Battle of the Bites

Asked June 20, 2020, 11:17 PM EDT

Last June, 2019, I started getting mysterious bites behind my knees, under my arms, on my hips and inner thighs and under my bra area. They appeared in the morning after waking up but I never felt the bites. Once they appeared, they were red, raised, very itchy and the itchiness lasted for 4-5 days. My husband was also being bitten but he was not as sensitive to the bites as I was.

We tried everything we could think of outside of blasting the house and yard with pesticides. In consultation with our local Vector Control Biologist, we determined that the only possibility would be rat mites from our yard. We have a large yard with many fruit trees including a giant avocado tree. The Vector Control sent out an inspector who very thoroughly went over the inside of the house and also the exterior/yard area. She found evidence of rat feces on one of the side yard fences and around the avocado tree. Some of the fruit was scored and scooped out to indicate the rats were eating them. She found nothing inside of the house. Sticky traps were placed around the yard and under trees and a few rat mites were found under the avocado tree.

We have taken all the measures you suggested in your response posted:
Tropical rat mites Asked October 30, 2019, 2:13 PM EDT We came up empty-handed from all our spot checks during the day or night. We have not been able to find a single mite inside the house. In addition to what you recommended, we cut back all bushes from the fence area, trimmed and thinned the avocado tree and other fruit trees, installed metal sheathing on the tree trunks to discourage rats from climbing up, cut any low hanging branches that could be used to climb into the tree, removed all leaves and debris from under the tree, hired a humane kill rat company that installed kill stations in the yard for 6 months. Despite our efforts, the bites continued until the weather got colder. The Vector Control guy told us that his best guess was rat mites or rabbit mites as both frequent our yard. The Rat guy said he only killed 3 rats the whole time we had the service and he believed the rats were travelers and not nesting in our yard.

We have 2 small dogs. We have limited their usage of the yard, keeping them restricted to pavement and non-grassy areas. We wash them a minimum of 1 time per week. They are on flea and tick control medication. We do not allow them into our bedroom which we clean thoroughly including vacuuming weekly.

It is now June, 2020 and the weather has warmed up and the bites have started again.

We have contacted the Vector Control and reported the reoccurrence of the biting and were told that others in the area have also been getting these mysterious bites. At this point, we discussed the idea that just coincidentally we have a termite issue and will have to have the house tented anyway. We are wondering how that will impact the mite problem short-term or long-term. Could this resolve the problem?

We have contacted a Pest Control Company to come out and do an inspection specifically for rodents and any other possible biting pests or infestations. We are hoping they will find some nests in the attic or somewhere so that we can find the vector and eradicate it. So far, we have not been lucky enough to find the source inside.

We believe these are true bites and not a medical condition even though we can’t find the pest. We have documented the bites with photos (see attached) and have sent these to our Vector Control contact per his request.

Any further suggestions or comments about how to deal with this situation would be deeply appreciated. We are miserable and with the Covid19 pandemic would find it close to impossible to leave our home. We are feeling hopeless, anxious, powerless and tired.

Thank you very much for your attention to this matter and we hope for a quick response.

Andy

Santa Barbara County California

3 Responses

Hello Andy,

I am sorry to hear that you and your husband have been continuing to have this problem. It sounds like you took most of the common sense approaches to reduce the presence of rats in or around your home which should have reduced the presence of rat mites over the long term.

A few more things to try....ensure your bed is separated from the wall and all surrounding furniture so that the only connection to the bed and the rest of the room is through the legs of the bed. Wrap the bed legs with double-sided sticky tape or apply a sticky solution to the legs (e.g. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=tanglefoot+insect+barrier&crid=1UEN660QAHICG&sprefix=tanglefoot%2Caps%2C213&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_10) . Remove all bedding and wash with hot water and regular laundry detergent. Vacuum mattress and boxspring using a small vacuum attachment to create high suction in the folds and edges of the mattress. This should eliminate anything on your bed. Shower just before bed, just warm water and a gentle soap and put on sleep clothing that you have hung in a closet (not in drawer next to the bed). There should be nothing left in the bed at this point that can bite you at night.

If you use the double sided sticky tape on the bed legs, you can check the tape every couple of days to see if there is anything stuck to it. Use a magnifying glass and a flashlight to carefully observe the tape. If something is in your room that is attracted to a warm host to bite, then you should find them on the tape. You can also purchase relatively inexpensive white bed bug traps (https://www.amazon.com/Trapbedbugs-Interceptor-Pesticides-Additional-Products/dp/B073Z6R44W/ref=sr_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=bed+bug+trap&qid=1592865067&sr=8-5) that go under your bed legs that will capture bed bugs. But I don't expect you have bed bugs as the pest control company would have found these. However, you can fill the outer ring of the bed bug trap with some soapy water which can also catch anything that is trying to get into your bed from the floor.

If your bites do not subside and you do not capture any thing in the tape or the traps, then you will need to consider that you are receiving the bites elsewhere in or outside the house or that these are not bites but perhaps an allergic reaction to some environmental contaminant. Your physician may be able to help at that point.

If you do capture some insects or mites, please have your pest control company examine them. If they want a second opinion, have them reach out to me and they can ship me some specimens to look at.

Good luck!


Dr. Gerry,

Thank you very much for your response. It turns out that you were a mentor to our friend, Brian Cabrera, at the Carpenteria Vector Control Department. We told him that we contacted you and he immediately brightened up. Anyway, Brian has been helping us with these mystery bites from the beginning.

Here's the update: we implemented all of your suggested guidelines by pulling the bed out and putting double-sided sticky tape all around the base of the bed. In addition, we have had our gardener do a major clean up in the yard and he has sprayed everything out there twice, so far with a suggested miticide (Bifenthrin). We clean our house weekly, dusting, vacuuming, mopping and laundry. We have also been running a dehumidifier in the bedroom to make the environment less hospitable.

Unfortunately, we are still getting bites. We are getting 1-2 bites every couple of days. Our next step is having the whole house tented as we have termites and this is a necessary step. We don't much feel like doing it now during the pandemic but since we are still being bitten, the motivation is greater.

Our family physician has seen the bites and concurs along with Brian that these are true insect bites. That being said, we have not been able to find any signs on the sticky tape of mites or anything that would leave bite marks like we are getting. This is beyond frustrating. We don't want to treat the inside of the house with insecticide especially if we plan on tenting first. One concern about tenting is that whatever is biting will die but will it be able to get back into the house after the tenting?

To be honest, this is one of the most frustrating situations we have ever been faced with. After 22 years in this house, all of a sudden we are being attacked by an invisible enemy. We have been down on our hands and knees so many times looking for this insect but haven't found a clue.

If you have anything else to add, at this point, feel free. Your comments are very much appreciated. This biting conundrum is a real puzzler. It is making our sheltering in place so much more difficult than it already is.

Thank you for your help,

Andy Barrad




We followed all the guidelines you suggested. We pulled our bed away from the wall, put sticky tape all around

Sounds like you have done everything you could do to rid your home area of mites which should not persist without their normal host. Since termite treatments are intended to reach termites within the wood/structure of your home, this treatment should kill any other insects or mites in your home. Try also avoiding your yard or any local outdoor area for a week following this termite treatment in case the bites are caused by a chigger mite that you are encountering outdoors. If bites persist after the termite treatment and after avoiding your yard, then you should consider that these are not mite bites.