Biting mites are a number of different types of tiny bugs that bite humans, often causing an itchy welt or rash. Although many different types of mites can infest a home, not all species bite. The most common biting mites are rodent and bird mites, harvest mites, and itch mites. The dust mite, which by some estimates infests nearly half of all homes, does not bite humans; unfortunately, many people develop an allergic reaction to their secretions.
All of the thousands of types of mites, biting and otherwise, are tiny eight-legged arthropods, about the size of a period at the end of a sentence. Their small size means that many people are not even aware of an infestation until they begin to feel or see the signs. In a home, mites live in materials such as carpets, mattresses, upholstered furniture, and bed sheets. If the mites brought into the home are of the biting variety, residents will soon become aware of itching, and may sometimes see tiny raised welts at the site where the biting mites insert their fangs. Although their bites can be painful and itchy, most biting mites do not transmit disease.
Types of Mites
Mites are generally of two types: plant-hosted and animal-hosted. Plant-hosted mites do not bite; they live in grassy or woody areas and can be brought into the house unknowingly by people who work or play in the outdoors. Animal-hosted mites are the ones that cause disease and skin irritation. These mites attach themselves to rodents, birds, or other small animals and sometimes drop off their hosts. They can live for a couple of weeks without a host, but if they come across a human, they may attach themselves to their accidental host and make their way into the home.
Most biting mites are not actually parasitic to humans; although they may attach briefly and bite, they usually are transmitted from other animals. Some mites, including scabies and chiggers, do live off of humans, however. In the case of scabies, prescription medication is typically required to kill the mites.
The most common biting mites include the following:
- Rodent Mites — These mites live on rats and mice; when the rodent dies or leaves its nest behind, they can bite people instead. There are three types of rodent mites that regularly bite humans: the tropical rat mite, the house mouse mite, and the spiny rat mite. Of these, the bite of the tropical rat mite is considered to be one of the most painful, leaving itchy welts and irritated skin.
- Bird Mites — Living on several different types of birds, including chickens, bird and fowl mites infest nests and can spread to people who come into contact with infested birds. Pet birds can also become infested. The bites are usually small and itchy, and can last for a week.
- Harvest Mites — Also known as chiggers, only in the larval stage do these mites bite people. Most common in the summer months, they are spread to people walking through grasses or other vegetation. They cling to the skin, usually in areas when clothing is constricted, and can feed for up to four days if not killed. Fortunately, they can be killed by being brushed or scratched away.
- Itch Mites — Sometimes called grain-itch mites, this group contains a number of species that feed primarily on insects. They are often found infesting grain, straw, and other stored products. Their bite produces a very itch rash.
- Scabies — This mite burrows under the skin of infected people to lays its eggs. They cause an allergic reaction, which results in an itchy rash and sores. Scabies is easily spread from person to person, and can also infest clothing, bedding, and carpets. Prescription medication is usually required to kill an infestation, and the home of a person who has scabies must be carefully cleaned to completely get rid of them.
Prevention is the most important method of controlling an infestation of biting mites. Their tiny size means that it is nearly impossible to seal off a home from an occasional bout of mites; there are some measures that can be taken to reduce their chances of infesting a home, however. Tight door and window seals can help prevent some types of mites from getting into a home; cutting back vegetation around a house will also reduce this possibility. People should shower after being outdoors, and clothing should be washed promptly.
If rats or birds are the source of mites, then they should be dealt with first. An exterminator can help eliminate rodents living in a home, and the house itself should be made as rodent-proof and bird-proof as possible by sealing up any points of entry. Homeowners should destroy any rodent nests they find, and old bird nests should be removed and the area cleaned with bleach. If a pet bird or rodent is infested with mites, it should be treated by a veterinarian.
Dealing with an Infestation
If a biting mite infestation happens anyway, there are steps that can be taken to eliminate them. All carpets, drapes, mattresses and upholstered furniture should be vacuumed thoroughly. Bedding, including pillows, sheets, and blankets, should be washed in hot water. Maintaining a regular deep cleaning schedule for the home can help prevent a reinfestation. It may be necessary to repeat these cleaning procedures a number of times before mites are eliminated. For serious infestations, the services of a professional exterminator may be required; there are a number of chemical and natural treatments that are effective in controlling biting mites.
How To Get Rid of Biting Mites
As soon as you realize there are mites in your home, the first thing you'll want to know is how to get rid of them. Luckily, there are many different options for treating and exterminating mites. If you are suffering from bites, you will first want to take a long hot shower or bath. You should use an abundance of soap to ensure that the affected areas have been cleansed. Applying an anti-itch cream, like hydrocortisone, can also help relieve some of the discomfort and intense itching that mite bites can cause.
How Do You Know If Mites Are Biting You?
Identifying a mite bite can be difficult, especially because they are so small. Everyone gets unidentified marks on their skin from time to time, so it may take a few bites before you notice the pattern. The bitten area may start out looking like a rash or patch of dry, irritated skin, but it will become extremely itchy over time. In some cases, your skin may swell or harden.
Some mites carry a small risk of passing on diseases to you, so leaving the bites untreated is never a good idea. It is usually worth identifying the specific type of mite biting you, as some carry more risks than others and may require a unique extermination approach.
If you suspect that you have scabies, an extremely contagious condition caused by itch mites, you will need to see a doctor as soon as possible. Scabies can be passed from person to person through sustained physical contact, so it is commonly found in crowded environments like schools, nursing homes and prisons. It can be resistant to antibiotics, taking a few rounds of treatment before going away, so getting ahead of scabies as soon as you notice the signs is crucial.
If a doctor has confirmed that you have scabies, you need to alert anyone you have had physical contact with because they may also be infested. Any bedding and clothing will need to be dry-cleaned or power washed on a sanitizing cycle, and pets will likely need to be treated as well. Scabies treatments may worsen the itching initially, but the bites should clear up after a month. If you are still finding new bites, your doctor may advise you to undergo an additional round of treatment, and you should conduct a rigorous search of your home to determine where the mites are congregating.
Crusted scabies, a subset of the condition, is even more infectious and aggressive and may require more targeted types of treatment. Overall, scabies is one of the most annoying types of diseases caused by mite bites, as it completely upends your life until it is eradicated.
How To Kill Biting Mites
Extermination depends on the source of the mites, such as being carried into the house by a pet. If your pet is infested, you should follow a similar treatment plan by giving them a warm bath. The only difference will be the type of soap that you use, as there are special antiparasitic washes available to kill any kind of mites that live on dogs and cats.
Certain mites, like chiggers, might bite you if you spend time outside in tall grasses. While there is no sustainable way to kill patches of problematic mites outdoors, wearing protective clothing and using bug spray with DEET should deter them. If you find the bugs in your home, a simple pesticide spray or concentrated disinfectant should be strong enough to do away with them. Before choosing a spray, do your research on what type of chemicals you are bringing into your home. Some sprays are not safe to use around other animals or small children, but reading instructions and reviews is a quick way to keep your family safe.
After exterminating an infestation of biting mites, you can take steps to prevent them from coming back. One quick method of prevention is washing your laundry in hot water rather than using a cool cycle. Mites cannot survive high water temperatures, so running a hot load of laundry is enough to ensure that your bedding and clothing are free from insects. Dusting and vacuuming your home on a regular basis will also help sweep up any microscopic critters that are hiding in the corners of your rooms. Simple yet thorough cleaning processes like these can keep your home bug-free and quell the anxiety that comes with small parasites like biting mites.