Editor’s note: The following article was written on July 8. The author lives in the 500 block of Radcliffe Avenue. By JACK LOWRY Special to the Palisadian-Post In the last week of June, I began to find new pimples here and there on my body, sometimes solitary and sometimes in clusters. Each was more or less volcano-shaped, under 10 mm in diameter and with a peak under 2 mm above grade. Most of the raised flesh was tinted red; as they aged, some pimples were tipped with a clear blister and others with a scab. Shortly after I noted their presence, the individual pimples began to itch. Also, I felt (but could not see) the migration of crawling creatures from the areas already pimpled to other parts of my body, which in turn became pimpled and itchy. I spent a lot time trying to isolate just one of the invaders, without success. Frequent baths seem to slow but not stop the activity of invaders; however, after two or three days, the oldest pimples stopped itching’but new pimples took up their vocation. Now, about 10 days after I noticed the problem, I must have about 100 pimples in various stages of maturity and itching. I have tried several itch remedies, both over-the-counter and prescription, without much success. I have consulted my dermatologist, who is sure the invaders are rat mites and that the only remedy worth considering is to declare war on local rat populations. He did give me an itch remedy, but it seemed to be a placebo. A scan of the Internet turned up brief essays by entomologists and a lot of advertising. Most of it was directed at identifying the usual sources of the invaders and blocking their entry into one’s dwelling. Very little advice is offered about what to do when you find yourself already host to them and are wondering if you will itch forever. Below, I offer an abstract of what seems the most useful information gleaned from several sources on the Internet. Identifying the invader There is no doubt that the creatures I describe above are familiar to entomologists as either bird mites or rat mites, depending on its normal host. In either case, there are several known species of two or three genera. According to one entomologist (F.J. Radovsky), mites and ticks both belong to the same group of spider relatives called the Acari. They have a sac-like body and four pairs of legs (three pairs in the larval stage). Mites are very small; when visible at all to the unaided eye, they appear only as specks moving against a contrasting background. Not all of the mites discussed here actually bite, but all of them affect human health in one-way or another. Bird mites and fowl mites. Some mites parasitic on wild birds and domestic fowl (often the same species found on both) may attack humans and produce an intensely itchy rash, the individual spots may be tipped with a tiny clear blister. The mites disperse out of bird nests during the late spring and summer months, usually after the young birds have left. The mites may be visible as many dots, moving across walls near windows or at other openings to the outside. Remove vacant bird nests near the house and cut back tree limbs that touch the sides of the house. The tropical rat mite. According to a report by the Alameda Vector Control Services, this mite is a common parasite of California rats, inhabiting the area in and around the rat’s nesting area. Although none of these mite species are truly parasitic on humans or pets, they will readily bite humans. Some people are unaffected by the bites while others will experience itching and dermatitis. The bite is normally pimple sized that itches for up to a week or so. The bite mark may last as long as three weeks. The bites can be randomly found on the body but often are found under areas where clothes constrict the body or areas such as under armpits and breasts. Scratching may lead to bacterial infections. Fortunately, rat mites do not vector disease. Rat mites are very small, approximately the size of a period. They move about quite actively and will enter the living areas of a home when their host, rats or birds, have left or have died. Heavy infestations may cause some mites to search for additional food sources. The proto-nymphs and females suck blood, and are often distended after feeding. A complete generation usually takes about two weeks. Unfed females may live ten days or more after rats have been eliminated. I vote for bird mites. Although we have both rats and birds on our property in Pacific Palisades, in this specific case, the circumstantial evidence points to birds. The rats have runways and nests in an organized pile of lumber behind the garage. We try to trap them and clean out their nests, but it’s an endless job. Steep slopes above our property are deeply covered in Algerian ivy and low shrubs, serving as rat heaven. When the owners of those slopes disturb them, the rats migrate downhill. The garage has a slab foundation but our house has a raised foundation with screened vents. In 50 years, only once has the foundation been invaded by field mice, never by rats. Occasionally, a rat invades the cultivated part of our garden and one actually settled on a porch beam, nesting in the angle under the roof. I do not know of any rats under our house, but neither do I regularly check for them. The birds have always found the wide porches surrounding most of our house very inviting for nests. The porch roofs are supported by 6×8-ft. beams that provide solid support for a nest in the angle where the sloping rafters cross the beam. The most common nesting birds have been finches, sparrows, and doves. This year, there have been nesting doves both on the east and west porches, and also under the connecting roof to the garage. Bird droppings on the brick pavement are commonplace and there is considerable human traffic across the bird’s domain. This suggests the ease with which dove mites could be tracked into the house daily. It also seems to me that the appearance of pimples I have experienced over the past two weeks is more like those attributed to the bird mites than to the rat mites. Confirmation! Today (July 8) I discussed the issues above with our household helpers, Dean and Beth McCarthy. When I described bird-mites as tiny creatures, hard to see without a microscope, Beth spoke up to say that just the previous day she had noticed two separate trains of such creatures on ledges and sills of the east side of our house. We went down to check them out with the help of a powerful lens (Hastings Triplet) and had no trouble locating a traffic trail of tiny black specks headed for our house. Under magnification, they were beetle-shaped with yellow and black stripes and a superfluity of legs. The vicinity of their activity was a passage heavily traveled by everyone in our family and, at a higher elevation, by a pair of doves that had just succeeded in teaching a chick to make short flights. All three birds had been flapping about between their overhead nest and the brick pavement on one side and a planted garden on the other. I arranged with Dean to spray the entire area with Bifenthrin, sold under the trade name Ortho Home Defense. If we can stop the invasion before it enters the house, those already indoors may still bite us, but only once before they die’at least, that’s the gospel according to entomologists.
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