Chiggers

An OSU summer class instructor recently asked if chiggers were more common this year than in the past and why they have suddenly appeared in theCentral Ohio Area. This was the BugDoc's response:

This seems to be possibly related to the general trend of warming environments. We used to only get complaints about chiggers in Ohio along the Ohio River Valley counties, but they have been increasingly reported in mid-Ohio and now northern Ohio! Chiggers were a fact of life in Oklahoma where I grew up and you always put on insect repellent, especially around your socks, lower legs and pant legs (if you weren't wearing shorts). Even then, you would get a couple of chiggers burrowing into your skin under your underwear bands or other "delicate" areas! LOL! I also suggest that chigger outbreaks are related to small mammal populations as mice, rats, chipmunks and squirrels are the intended hosts of chigger larvae. They can build up incredible populations on these animals (as well as ground-nesting birds, which are less common in Ohio than in the Prairie States). Remember that chigger larvae get onto any warm-blooded animal and try to get a blood meal. On humans, the larvae burrow into a hair follicle and use their mouth parts to rasp through the thin skin to find capillaries. They also secrete an anticoagulant into the wound and our bodies usually set up a quick reaction to this foreign protein which induces swelling. The swelling closes the hair follicle, thereby trapping the chigger larva inside the follicle! The chigger dies and even more allergenic, foreign proteins are introduced. This causes even more intense swelling and itching. Occasionally, these areas get infected and secondary damage can be caused! Not fun!

So, in answer to your question, yes, this is a "good" year for chiggers as the weather and moisture conditions have been good for their growth and reproduction, and we are seeing a significant increase in local field rodent populations! The normal recommendation is to use a DEET-based product on the lower body when out in wildlife habitats (especially tall grassy areas adjacent to wood lots). The data on some of the new alternate insect repellents seems to be lacking related to chigger repellency. As soon as you are through with your activities, it is recommended to get home as soon as possible, place all your clothing in the dryer for 20 minutes (or wash immediately). The person should also take a shower and use lots of soap to try to knock out any chigger larvae before they have burrowed in. Those suffering from chigger bites should use antihistamine products to reduce the swelling and itching and the old standard, Calamine Lotion, can certainly help!