy rash on arms and legs.
Muscle aches, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain are also common with
this bacterial disease. It is treated by with antibiotics. Despite its
name, Rocky Mountain spotted fever has been found in all 48 contiguous
states. It is fatal in 10 percent of the cases reported.
disease typically starts as a circular red rash around the site of the
tick bite. It can be treated with antibiotics, but left untreated,
infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.
recommends that you inspect yourself and children after each outdoor
activity. “Remove attached ticks with a tweezers by grasping the tick
near the head and mouth and, being careful not to squeeze it, lift it
gently off the skin,” Heaton says.
the tick in a plastic bag and keep it in the freezer for up to two
weeks. If no symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever or Lyme disease
appear, dispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet or burning
it. After removing a tick, take care to wash your hands and apply
triple antibiotic to the site of the bite.
For years, mosquitoes have been known to carry tropical diseases such as malaria, dengue and yellow fever. Now, West Nile
fever is becoming a problem. First identified in 1937, the viral West
Nile fever been in the news since a 1999 outbreak in humans and animals
in New York. Since then, it has been reported in 46 states.
Although there is no specific treatment for West Nile
fever other than supportive therapy, less than 1 percent of those
infected develop its most serious possible consequence, encephalitis
(inflammation of the brain).
To prevent these common bug bites, Heaton advises:
light clothing and long sleeves and use insect repellants containing
DEET, especially when outside after dusk and before dawn, when the
insects are feeding.
- Keep outer windows tightly covered with screens, and don’t leave the screen door open.
- Spray clothing with repellants containing DEET or wear permethrin-impregnated fabrics.
you are prone to mosquito bites, consider wearing special outer
garments made from permethrin-treated netting when near fresh water
lakes or ponds during the summer and fall.
you suffer severe allergic reactions or have multiple bites, see your
doctor, who can prescribe topical cortisone treatments, oral
antihistamines or prednisone shots to lessen the itching.
the urge to scratch,” Dr. Heaton advises, “and use lukewarm water soaks
and topical or oral Benadryl to reduce the itching and swelling.
you or your children do scratch and break the surface of the skin,
apply triple antibiotic on the sore and cover it with a bandage until
it heals to prevent secondary infections,” he says.
Staying in air-conditioning also helps to reduce itching.
“And remember,” Heaton says, “Prevention is more important than treatment.”