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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog


There are many wive's tales and misconceptions about chiggers. Rhonda Ferree, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator provides the following facts that might help your itch this summer.

Chiggers are microscopic mites. That means that they are very tiny and have eight legs. They are also ectoparasites, which mean that they live on the outside of the host's body.

Chiggers cause a rash known as chigger dermatitis. Chigger dermatitis causes the skin to speckle with rather large, raised, red spots that itch ferociously. Chiggers prefer constricted areas such as sock tops, waistbands or armpits. The spots are caused by the feeding activity of the tiny mites.

Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do not bury beneath the skin or suck blood. Chiggers inject a salivary fluid that dissolves the host's cells, and then they suck up the liquefied tissue. Within a few hours, small, reddish, intensely itching welts appear. These bites may continue to itch for several days up to two weeks after the chigger is dislodged.

As with other insect problems, it seems that some people are more prone to chiggers than others. Similar to mosquitoes, the chigger is attracted to the carbon dioxide that our bodies give off. Chiggers are typically more prevalent in tall grass, weeds, shrubby plants, or berry brambles.

To control chiggers in your yard, University of Illinois recommends eliminating or mowing breeding sites, especially tall grass, weeds, and other thick vegetation where there is an abundance of moisture and shade.

You can protect yourself from chiggers in much the same way that you protect yourself from mosquitoes and ticks. Wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and trousers, shoes and socks. Tuck pant legs into boots or socks. Avoid sitting on the lawn or on the ground in brushy areas. Take a warm, soapy shower or bath immediately after returning from any infested areas to kill or dislodge the chiggers.

Apply a insect repellent to shoes, socks and trousers before entering chigger-infested areas. Always use repellents properly. Do not use on children less than two years of age or use more than 10% DEET on children between the ages of 2 and 12.

When bites begin to itch, one course of treatment is to apply rubbing alcohol, followed by one of the non-prescription local anesthetics. A baking soda paste, calamine lotion, or "After-Bite" product may help reduce discomfort. Avoid scratching bites since this only increases irritation and may lead to secondary infection of the bite.

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