COLUMBIA – Brittney Daniel was hanging out with a few friends when she noticed an insatiable itch on her side.
“I was just itching constantly, and I thought it was just an itch, and then the next day, I went to look at it and there was a bunch of little dots there,” she said.
Daniel thought her roommate’s dog had contracted fleas that were biting her, but then she found out about a pest that has been menacing the Midwest: oak leaf itch mites.
The mites have broken out in Oklahoma, Kansas and western Missouri, especially in the Kansas City area. The nearly microscopic, insect-like mites can leave bites similar to a chigger’s, but can be even more uncomfortable and leave blisters.
Robbie Doerhoff, a forest health specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said the mites live on oak leaves and feed on what are called marginal fold galls that fold over the edges of the leaves.
“They fall from those trees in the late summer-early fall, and people are encountered by them, and they take a bite,” she said.
The mites have not been a big problem in the mid-Missouri area, but Doerhoff said they could be in the future.
“It could be next year, though, that we see more of those galls, and then we might possibly see itch mites in the fall.” she said.
Doerhoff recommends people take some precautions before engaging in some fall activities, such as raking the yard or jumping into a pile of leaves, to avoid being a victim to the mites’ bites.
“Wear long sleeves, long pants, a hat possibly, and then afterwards, go in and immediately take a shower and wash and dry your clothes,” she said.
According to Doerhoff, the first frost of the season will most likely end this year's problem with the oak leaf itch mites.
Daniel said the bites have mostly healed, leaving scars on her side, and she would not want anyone else to have to experience them.