Swarm of chiggers: How to prevent and treat bites

Swarm of chiggers: How to prevent and treat bites
Source: Texas A&M Agrilife Extension

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Chiggers, or red bugs as they're more commonly known, are small mites that hatch out of tall grasses and attach themselves to those walking by. People are then left with itchy welts. The bugs are generally active during the summer months, but some East Texans are experiencing them earlier this year.

"I actually got into them earlier this year than normal," said Doug Douglas, the director of Youth Build of the Pineywoods. "Earlier in the spring was when I got my first batch."

Joe Pase, a retired entomologist from the Texas A&M Forest Service, said that the recent weather is to blame for the early swarm of chiggers.

"So, when we have mild winters like we've had, and we've had plenty of rainfall like we've had and a pretty mild spring," Pase said. "It's just been ideal conditions for various different insects."

Chigger bites have inspired a long list of so-called remedies to warn off the bugs.

"My grandmother used to take a bath with a cup of bleach every night, so she wouldn't get them," Douglas said.

Another solution includes coating the bite in clear nail polish, in an effort to suffocate the bug inside. Pase said that this isn't the best option.

"Probably, after a couple of days, if you start itching and scratching them, they're dying anyway," Pase said. "You've got the aftermath of their bite, so that probably does little, if any, good."

Pase said that avoidance techniques are pretty simple.

"The best thing to do, if you can, is avoid those areas," Pase said. "But, the other thing would be prevention from the standpoint of wear long sleeve shirts, tuck the cuff of your pant into your socks or your boots. Use a repellent like DETE."

If you do end up in tall grasses with exposed skin, you should get to a shower or bathtub as quickly as possible.

"The sooner you can, take a hot bath with soap and a coarse wash cloth and just rub hard, you can knock a lot of those off before they dig in and at least minimize your misery," Pase said.

Continual itching of the bites could cause a serious infection, so doctors urge those afflicted to refrain from scratching by rubbing an anti-itching cream on the welts.

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