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CHIGGERS! By Matt Byrdy (Our Stupendous Pharmacy Student)

Magnified view of a chigger larvae.

Summer is prime time for outdoor pursuits in Central Ohio, but one should be aware of certain tiny insects that may turn a weekend adventure into a miserable itch-fest. The culprits: chiggers. These tiny parasites lurk on tall grass, weeds, and in berry patches seeking to latch on to any unsuspecting animal that happens to brush by. It turns out that more often than not, humans are the first ones who come in contact with them.

You may be familiar with the resulting redness and intense itching caused by these little bugs. Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do not bore into the skin. The itching is caused by an enzyme injected into the skin after the chigger latches on to its host. This powerful enzyme is used by the insect to break down skin cells into a liquid that is then sucked up by the chigger. All of this occurs within a matter of 4 to 8 hours since it doesn’t take long for the insect to release and fall off. The problem is that the itching and redness can last for up to two weeks.

The best treatments for these bites are topical creams such as hydrocortisone or even calamine lotion. There are also products that contain ingredients such as menthol or benzocaine to help cool the itch. Some remedies that have worked for people are clear nail polish or even meat tenderizer. However, if the chiggers cause a serious reaction that is not improving with these treatments, a doctor may prescribe medications to ease your body’s reaction to the bite.

Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Keep these insects at bay by frequently mowing briars, weeds, and thick vegetation. Wear protective clothing like high boots and tightly woven trousers to keep chiggers off of your body. If you think that you have come in contact with chiggers, be sure to wash your clothing in hot water ASAP. Finally, consider applying a product that contains DEET. Typically used as mosquito repellants, something like Off ® or Cutter ® will probably do the trick to keep chiggers away and allow you to enjoy all that summer has to offer.

Chigger bites on the ankle....not cool.

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