Reading Nancy Heltman’s blog about ticks reminded me of yet another unwelcome human feeding arachnid. The chigger (also known as harvest mites or red bugs). Unfortunately, these can be picked up in any tall grasses or low plants and cause an itch the likes of which you have never seen. One of the worst parts about chiggers is that you never seem to get them one at a time. Instead, they seem to travel in packs whenever I get the unlucky fortune of catching these critters. They are very hard to see and may require a visual aid such as a magnifying glass to spot. Unfortunately, the tale tell signs of a chiggerare the tiny blisters or rashes they leave behind.
Unlike ticks, chiggers do not actually burrow into your skin. Instead, they attach themselves to your skin and inject digestive enzymes that break down your skin cells. The chigger drinks these broken down cells and it is actually the enzyme which causes the itching.
Since chiggers do not actually burrow into your skin, they are easily dislodged which can be a bad or good thing. Scratching can remove them from your skin, but they will just find another spot on you to feed. Taking a shower after coming in from outdoors is the best preventative measure you can take. Another preventative measure is to wear long pants and a long sleeved shirt. You can apply bug repellent to your shoes, ankles, and wrists since this is their most common way of getting onto your body. I also like to spray my pants as a whole since tall grass may be higher than my ankles in woodland areas.
No matter what precautions you take, if you encounter an area with chiggers, you will most likely end up with a couple bites. It is good to note that, although chigger bites can be quite itchy, chiggers in the United States do not usually carry diseases. The main thing to watch out for is that the bite does not become infected.
If you are unlucky enough to get bit by a chigger, there are ways to help sooth the bites. Apply some anti-itch cream to help prevent scratching which can lead to infection. An oral antihistamine can help stop the itching as well. Despite what you may have heard, applying nail polish does not help since that remedy is based on the misconception that chiggers bore into your skin.
Use this information to help you enjoy your trip to a state park in Virginia. Even if you are tent camping, most parks have bathhouses with showers which is your best defense against chiggers and ticks if you have become exposed. No matter how many times I get these on me, I will never let it deter my love of the outdoors.