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What You Need to Know about Mite, Flea and Tick Bites

Updated: Oct 31, 2019

itching fleas, ticks and mite bites

Bee stings are unpleasant, especially for the bee, which dies shortly after it stings you. Wasp stings are much worse, and the wasp goes on to sting another day! Getting bitten by red ants ̶ especially if they’re running over your bare toes ̶ is probably the worst feeling in the world. Except for having to sit through reruns of Leave it to Beaver or The Gong Show!

None of the foregoing bug bites represent any real health threat. However, that is not true of some other kinds of insect bites, in particular those administered by fleas, ticks and mites.

So, let’s take a look at these particular bugs and why you should be concerned if any one them bites you.

Flea Bites

What they look like

So, can you see a flea bite? Actually, it’s often difficult to tell one bug bite from another, especially if you’re not an expert or a doctor. Case in point: Flea bites. They look very similar to mosquito bites, so you have to be careful how you treat them. That’s not to say that mosquito bites can’t be dangerous. They can, but the telltale sign is the way a flea bite looks. It usually displays as a red bump, with a kind of red corona, or halo, around it. And, they usually appear in clusters of three or four, sometimes in a line.

The most common reaction to a flea bite is, predictably, intense itchiness ̶ and, in all likelihood, a flea bite rash. Of course, your reaction will depend to a great extent upon which species of flea bites you; different people react to flea bites in different ways, depending on their sensitivity and whether or not they’re prone to allergic reactions. The problem here is that, unless you’re an expert, it’s extremely hard to tell the bite of one flea species from another ̶ the one exception being the chigoe flea.

Why they’re a problem

Like many parasites, fleas transmit diseases when they draw blood from their host animal, or animals. And they’re not particular about their food sources. Dogs, cats, small mammals, and us, are all fair game. But here’s is why you should be wary of flea bites: Depending on the species of flea, they can carry protozoan ̶ i.e. a single-celled organism, from the phyla group ̶ parasites, viruses, or bacteria that

can result in serious illnesses.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there a number of diseases that can be transmitted by flea bite, among them:

  • Lyme Disease

  • Anemia

  • Rickettsia

  • Bartonella

  • Tapeworms

  • Parasitic Dermatitis

  • Ehrlichiosis

  • Meningoencephalitis

  • Plague

How to treat them

First of all, wash the bite areas with soap, and, if you can, swab it with denatured alcohol. This should lessen the possibility of infection. At this point an icepack may help to reduce the swelling, but you should quickly apply calamine lotion or a reliable anesthetic cream to reduce the itching. (N.B. Talk to your pharmacist about which OTC products ̶ probably antihistamines ̶ can lessen the annoying symptoms).

Second, and this is important, if you have any doubts about how you’re feeling, or if your symptoms worsen, consult your physician immediately.

Mite Bites

What they look like

Actually, the question “What do mites look like?” is a bit of a strange questions. Not because mites are so ugly that they cannot be adequately described, but because they are so darn small. That doesn’t mean they aren’t ugly; they are. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?

We’ve already covered mites in these blogs ̶ for instance, Meet the Mite Family: Types of Mites, Their Habitat & Species and Mites, Mites and More Mites ̶ but we still need to revisit the ‘Mite Problem’.

Actually, there’s another problem when it comes to identifying mites: There are so many different types ̶ Clover mites, Dust mites, Itch mites, Rodent and Bird mites, Scabies mites, and Chiggers. They are all parasites, but some prefer to parasitize animals, while others hone in on humans. Still others exist as scavengers, and some prey on other insects.

With the exception of Scabies bites (more about those later) mite bites are frequently difficult to identify. In fact, there’s a good chance that you might not even know that you’ve been bitten ̶ until the symptoms and signs appear. However, there are some common signs of a mite bite, such as:

  • Reddish marks that look like a rash

  • Small bumps (that become hard or inflamed)

  • Itching, irritation and pain at the bite site

  • Puffy or suppurated skin around the bite

Unlike other mites, which feed on blood from outside the host, scabies literally gets under your skin ̶ and that’s a problem! Scabies tunnel under the skin to feed and lay eggs. Plus, they’re microscopic, so you just can’t see them. But you can spot the tell-tale signs of their presence, which include:

  • Rash-like abrasions that look like grayish-white, raised lines

  • Reddened, swollen contusions ̶ or papules ̶ which can fester if the original bite goes untreated.

Why mite bites are a problem, and how to treat them

While mites are generally not considered a major health threat, their bites can lead to various unpleasant skin infections if not treated immediately. Bite victims should consult a physician as soon as possible after being bitten. The doctor will probably prescribe some sort of topical agent, or, if the bite is already infected, one of many antibiotics.

Likewise, scabies bites will probably require some sort of scabicide lotion or cream, which, incidentally, can only be obtained only with a doctor’s prescription. Currently there are no OTC (over-the-counter or non-prescription) products that have been approved by the FDA for treating scabies.