Oak itch mites bite Baker


Alyssa Glover

Image by Alyssa Glover.

Story by Justin Toumberlin, Photographer

Oak itch mites may be the reason that many students on BU campus have been itching recently. As soon as the first frost hits, though, the itching should go away.

Assistant Professor of Biology Scott Kimball said there is not an outbreak of oak itch mites, but rather people are just noticing them more.

Oak itch mites fall from the leaves of oak trees, so they do not come into contact with people from the grass like chiggers do. As a result of the mites falling from trees, they have tendencies to bite the upper body where they are most likely to land.

“Most of my bites are on the upper part of my body,” freshman Thomas Graham said. “They are mainly on my arms, torso and neck.”

The confusion with many bites is determining what actually bit the victim. There are many insect bites that look the same.

Oak itch mite bites can have a variation of appearances. According to many public health department websites, there could be a single red dot or a lesion of dots. The bites could also look like rash dermatitis, according to the Center for Disease Control.

If people feel something on their skin, they tend to grab for that area to see what it is. In the case of oak itch mites, that might be a little hard.

“They are microscopic (so) they can’t be seen by the naked eye,” Kimball said. “If someone lays 100 of them on a table in front of you, you wouldn’t be able to see them.”

Oak itch mites don’t just land on skin and bite, they have a different way of biting us. Oak itch mites burrow into the skin and feed on fluids. The body then creates a tube around the area where the mite burrows in, and it is the tube that itches, Kimball said.

The bites will show up on the skin within 10 to 12 hours and can be visible for up to two weeks, according to many medical websites.

When bites stay on the skin for a couple of weeks it can be hard not to itch, but it is best that people do not itch the area because of the possibility of infection. An email has been sent to all students on the Baldwin City campus informing them to use Calamine lotion or Benadryl cream to help with itching.

Preventing these bites and itching is hard. Anyone who walks near the plentiful trees on campus could become a victim.

Dorm rooms will not become infested, though. Oak itch mites cannot survive long in the dorms because they need to get back outside to the environment, according to Kimball.

That doesn’t mean that the mites will leave students alone when they are inside, though. The mites can easily spread from wind gusts and potentially get into indoor areas. If they find a host to bite they will handle their business and then leave the area.

Some dorm residents have complained about bug bites.

“There have been a few cases in Irwin of people getting bites. I even have bites,” Irwin Residence Hall Assistant Evan Eckwall said.

Mites do not respond to bug sprays such as OFF. Permethrin is a chemical that can be applied to clothing that will prevent oak itch mites from biting. Kimball said that applying the permethrin to skin can be dangerous.

If you think you have been in contact with oak itch mites, you can try immediately removing clothing and taking a shower.

“Showering as soon as you can wouldn’t hurt,” Kimball said.