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What is Biting Me?

Have you recently been bitten by something that is causing itchy red spots on your arms, neck and upper body? You more than likely have been bitten by an itch mite. These are nearly microscopic insect-like creatures that are barely visible to the naked eye.

One type of itch mite is the oak leaf gall mite. These mites are responsible for many of the outbreaks of human bites in the Midwest during the fall. They reside in oak trees, primarily pin oaks, and feed on the larvae of a small fly (midge). During the summer brown and crusty shell forms on the edge of an oak leaf, called a gall. When fall comes and their food supply is gone, the mites fall from the trees in waves looking for food and this is when they bite. You can just be working or walking under a tree when they can fall on you and bite. And since they are hard to see you may not know that you've been exposed until the itchy red spots appear. They can fall by the hundreds or thousands and are so small that they can be carried by the wind. They can pass through window screen and loosely woven clothing.

The bites are unlike chigger bites which usually appear where clothing is tight. The oak mite bites appear where clothing is loose such as the neck, shoulders and chest, and are usually not found on the lower extremities. The bites appear as red raised spots with a centralized blister. These usually appear 10-16 hours after the bite and are very itchy. They can last up to 2 weeks. Oak mites do not spread disease like other insects.

What do you do if you have been bitten?
The most important thing is not to scratch since this can lead to infection. You can try an over the counter antihistamine such as Benadryl pills. You can also try calamine lotion or over-the-counter anti-itch creams. The only time that you need to seek medical care is if these bites become infected.

How can I prevent getting bitten?
Keep your windows closed to prevent them from floating through your screens. The mites can't live long in your house as they need to have the bug larvae to survive. Wear long sleeves when outside and remove the clothing and launder right away and shower with warm soapy water after coming inside. Insect repellent does not seem to help, but remember that there are still mosquitoes out there that do carry diseases so still use the repellent. Spraying the trees is also ineffective since the mites feed on larvae inside the leaves.

The good news is that as soon as it freezes the oak mite will not cause any more problems!

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