How can I get rid of a persistent bird mite infestation?
August 22, 2018 6:40 AM   Subscribe

I think I have gamasoidosis (bird mite dermatitis), all of the recommended treatments have failed and it’s making me incredibly anxious/depressed. I believe that all of my possessions are infested. My options are limited because I'm in a rented property and don't want to be perceived as having brought a problem with me, but I really need to do something to get myself out of this situation.

The problem started nearly 3 years ago, after my mum moved house (I was living with her at the time). A few months in, I started waking up with these itchy papules and wheals on random parts of my body, usually single random spots but sometimes in clusters and rows/pairs, here’s some pictures.

I didn’t know what was the cause, but a few weeks later, I saw a small bug crawling on my computer screen. I captured it on a piece of sticky tape, photographed it and asked on an insect forum what species it was, they said it was likely some type of bird or rodent mite and that a microscope would be required to identify the specific species.

The most candidate for my species is Dermanyssus gallinae, it is capable of surviving and reproducing on non-bird blood, they are also capable of surviving for 9 months without food and have a short life cycle and resistance to pesticides, they are about 0.5mm max, so they are nearly impossible to see and also hide out during the day.

My mum’s neighbour’s house is joined to hers and I’d noticed that there was a birds nest in their roof (I could hear the baby birds through my wall). So putting 2 + 2 together I guessed that they were the original source. I paid for a pest controller to come and spray my room, however that didn’t resolve the bites (as the neighbours nest was still there) and because I was moving out soon I decided to leave the problem, assuming the problem wouldn’t follow me.

I was wrong, I’ve moved three more times since then, I’ve never seen another bug but am still waking up with the bites. I got my possessions and room treated with insecticide and for my last move got all of my heat-safe possessions heat treated, that still didn’t resolve it. I've haven't seen any more bugs since moving so I can't even get a sample identified, which is really messing with my head.

I’ve also applied a variety of treatments based on advice I’ve seen online (none of which have made a difference), including:
- Permethrin cream (in case it was scabies)
- Permethrin spray
- IGR spray
- Spinosad
- Cimexa — a bit like diatomaceous earth
- Permethrin shampoo — they can infest your scalp
- Hypoaspis Miles — a predatory mite that according to a study I read will eat bird mites.
- Bravecto (fluralaner) — no studies on human use but according to the scientific literature fluralaner is a very effective treatment for D. gallinae.

About a year ago, I was referred to an allergy specialist by my doctor who diagnosed me with spontaneous urticaria because I have a history with other allergies but my ‘bites’ look nothing look hives (like a nettle rash in appearance), the closest thing they look like is bird mite or bed bug bites, comparing them to images of those conditions.

I’ve got an appointment with a dermatologist in November but I’m not very optimistic, the only treatment I haven’t tried is ivermectin but it isn't meant to be very effective against D. gallinae.

Basically I’m not sure what to do now, I’m at my wits end and am running out of things to try, I’ve spent over £1000 on treatments and nothing has worked.
posted by fallingleaves to Health & Fitness (12 answers total)
Aw, this sounds just horrible.

I don't know your social mobility... but I would need to GET OUT. It doesn't have to be today. But, when I think about my possessions and house, they are all worth a lot less when I imagine them infested with bugs. Clothes, beds, couch, etc.

So, this is what I would do: Go buy a set of new clothes (including shoes) without trying them on. Go to a gym or community pool with a shower. Take a crazy good, crazy hot shower covering your body with that 1% shampoo for 20+ minutes. Put on your new clothes - don't touch your old ones.

Then, go somewhere else besides home. Ideally you'd leave your car at the gym or whatever. Just get away from the bugs for a bit! Spend at least 3 days somewhere else, a hostel, hotel, or friends/family members place. Ideally not your mum - seems like she knows bugs too. You could have someone pick you up at the gym/pool or take a taxi so you don't have to go near your car.

If you are still getting the rashes after 3 days, maybe it's a skin problem or a food problem or an allergen different than bugs (there's a lot of weird allergies out there!). You could then go home! It wasn't the bugs!

