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Oak-leaf mite inflicts itchy welts on Wichitans

In the Midwest, the oak leaf itch mites emerge in late July, but bites are more common in the fall, because that’s when people are in the leaves more, according to a Kansas State University publication.
In the Midwest, the oak leaf itch mites emerge in late July, but bites are more common in the fall, because that’s when people are in the leaves more, according to a Kansas State University publication. File photo

If you’ve had mysterious, itchy welts on your skin after being in pin-oak leaves recently, it could be because of the oak leaf itch mite.

A report came in this weekend from yet another person in Wichita breaking out after working in infested pin-oak leaves, extension agent Bob Neier said Monday. Several cases have been reported in Wichita this fall as well as in Derby, Haysville, Hutchinson, southeast Kansas, Manhattan, Kansas City and St. Joseph, Mo., he said.

When people hear about the mite, some of them will tell Neier, “Well, I had that.”

“It’s like you’ve been working outside and you’re really itchy for a few days,” he said. “Sometimes there’s welts, sometimes not.”

The mites are so tiny they are barely visible to the naked eye, entomologist Robert Bauernfeind says in a K-State publication about them. The mites’ damage on pin oaks shows up as a swollen margin on the edge of the leaves, Neier said. It’s been 10 years since the mites have shown up in this area.

“That’s very, very rare here, but it was fairly common this year,” Neier said.

The mites cause welts that can blister, he said. They don’t hurt the trees, and there’s nothing that can be done to get rid of them. But to try to prevent the welts, people who work in pin-oak leaves should shower or bathe and wash their clothes within three hours of initial contact with them, he said. “That seems like it’s working very well.”

People don’t feel the bites, but welts can appear 10 to 16 hours after exposure, and they start to itch, according to the K-State publication. “The bite causes a raised, red area with a small, centralized blister that is itchy and painful when scratched,” Bauernfeind writes.

Bites are usually found where clothing is loose, and more on the upper body, because the mites fall from the trees, the publication says. They are usually on the neck, shoulders and chest.

In the Midwest the mites emerge in late July, but bites are more common in the fall, because that’s when people are in the leaves more, according to K-State. Neier said he wasn’t sure whether the mites would still be a factor after the recent winter-like weather.

Products that can ease the itching include cortisone cream, an antihistamine and Calamine lotion, the K-State publication says.

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @anniecalovich.

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