Extension agent: Dealing with nasty red bugs

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 17, 2015

Brian Maddy

Contributing columnist


Those of us who appreciate the great outdoors rarely appreciate an inhabitant that can cause a lot of irritation, namely chiggers. If you run into a batch of chiggers, also known as red bugs, you’ll be aware of it fairly soon.

These tiny mites, about 1/150th of an inch in length, are found worldwide. Barely visible to the naked eye, red in color, this six-legged juvenile mite requires a relatively humid climate. Georgia suits them just fine. The adults, who do not feed on humans, have eight legs.

They attack from low-level vegetation and may crawl around awhile until they find a good feeding spot, usually where the skin is thin – ankles, armpits and groin areas. If they encounter a barrier such as a belt, they will congregate there.

They are activated by detecting carbon dioxide from a vertebrate host. A chigger bites by inserting its feeding structure and mouth parts into the skin.

Enzymes are then injected into the host tissue through a feeding tube called a sylostome. These enzymes cause the itching that is intense for the first two days.

It may take two weeks for the red bumps to subside and the itching to diminish entirely. They do not feed on blood but on watery tissue broken down by the digestive fluids.

The best thing to do after you come in from working outdoors is to take a bath or shower, and lather up with soap and rinse and repeat it again. This will kill most attached chiggers and the ones still roaming.

Apply an antiseptic to the welts. This kills any remaining chiggers and prevents infection. To relieve the itching, apply ointments containing benzocaine, hydrocortisone, Benadryl or those used for relieving poison ivy itch.

Applying nail polish, bleach, turpentine or alcohol to the bites to suffocate the chiggers doesn’t work because the chiggers are not in the skin. Try not to scratch because it may cause secondary infections. If an infection develops, see a doctor.

Before you go out, tuck your pants into your socks and spray an insect repellent containing the active ingredient DEET (N.N,-diethyl-m-toluamide). Spray at the openings along the inside and outside edges of your clothing such as cuffs, neck, waistband and socks. Do not saturate the clothing. Read the directions on the repellent for what kinds of fabric can be sprayed. Apply the repellent on arms and legs not covered by clothing.

Do not set clothing or blankets on ground that may be infested with chiggers. Wash clothing and blankets in hot water to destroy the chiggers. Shorts may not be a good option in chigger country.

Chiggers are one penalty for enjoying the outdoors. Make sure you take precautions in chigger country.

What’s going on in Extension?

July 13-17: Up Camp with 4-H. Come get two thumbs up by growing up, dressing up and acting up with Troup County 4-H. Lots of fun activities for ninth through 12th graders; cost is $45.

July 20: Beekeepers. 7 p.m., Ag Center.

Aug. 18: Troup County Cattleman: Forages and Nutrition. Dr. Kim Mullinex, guest speaker, 7 p.m. Tuesday. Program will start at 7:30 p.m. The $6 meal will be served at 7 p.m. Ag Center.

Market on Main begins Saturday mornings from 8 to 10 a.m.. Come by and enjoy the pick of the day. Carmike Cinemas LaGrange 10 movie theater parking lot at East Depot and Main streets.

Brian Maddy is the ANR Agent for Troup County Extension. The Troup County Extension office is located at 114 Church St. in LaGrange and may be reached at 706-883-1675, Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–noon and 15 p.m.