Transmissible bugs?? (Chigger warning)
July 6, 2015 10:28 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend has returned from a weekend in the woods with a significant chigger problem, which he says is "everywhere," eyebrow raise. How do I protect myself and how can he get some relief? I realize this is google-able but I can't bring myself to search for self-care reasons.

My main concerns are with intimate contact (is it safe or advisable?) and sleeping together in the same bed. He is very hygienic and fastidious as a rule, so that's a plus. He says he's covered the chigger bites with nail polish but they're still itching like crazy.

Another question: what exactly is going on here? Is he being colonized by tiny bugs, i.e. are they burrowing into his skin and laying eggs? Or are they just bites?

Furthermore: how are these tiny bugs different (in terms of their peskiness to humans) from scabies or fleas or bedbugs? Please tell me none of these are interchangeable terms. Success stories are welcome, and thanks in advance!!
posted by witchen to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
These chiggers have burrowed into his skin. They are not going to come out to bite you. The itching is because they are irritating him as they discover that he is not the host and food source they had hoped. They are going to die, and the nail polish may help speed that process.

Treatment for chiggers, in general, is to outlive them. I hope that others will have a better idea on how to reduce the itch.

Love and comfort your man. Don't fear him.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 10:36 AM on July 6, 2015

Chiggers do not burrow under your skin, as many people believe, nor do they feed on animal blood. They actually feed on the fluids in skin cells. To get the fluids, they attach themselves to a skin pore or hair follicle and inject a digestive enzyme that ruptures the cells. The enzyme also hardens the surrounding skin tissue, forming a sort of straw for sucking the skin cell fluids. The whole process irritates the skin, causing an itchy red bump that continues to cause discomfort for several days. Chiggers are only about 1/50th of an inch (0.5 mm) in diameter and so are too small to be seen with the naked eye. This invisibility is the reason so many people believe chiggers burrow under the skin.
posted by atomicstone at 10:39 AM on July 6, 2015 [15 favorites]

hot showers or baths with lots of soap, otc antihistamines, and calamine lotion will all help. he needs to watch for infection, but otherwise the bites should stop itching in a few days. not scratching is the quickest way to healing.
posted by nadawi at 10:44 AM on July 6, 2015

Person-to-person transmission is not much documented, and it seems like the bigger problem is bringing them into the house on your clothes and gear and then another person contacts them there. But they require a pretty specialized environment, and that risk is probably gone within an hour or two of coming inside.

Chiggers do not burrow into the skin, they bite and feed more like a tick but not exactly, I'll keep it vague, but they put an enzyme in the bite and the red bump is the reaction to the enzyme. (source, plus pretty much everywhere else) - it's basically a rash from the enzymes, and sometimes also infection. The larvae drops off when it has fed, and so is probably long gone by now, but even if it isn't they're apparently not into changing hosts.

He should get some Chiggerex, or something else with as much benzocaine as he can find. He doesn't *have* to suffer like that. He may also want to use some neosporin.

There's no harm in sleeping in the bed with him as long as you're not a MRSA carrier or anything, since he's got so much irritated skin. Sex might not be all that enjoyable if he has bites on his groin (they're bad to get you right where the elastic is) or penis.

You will not catch them.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:47 AM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

I got a major chigger attack recently. As mentioned, they don't burrow into your skin, nor can you really catch them indoors like bedbugs.

Here are some things that really helped me: Chiggerex Plus cream, a prescription for steroids (I'm allergic to bug bites and mine are just starting to heal, 2+ weeks later. This helped a lot), OTC antihistamines, and time. Also, I made some veggie soup with a lot of turmeric in it, to try to reduce the inflammation. It did seem to have an effect.

Poor guy.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 11:12 AM on July 6, 2015

The only danger to you is in the unlikely event that unattached chiggers got onto you from the clothes he wore camping. Though judging from his itching, they've already found a more convenient host. Still, make sure he washes those clothes ASAP.

If he's itching and can see bites, the chiggers are gone. What he's suffering from is the body's reaction to the enzymes. Steroid anti-itch cream, topical benadryl, and calamine may help some. What helped me the most the last time I was attacked was tea tree oil (bonus: smells nice).

I've also read that benzocaine, specifically in the form of toothache relief products like Oragel and Anbesol, is effective for itch relief, but I've never tried it. If he has more than a dozen or so bites, though, getting prescription-strength steroid cream from his doctor would be the best.

Good luck. And stand by your (itchy) man.
posted by Shoggoth at 11:41 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

If it makes you feel any better, my honey is currently coping with some chiggers, and I was allllll snuggly with him all weekend. They aren't a thing you can catch from someone else. So rest (and cuddle) easy! And for him: poor thing! They are itchy beyond all belief.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:47 PM on July 6, 2015

This is a timely question for me.

So, I am beyond-allergic to almost all types of bug bites- what show up as normal lil' mosquito bites on most people are 3" hives on me, for example- and recently was attacked by chiggers from the calves-down. I'm really into herbal remedies, and didn't want to run out and buy whatever-cream from the drug store until I'd tried what I had on hand at home.

What worked for me was: scalding hot soaks, followed by witch hazel, followed by LIBERAL amounts of sweet-basil essential oil, like, practically pouring it on until I was glistening.. then covering up in cotton socks so I couldn't scratch myself to death in my sleep. There's camphor in basil that chills everything out. I bought some sort of sanctioned bug bite shit from CVS, but the basil worked better.

I had read that lavender is also helpful for bug bites, but found it did nothing. Calendula, usually my wonder flower for skin inflammation, also did nothing. I was going to try a poultice made from plantain in my yard (google this) but they actually started to clear up before I could get around to picking some.

I'm inflammation-prone in general, and I take antihistamines and turmeric and nettles (and a ton of other shit) daily to begin with. Doubling up on these also didn't seem to help much. I was utterly, completely miserable for three weeks and it's only just now been clearing up. Best of luck to your dude!
posted by ElectricGoat at 1:28 PM on July 6, 2015

Response by poster: Blah!! Thanks for these responses. Lots of relief for me (peace of mind) and some good information for my bf (itch relief). Hoping the situation clears up soon, but this is helpful for the meantime.
posted by witchen at 2:40 PM on July 7, 2015

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