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Itch mites rise from leaves to bite again in Wichita area

Oak mites' bite

Master gardener Janie Chisholm was itching after mowing under trees. ( September 2015 / Annie Calovich/The Wichita Eagle)
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Master gardener Janie Chisholm was itching after mowing under trees. ( September 2015 / Annie Calovich/The Wichita Eagle)

The oak leaf itch mites that fell from oak trees and bit people last fall managed to stay alive over the mild winter and are now rising up from fallen leaves to bite again.

The Extension Service has gotten maybe a half-dozen calls over the past couple of weeks from people who have been bitten, extension agent Matthew McKernan said Monday.

“They may not be a problem all year, but at least this spring there are a few around,” he said of the mites.

Most years, the oak leaf itch mite is not an issue. But last fall saw a bumper crop of them in the area. They caused misery well into November and perhaps even later as they fell mainly from red oaks and pin oaks and raised itchy welts with their bites. During a normal winter, low temperatures would have finished them off.

But some still live in the fallen oak leaves, too small to see. People should take precautions when they’re in the midst of oak leaves, McKernan said. Wear long sleeves, long pants, rubber gloves, socks and shoes to minimize any skin contact with the mites, and take a shower afterward to make sure any mites are washed off. Bug spray may help prevent some mite bites but probably not all, McKernan said.

The extension agent reiterated that the overwintering mites do not mean a fresh, bad crop of new ones later this year. “It depends on whether the larva is there to feed on and reinfest the trees.”

The larva he refers to are those of tiny midges that are the primary food source for the mites.

The mites’ bites by themselves are not dangerous. But they can lead to too much scratching. Cortisone cream, an antihistamine or Calamine lotion may offer some relief. One Kansas City reader emailed The Eagle last year to say she’d had success with a long-ago remedy of her mother’s for chiggers: egg whites, which she applied and rinsed off two hours later, following up with cortisone cream.

Annie Calovich: 316-268-6596, @anniecalovich

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