If the rashes go away and you are happy and never want to go home, I don't blame you. I would enter your place with caution from then on. My guess is that you had bird mites AND bed bugs - and I would check thoroughly for bed bugs around your mattress. Or it could have been bed bugs the whole time and they are being stealthy!

If it's bed bugs, you can follow the treatments for that... and get a new mattress, but keep your clothes and belongings. But, if it's not bed bugs, and you can't really find a solution, assume the value of your property is 0. You are paying rent on a worthless property, you are worried about clothes that are worthless now, etc.

I'd try to end the lease early, find a studio, go to IKEA, and start fresh. Again, all of this if you can afford it.

If you need someone to help with this problem I'd try posting on the local community subreddit or message board for your town, or posting on the /r/assistance subreddit.
posted by bbqturtle at 7:22 AM on August 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

I got my possessions and room treated with insecticide and for my last move got all of my heat-safe possessions heat treated, that still didn’t resolve it. I've haven't seen any more bugs since moving so I can't even get a sample identified, which is really messing with my head.

I think you need to come to terms with the fact that what you thought was the settled solution for what is going on was not in fact the solution. If you were still seeing actual bugs, that would be one thing, but you've already very thoroughly done the things you're supposed to do in order to deal with bugs, and you're still dealing with the skin rash. I don't think you have bird mites and I think you need to listen to the medical professionals who have been telling you that your problem is not bird mites. Please don't give up stable housing or furniture or other things you can't afford to be rid of over this. You've previously mentioned anxiety and depression problems and I say this having had it happen: anxiety/stress-related hives can totally present in a way that seems more like bug bites.

If it's that, that doesn't mean it's somehow a fake thing that you're making up. It's just that if you've already treated with both insecticide and heat treatment and done all these other things, which is really more likely: that this is an anxiety symptom or some other kind of occasional allergic reaction, or that you happen to have an infestation of superbugs following you from place to place? You've been thorough about dealing with this possibility--be as thorough now about working through the other things it might be.
posted by Sequence at 7:59 AM on August 22, 2018 [40 favorites]

With all gentleness: if you've moved three times since you once lived near a house that had birds nesting on it and none of the 1000 pounds you've spent on treatments have worked, you probably do not have persistent bird mites. Or if you did, a huge amount of the population would too and this would be something everyone dealt with regularly and physicians in your area would be well-versed in it.

See the dermatologist, but also see someone about the anxiety. If the dermatologist cannot identify a specific external factor, you may need to start over with a GP and bloodwork to see if maybe you should be seeing a different specialist like a rheumatologist or endocrinologist for an internal rather than external issue.

But you also need to treat the anxiety. Whatever this is, the anxiety is either causing it or making it worse, and this cannot be good for your life.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:04 AM on August 22, 2018 [16 favorites]

You say you haven’t seen any bugs, but have you tried laying out traps to catch them? That would aid in an accurate diagnosis in case they are a different mite. I sympathise, parasitic creatures can cause real psychological trauma, which worsens the physical symptoms, which then causes more trauma. Almost all medical professionals will also be looking for Delusional parasitosis so get ahead of them by seeing a therapist and taking suggested medication to work on your (natural!) anxiety so other medical professionals will not waste your time deflecting to a mental illness. You want to rule out superfluous diagnosis’. Talking to a therapist and taking medication to deal with the anxiety will also help you deal with your natural anxiety around living with an on-going traumatic experience and expand your coping skills while you deal with the physical effects. Going to a theapist does NOT mean you are saying the bugs are just in your mind, you are saying that dealing with this over three years has overloaded your coping mechanisms for dealing with sustained stress. Good luck.
posted by saucysault at 8:51 AM on August 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

I had a sparrow nest in my balcony, and a few weeks later, noticed that I had a bird mite infestation. I noticed it when I woke up and while sitting on the can, saw that I had about a dozen mites running up my arms, which is not how anyone should ever have to wake up. I had to wait until the fledglings fledged, but once that was done, I did the following:

1. Two misting bug bombs designed to target mites, one week apart. I have pets and I brought them to someone else’s house for the day. I left the furniture in place and the sheets on the bed, but took the blankets off.

