Sign up for our newsletter
Chigger bites! Mike Blair’s wife, Chris, came back from a walk with the mark of the chigger.
Photo: Mike Blair
Chiggers. Now there’s a scourge that brings to mind words you won’t hear in church. Those little devils are always out there, somewhere, waiting invisibly to cause you a week of misery. Anyone who’s spent much time outdoors can relate.
You expect to find them in dense, heavy vegetation, and the wise never enter such places without wearing long pants and protective footwear and spraying thoroughly with repellent. But sometimes, you get stupid and forget that chiggers may lurk in dry duff along trails, or in mowed lawns and such.
You can’t see them. The larvae, which are only about 1/100th inch long, are immature mites that feed on cell tissues of various animals, including humans. They don’t suck blood, but, instead, bore holes in the skin and inject powerful enzymes that dissolve cell tissues. They feed on this “soup” from the skin surface. They favor areas where clothing is tight, such as ankles, waistlines ““ use your imagination. Places that REALLY itch.
They do not bore under the skin, as many believe. Strong human immune reactions often force chiggers to leave within minutes, but of course, by then it’s too late. Their bites elicit swelling and intense itching that usually becomes noticeable about 4-8 hours after the attack. Then, you can expect five nights of misery.
Knowing a chigger’s biology, it’s pointless to expect that showering upon return from the woods can stop an outbreak. By then, chiggers have done their dirty deeds and gone. For you at this point it’s simply a matter of survival.
The books say not to scratch. That’s a good one. While it’s true that scratching will nearly always lead to secondary infections, scratching is impossible to resist. Use Benadryl products to help keep things manageable, and any assortment of anti-itch creams are worth trying. In severe cases, you may need to see a doctor for shots.
Me? I’ve learned to use a towel with a gentle scrubbing motion to ease the itch ““ something on the order of the number of RPMs needed to start a fire while rubbing two sticks together.
If you’re into power tools, a rotary wire brush on a Black & Decker might work!