How to Bug Proof Your Home: Mites

Pest Management In and Around Structures September 25, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Introduction

House Dust Mite

There are many different mite species, some problematic whilst others are part of our natural fauna and go unnoticed. For example, the follicle mite is a microscopic mite that lives in the hair follicles or sebaceous glands of most humans. They are generally harmless and cause no irritation or discomfort.

House Dust mites on the other hand are one of the principal mite problems in North America. They are found in bedding, carpets and furniture containing natural fibers. They are scavengers that feed on human skin scales and other detritus but do not bite humans. A significant number of people are allergic to them and their byproducts.

Scabies mites are one of the more problematic mites that attack livestock, horses, dogs, rabbits and people. The burrowing action and byproducts they create causes an intense itch and dermatitis that may be felt for several days after the mite is no longer attached. Scratching can cause bleeding and infection of open sores. The straw itch mite is another problem pest. It often causes epidemics of dermatitis during harvesting and post-harvesting operations in straw, hay or certain grains. In more severe cases sweating, fever, headache and vomiting can occur. The straw itch mite is also highly beneficial because they feed on larvae of wheat jointworm, rice and granary weevils, Angoumois grain moths and other pests.

Diagnosis is often difficult. The mites themselves can be microscopic and scratching the irritated skin can further further mask the true pathology. As a result, it is often confused with entomophobia (fear of insects) in certain people. Identification requires collecting (often by a skin scraping) and preserving the specimen immediately in alcohol before a microscopic examination can be performed.

Contact a physician for treatment of scabies, dermatitis and other skin disorders. Oral antihistamines and the application of a hydrocortisone cream to bites may help to relieve itching.

 

Prevention

  1. After being exposed to someone with mites, bathe in hot, soapy water and scrub down with a washcloth.
  2. Some mites migrate from birds and rodents. Current nests must be removed and further nesting discouraged from around the home. Chicken wire can be placed over chimneys, eaves and window mounted air conditioners. Exclude rodents by following previous recommendations on rodent prevention.
  3. Dust and vacuum furniture, floors and beds regularly, discarding vacuum bags frequently. This is especially true for house dust mites.
  4. Employ proper sanitation and storage of food products. Discard foodstuffs infested with grain and mold mites.
  5. For bird and rodent mites, standard insect repellents can prevent bites. But removal of nesting material is essential.

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USDA / NIFA

This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.