Itchy Bites and No Bugs!? Claremore, Here’s an Answer!

I’m the ‘bugaphobic’ wife of an exterminator. I now deal with bugs in one form or fashion on a daily basis. Lord, help me! 918-856-5424

Very possible cause of recent unidentified bug bites at Claremore stadium. Wear a DEET repellent or try AVON’s Original Skin-So-Soft product when attending future games. Looking at recent photos, I do see many trees towering behind the stadium. The bite location images in recent news stories definitely suggest an outbreak of Oak Leaf Itch Mites.

Itchy Bites and No Bugs!?

There’s a trend going around and the calls are heating up the phone lines.  Bites without bugs.  You’ve heard the news stories…local schools with parents and teens showing bites and no signs of the culprits.  Spiders? Bed Bugs?  Everyone’s creepiest bug fears have them searching their bed frames, mattresses and surrounding furniture.. nothing.

Raised bites resembling mosquito bites.  Clusters of tiny bites in the crook of the elbow or the back of the neck, arms, and other exposed areas resembling chigger bites.  Redness, swelling and sometimes a blister or pimple-like resemblance to the middle of the affected area.  (everyone reacts differently to insect bites, swelling, redness, size and irritation can vary)

Oak Leaf Itch Mite

(Pyemotes herfsi)

Pin oak leaves -healthy
What is it?
A mite.  Nearly invisible to the naked eye (0.2 mm in length) They are elongated, reddish tan in color with a shiny exoskeleton.

What do they feed on?
The primary host and food source are other insects. Namely, the developing eggs of 17-year periodical cicadas (Hey! Guess what emerged earlier this year!?!)  It is suspected that they also feed on midges, the larvae of a small two-winged fly inside the galls of the pin oak.  Galls are irregular growths that commonly occur on pin oak trees.  Insects and mites manufacture growth-regulating chemicals that react with plant hormones and produce the galls.  These galls provide the mites with nutrients and protection from pesticides and natural enemies.

Affected pin oak leaf

They have been reported to feed on many different insects, and it is when they have become very numerous, eliminating their current food source, that they will search for alternative hosts. The generational time span can be as little as one week, enabling the mite population to explode in a short period of time and can fall by the thousands from overhead trees inadvertently land on, and bite humans. Most bites tend to occur August-October when the mite has built up large populations.  Studies have shown that the mites can rain down from trees in numbers of over 300,000 per day.  They are easily carried by the wind and can potentially enter through window screens and thereby bite people who do not often go outdoors. When landing on humans, they may crawl around for up to 5 hours before ‘digging in’.  Reaction time to the bites can be anywhere from 10-16 hours following the original bite (that you were probably unaware of) and last up to two weeks with intensive itching.

How can I prevent the bite?
It is suggested that showering within a few hours of expected exposure (playing in the yard, gardening, fall leaf clean-up, etc) can help reduce the chance of being bitten.  Be sure to toss clothing immediately into the washer as well, avoiding bringing these mites into the home.
-Use DEET-containing products before outdoor exposure (use on children under 2 discouraged)
-Avoid areas of infestation (e.g. pin oak trees)
-Wear light-colored, tightly woven clothing that covers as much skin as possible
-After spending time in wooded/grassy areas, shower or bathe immediately with soap and water
-Use gardening gloves when handling leaves or grass clippings
-Keep windows closed if residing in an area of pin oaks or where frequent infestation reports occur.

Can I ease the itch?
Calamine lotions and over the counter itch creams may help, possibly along with oral anti-histamines.  Scratching of the bites is discouraged to avoid secondary bacterial infections.  Applying ice packs to the bite area can help reduce swelling, itching and pain. In children, trimming fingernails may prevent further injury from scratching. Refer to your physician if signs of infection are present.

Can we stop them?
Control of these mites is not easily accomplished. The mites are protected within the galls which are not penetrated by tree sprays.  While there are no researched-backed proven ways to control these mites (yet), it is suggested that having your yard treated can help reduce the problem of these mites over wintering in leaf piles and other vegetation.  Yard and vegetation treatments will in turn, also help reduce chiggers, mosquitoes, midges, fleas, ticks and other biting pests you may experience during the months of August-November.  Many of these pests will continue to cause problems until we see our first frost, usually late November.


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