Chiggers may be tiny, but their bites can pack a big punch. Chiggers are mites – also known as red bugs, harvest lice, or harvest mites – and members of the arachnid family. They live in grasslands and forests all over the world. Even though the bites aren’t dangerous, the resulting rash and itching can be really uncomfortable. There are steps you can take to avoid chigger bites and ways to find relief if you’ve been bitten.
In addition to topical bug repellents such as DEET, one of the most effective ways to prevent chigger bites is insect repellent pants for men (and for women) and insect repellent socks pre-treated with permethrin. Tuck the pants into the socks and you will be amazed at the difference when you are protected by Insect Shield built-in bug repellent technology. Learn more about our products below.
What Causes Chigger Bites?
Chigger bites are caused by mite larvae. Usually red in color, the larvae are very tiny—only 1/120 to 1/150 of an inch in size. Most cannot be seen by the naked eye. Larger adult chigger mites measure 1/20 of an inch— which means they are visible, but they do not feed on people. Chigger mites belong to the genus eutrombicula and are arachnids, like spiders and ticks. (There are thousands of other species of mites, some of which feed only on vegetation.)
Beginning in spring, the chigger mite eggs hatch into six-legged, fast-moving larvae that climb onto vegetation where they seek prey. The mite larvae attach their claws tightly to their victims, piercing the host’s skin and injecting their saliva—which liquefies the skin cells of the host. After feeding on their host’s skin cells, the larvae drop off and develop into the eight-legged nymph-stage and, finally, into the adult-stage chigger mite, which is also eight-legged. Chigger larvae prey on many animals including cats, dogs, reptiles, birds and people. It takes about four days for a chigger to finish feeding on a human host.
A chigger bite causes a red welt with a white, hard center that itches intensely. The welt and itching, and sometimes swelling and accompanying fever, are a reaction to the mite’s saliva being injected into the skin. These symptoms usually appear 3 to 6 hours after attachment, and may last a week or more. Scratching can cause secondary infection, but chigger bites in the United States do not transmit infectious diseases to people.
Chigger bites are most likely to occur in late spring and summer. People tend to experience the most numerous bites when on or near grass or other vegetation, in a sunny location. Chiggers usually attach to people where clothing is tight over their skin, particularly around the waist, or where flesh is wrinkled or thin such as in the groin area, bend of elbows and behind knees, in armpits or on ankles.
Where Do Chiggers Live And When Do I Need To Be Prepared For Them?
Chiggers live in damp grassy areas, woodlands, and near streams and lakes all over the world. The larvae usually stay together in clusters not far from the ground, where it’s easy for them to attach on to a passing person or animal. Late spring and early summer is prime time for chigger bites when grass and vegetation is at its peak, but they can be active year round.
Chiggers can be found across the globe, but mostly in the American midwest (especially the lower part), southeast, and south. You don’t really see them in colder climates since warm, moist conditions are ideal for them.
Chiggers are distributed widely in South America, but are especially prevalent in low-elevation grasslands.
Chiggers exist throughout the islands of the Caribbean and are most prevalent in moist grassland areas and other lowland habitats.
Chiggers can be found throughout Asia. More recently it has been reported that numerous people have suffered chigger bites in Taiwan where the CDC urged people to take precautions when enjoying the outdoors.
Chiggers are also found in Australia. The species called Trombicula (eutrombicula) hirsti, are known to be from Australia and are otherwise known as the “scrub-itch mite.”
While Africa is more known for malaria, Dengue fever and other insect-borne disease risk, chiggers have been unfortunately introduced by humans to sub-Saharan Africa.
1. The best way to remove chiggers is to lather up with soap and rinse with warm water, repeatedly.
2. Quick removal can reduce itching.
3. Pat dry with a clean towel or cloth.
4. Over-the-counter anti-itch medications such as pramoxine or hydrocortisone provide some relief.
5. It’s best to leave the area uncovered if possible.
6. Bites itch for several days after the chiggers are gone.
7. Try to avoid scratching the affected area.
8. Chiggers can remain in ordinary clothing, but will be eliminated after washing in hot, soapy water.
By keeping your lawn mowed and trimming weeds or thick vegetation, you can make your yard less hospitable to chiggers—as they prefer to breed in damp, shady areas.
In eastern and southeastern Asia and India, northern Australia and some Pacific islands, chiggers can transmit scrub typhus, which is also known as tropical typhus or Tsutsugamushi disease. Scrub typhus occurs most frequently during rainy seasons in regions with scrubby vegetation and grass, but also shows up in desert, rain forest and sandy beach areas. No vaccine exists.
How To Treat Chigger Bites
There are different ways to treat chigger bites, some more effective than others. Since people react to bites differently, you may have to try different ways to find relief. First, do a check of your body to see if any chiggers remain on your skin, especially around your waistline, groin, and bra line. Chiggers don’t actually burrow into your skin. They attach themselves with sharp jaws and inject saliva, which contains an enzyme that breaks down skin cells. This becomes food for chiggers and allows them to stay attached for days. It’s a common myth that chiggers live off blood, but it’s actually broken down skin cells that feed them. Chiggers do not transmit disease, but the bites can become infected from too much scratching.
Try these methods to relieve the pain and itching.
1. Make sure to wash with soap and water as soon as you notice any bites.
2. Apply antiseptic to bitten areas.
3. Use over the counter medicine like hydrocortisone or calamine lotion to relieve itchiness.
4. Take an antihistamine
5. Apply a cold compress
6. Avoid hot baths or showers
Chigger bites are uncomfortable but should clear up on their own. You should see a doctor if your bites become infected.
Most Important: How To Prevent Chiggers
Since chiggers are tiny creatures it may seem impossible to avoid them completely, but there are some easy ways to defend against their bite. This is especially important when it’s the height of chigger season.
1. Use insect repellent. DEET is effective on exposed skin.
2. Wear long sleeves and pants treated with permethrin.
3. Tuck pant legs into permethrin-treated socks.
4. Avoid walking in heavy brush or tall grass and weeds.
5. When hiking walk in the center of trails to avoid brushing against vegetation.
6. Shower as soon as you get indoors since chiggers can wander on the body before attaching
7. Wash clothing, and any blankets or towels that were used on the ground, in hot water.
Prevent Chiggers by Wearing Permethrin Treated Clothing or Insect Shield Your Own Clothes
Insect Shield technology is available in pre-treated options or you may send your own clothing in for treatment. Just like other Insect Shield apparel, the repellency added to your clothes is invisible, odorless, EPA-registered and lasts through 70 washings. Learn how Insect Shield will treat your own clothing with our EPA-registered permethrin process.