Until now, you might not have heard of Pyemotes herfsi. And if you still don't recognize that scientific jargon, then maybe your ears are itching with the term 'oak mites'. Seems that a wave of mosquito like 'mystery bites' sweeping the Ozarks' area is largely the workings of a tiny almost 'no-see-um' type insect that once resided only in Europe, but made it's way into the states in the late nineties. According to Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyemotes_herfsi Pyemotes herfsi, or Oak Mites, were first identified in the US in 1994 after a series of bites created an outbreak in the Kansas City area.
Fast forward a few years to 2007 when Pitt State University, located in Pittsburg Kansas did a study on the same pesty little creatures causing widespread bite outbreaks at the football games. You can read that story here: http://faculty.pittstate.edu/~dgordon/MysteryBites/MysteryBites.html. Both articles describe scenes similar to what the Ozarks is currently experiencing, and both cite higher incidents of mite bites reported during years of heavier rainfall and cooler temperatures.
With an unusually cool and rainy summer here in the Ozarks, the mites have wreaked havoc, and individuals have been itching to know where the welts and surrounding bumps appearing on their skin came from. Because the itching and resultant rash appears anywhere from 10-15 hours after the individual was bitten, bites are sometimes wrongly attributed to bed bugs, the assumption one makes after waking up with a new set of itchy red bumps. Adding to the struggle of correctly identifying the cause of the bites, is the fact that the insects are not seen or heard or even felt at the time a bite occurs.
So the big questions that arise are this: How do I know if I've been bitten? Are pets, horses and livestock susceptible? What should I do to treat my bites? Are bites poisonous, life-threatening or require medical attention?
Because the mites are neither seen, nor heard, you will most likely find that you have been 'attacked' by Oak Mites after the fact. Most individuals display a rash described as a red patch with a small blister in the center, more around the upper torso, neck and face where clothing is loose fitting, thus eliminating chiggers. Bites are said to cause intense itching. Susceptibility increases if you are outdoors, in a wooded area, or particularly around Oak trees, as the Oak mites prey on larvae on the leaves of Pin Oak as well as other trees.
According to an article in the Journal of Medical Entomology, http://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/3600/PDF, pets are not exempt, and in some cases, the discovery of bites on cats and dogs that rarely venture outside led to researchers finding that Oak Mites can be dispersed by wind entering houses or dwelling through open cracks or screens.
It may be a bit troubling to know that researchers describe the toxin in the saliva of these mites as potent enough to kill an insect larvae 166,000 times its own weight. The good news, however, is that humans and pets aren't larvae, and that most victims experience only high amounts of itching and discomfort similar to other insect bites. On the flip side, some individuals can be much more sensitive, and in extreme cases develop fever, chills, nausea, or a severe allergic reaction. Bacteria infections can also develop with bites that are overly scratched or develop into open sores, in which case more serious action should be taken.
Funny you should ask. We here at Nixall, have always handled insect bites, rashes and minor skin irritations with one of two products: Nixall® First Aid, or Nixall® Wound + Skin. Both products hold a successful track record in dealing with bites, and Oak Mites are no different. Nixall's main ingredient, hypochlorous acid, dates back all the way to World War I when physicians treating wounded soldiers used hypochlorous acid, to dress wounds and prevent sepsis. The likelihood of any Oak Mite bite turning into sepsis is quite low, however, it is comforting to know that applying Nixall® to insect bites helps everything from itching relief, to infection management. Nixall is also non-cytotoxic, and has the added benefit of hydrating your skin, something that other OTC topical treatments don't do. Don't forget your pets either...if any of them seem to have the 'itches' or are incessantly scratching, spray their red spots with the animal Wound + Skin version of Nixall found in the VETRESPONSE line.
Both of these products are formulated locally, right here in the Ozarks, and can be obtained online at www.nixall.com.