2. Laundered everything in hot temperatures.

3. Bought a few cans of Raid and absolutely saturated the balcony as far as the spray would reach.

It worked. I had bites after the first bug bomb, but the second one killed the rest of the bugs and I never had a bite again. I would also note that having a bird nest at the neighbor’s house, when it’s an attached multi-person dwelling (like a duplex), is more than close enough to get bird mites. Those mites go a long way—it was easily 20 feet and a closed glass door between my sparrow nest and my bed, but I still had mites in my bed. :6

But you’ve moved 3 times and you’re still getting bug bites, which leads me to believe that the bugs are moving with you and resistant to whatever spray treatment you’ve had applied. Or, it could be an ongoing allergic reaction to the original bites and you just haven’t had the opportunity for your immune system to calm down. Or, it could be another bird nest! Hard to say. I totally understand how this could drive you nuts. Thinking that your place is crawling with bugs is an awful feeling, especially if you can’t find the bugs but are continuing to suffer symptoms. Do whatever you need to do to manage the stress that this situation is undoubtedly causing.

I agree that it might be time to ditch whatever you can afford to ditch, or basically save to move to a new place AND basically take absolutely nothing with you, clothes or furniture. Arrange for stuff to be delivered to the new place, buy a throwaway outfit and change at a gym or something where you can shower the old place completely off and throw out your old clothes, and wear the new clothes to the new place. I’m sure that will be quite expensive, but your sanity and your health are worth more than the cost.

In the meantime, I would keep using bug bombs regularly. Maybe have a professional inspect your furniture to see if bed bugs might be present. A mattress cover would also be an effective way of killing any bedbugs that might be hiding in the mattress.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:09 AM on August 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’ve had hives that resemble flea bites, and the only thing that got rid of them were prescription doses of antihistamines. Was that what the urticaria treatment was?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:32 AM on August 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

If your mental health is solid/a very unlikely factor, ask your dermatologist about autoimmune problems that could create these marks in the absence of an allergen. Your skin might have decided to react to humidity or heat or something like that. (I've had this issue on and off since infancy, and it's been especially bad this summer.)
posted by bagel at 11:37 AM on August 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

I found this thread with several suggestions I didn't see here, including using Borax on clothes and skin, using a lint tape roller on the sheets before getting into bed, and to look into a fungus associated with bird nests, called sporo schenkii. Another link to an FAQ here. Hope something in there helps.
posted by Riverine at 12:05 PM on August 22, 2018

Jesus don't use borax on your skin it's highly irritant, especially near broken skin.
posted by smoke at 3:01 PM on August 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

^ that is a great example why you need to stop listening to the Internet and keep this problem with professionals.

You have been doing all this work yourself, and frankly I think you've made a jump to bird mites. Let the medical professionals with experience direct you. Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 3:03 PM on August 22, 2018 [6 favorites]

You might have psoriasis. Or I might have bird mites.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:12 PM on August 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Go buy a set of new clothes (including shoes) without trying them on. Go to a gym or community pool with a shower. Take a crazy good, crazy hot shower covering your body with that 1% shampoo for 20+ minutes. Put on your new clothes - don't touch your old ones.

Then, go somewhere else besides home.

This seems like a really good idea. It's the only way to know for sure if your home/possessions are the source of the issue.

If the bites stop while you're away but come back when you return to your home, that's pretty solid evidence. Next you need to know what kind of bug you have. Bites from different bugs look too similar to make a diagnosis based on skin reaction alone. I'd work on setting traps and looking for actual bugs or physical signs of their presence.

It's also possible that you are allergic to something else in your environment - maybe your laundry detergent, or even the insecticides used on your belongings. Given the appearance of your bites, I think this is a strong possibility.

Basically, you've tried a lot of treatments and they haven't worked, so you need better information before you do any new treatment.

Bug bites suck.
posted by danceswithlight at 11:31 PM on August 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

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