On Being “Septic Smart” and Mite Savvy

I just bought a house in septic country. We are talking about a warm-weather state with big humidity. Won’t move there for a couple years, so I have time to figure this out.

It wasn’t until I read up on septic systems, when the house was already a done deal, that I realized everybody with mites in the hinterland has been trying to fight the bastards without benefit of bleach or ammonia.

Because it says all over the “Septic Smart” literature that you can’t use either of those anti-mite staples if you have a septic system.

Oh how ignorant I was. I thought a septic system was just a tank that got pumped when it filled up.
Now I know it is a backyard sewage treatment plant with its own little ecosystem, that can be disrupted rather easily. It’s like a piece of scenery in a play turned out to be a character.

Good news is, the house is pretty much wood floors and window blinds. If it were all carpet and drapes, it would have held no appeal. Years after the infestation, my esthetic is still about arthropods.

It is clear that I’ll need to beef up my essential oils game. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Septic smart, meet mite savvy.

Progress Happens.

A small press run by science nerds recently published my book, The Year of the Mite, which is based on my family’s zoonotic infestation by the poultry mite Dermanyssus gallinae.  These are nocturnal parasites about the size of the point of a pin that tend to pick out one favorite in a flock (or family), and in sufficient numbers can bleed a chicken dry.

I am a cell biologist with no particular training in arthropods, and was tossed into the Looking Glass world of mite sufferers when my then-partner decided to raise a new batch of baby chicks in our family room in 2009.  It has been sixty years since the first published account of human erythrocytes isolated in the guts of poultry mites, but even now, people with parasitic mites are often told their problem is psychological.  The Catch-22 is that, as long as this view prevails, there is little or no focus on diagnosing and treating the problem.  I was lucky that a veterinarian captured and identified specimens, and that as a biologist, I was able to piece together an effective protocol based on journal articles from around the globe.

The paradigm is beginning to shift, as the number of people with parasitic mites increases due to climate change and backyard poultry.  The use of PCR to identify mite DNA on humans is far superior to the old tape method, with its very high false negative rate.  UK mite expert Olivier Sparagano is organizing European professionals (including entomologists and veterinarians) who recognize this public health issue and want to combat it.  A group of entomologists headed by David George recently published an article on the medical and veterinary impacts of Dermanyssus gallinae (see link below).


Meanwhile some US mite survivors are organizing a patient advocacy group with plans to publish articles on various aspects of the issue.

While I am grateful to have rid myself of parasitic mites, there are many who continue to suffer with this unrecognized public health problem.  Many of them are sleepless for months on end, in some cases becoming suicidal.

Progress is happening, and cannot happen soon enough.

False Diagnosis of Delusional Parasitosis

Below is a link to an article comparing false negative rates using various methods of testing for mites. I believe the PCR method was first used in studies of Demodex and showed much higher rates than with old methods. The interesting thing is, if you read articles in the psychotherapy literature about delusional parasitosis, the authors uniformly assume the validity of old methods like tape testing. So the false negatives with tape testing turn into false positives for delusional parasitosis. Coming soon: a full article on the etiology and sequelae of false diagnoses of delusional parasitosis.



A (Mostly Great) Article on Perils of Backyard Poultry

Meredith Swett Walker wrote a pretty great article about the perils of backyard poultry.  All about people who promote their livestock to family pet, without considering the consequences.

Funny.  Well written Terrific.  Except for one sentence, where she says not to worry, these pests don’t cross over to humans.

Considering that bedbugs can live on chickens, this is already a problem.

Backyard Chickens Harbor Greater Diversity of Ticks, