Oh rats! No seriously...rats.
December 5, 2014 7:45 AM   Subscribe

How can I learn more about rat mites, that isn't just word of mouth?

About 3 months ago, my husband and I started getting a crawling sensation on our skin and tiny little pin-sized bites. We did an intensive flea treatment, vacuumed, took the cat to the vet and doped her up...etc. etc. etc. and NOTHING worked! We eventually learned that there was every manner of animal (rats, raccoons, stray cats, squirrels) nesting up in our attic (YES!!) and that rat mites often live in these nests and come down and nibble on people. This made sense that this was the issue because our symptoms were almost identical to those posted here. Others that we've talked to about this have similarly never actually been able to see a mite (they are tiny!) or catch one on a sticky pad - apparently it is very unusual to find a mite.

Our landlord eliminated the nests in the attic in early November (about a month ago) and had our house sprayed with anti-mite poison, but alas the biting only got better for a few days. And now that it has started raining, we had a massive biting event!

Our problem in addition to the mites, is how little information there is about them. It seems all very word-of-mouth or from the webpages of pest control people trying to sell their wares. We have had to start a small community of people effected by mites to compare notes. Is there *really* no research on them? Is there really no way to diagnose them if you can't catch one? Any help from the hive-mind would be helpful. Please keep in mind that rat mites are different from dust mites and also the mites that live on your garden plants, and from the research we were able to find they won't be effected by the same kinds of treatments.
posted by Toddles to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Here's an informational sheet on bird and rat mites from the LA County public health department.

From the wikipedia page about Ornithonyssus bacoti (the rat mite): "Identification of the mite itself is required for definitive diagnosis. This can be collected by laying cellophane tape or “Sticky cards” (cardboard cards with a glue surface) in the area believed to be infested with the mite."

Looks like you want some yellow sticky traps to leave around your house for a few days to trap mites for diagnosis of the problem.
posted by erst at 8:07 AM on December 5, 2014

Just an idea off the top of my head: Are these mites the sort of pest that a dog might be trained to sniff out, like they do with bed bugs? That may be another avenue to explore: checking with the people who train said dogs.

Also, have you contacted any entomologists? You could start by looking for some academic articles on insects (or are mites arachnids?) in the same family or genus and see if you can find contact information for any of the authors. Because you are now the leader of a community, doing this would be less ridiculous than it might be if you were just two people who want to get rid of pests.
posted by Urban Winter at 8:09 AM on December 5, 2014

Best answer: Academic entomologist here. There's a free article available here (click on "Full text PDF" to the right): http://ilarjournal.oxfordjournals.org/content/49/3/303.abstract written by a rodent researcher detailing her experiences with ridding rat colonies of Laelaps and other mesostigmatid mites. Please don't get too panicked reading about the zoonotic diseases that the mites may carry, there's no evidence that they've ever actually transmitted anything to humans--but it's certainly a good reason to tell your landlord exactly how seriously he has to take this issue.

Some highlights from the article:
- She also had no luck with sticky traps, apparently they avoid them. She had more luck just locating them against a pale background, typically just right near the rats themselves.
- You've got to treat the environment first, then get rid of the rodent reservoirs (the rat nests) and stay on top of the rodent reservoirs, and keep treating the environment.
- "Commensal rodents" in this paper means rats and mice that live in human structures. That's all you're worried about, they're just making the distinction because their primary concern is their lab colonies.
- Permethrin works really well. You can get permethrin that you can spray onto your clothes to give you and your family some biting relief.
- Towards the end she talks about applications of silica aerogel being effective in homes (I had no idea) -- she also recommends quarterly treatments with insect-growth regulator chemicals that prevent the maturation of juveniles to adults. You should get your landlord to spring for this, because it also controls cockroaches and other bugs.

Let me know if you want to me to pull any of the references for you or look into anything else.

posted by Made of Star Stuff at 8:56 AM on December 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Ah, and after re-reading your question wanted to add: The cat will need some treatment too, she's a potential reservoir as well, but permethrin is bad for kitties. Tell the vet what the problem is and ask what to do. There may be permethrin treatments in a small enough dose that it's okay for cats, but you may just have to do something else to keep the mites off her.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 9:01 AM on December 5, 2014

Ugh. We had this same problem, including all the run-around even trying to figure out what was biting us. FYI the best I could ever see the buggers was in the bathroom. White tiles + bright light = visible, but just barely. Every now and again i'd feel the bite and be able to catch the mite in action -- but you're right, they're so, so tiny.

What worked:
-- Do the traditional rat trap exterminator stuff: attic and crawl space, get rid of nesting material, make sure you're ratproofing so no more buggers move in
-- Treat the cats with Advantage or Frontline
-- Wash all the bedding, clothing and easy-to-wash textiles, dry in a hot dryer
-- Exterminator did some kind of spray in the attic that necessitated us being gone for several hours
-- Approximately 10 days later, the exterminator re-sprayed the attic --to catch mites that might have hatched since the first spray
-- Continued the professional rat contract for a month, so they'd stop by every few days and check the traps
-- After that, we continued placing & monitoring rat traps on our own. At first we might find one rat a month. That trickled off and I don't think we've found any in the last two years or so.
-- About a year later, on the very first evidence of mite bites, we did the whole thing again with no dawdling, hoping that this would keep the situation from escalating to the previously awful level. It worked.

It's been five years and we haven't had a recurrance.

Good luck to you.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:16 PM on December 5, 2014

One thing that I dealt with when I was in academia as an entomologist was delusory parasitosis. I am not saying that you don't have a valid mite issue. I'm just throwing it out there, because I saw it more than once, even in pest control workers.
posted by bolognius maximus at 11:17 PM on December 6, 2014

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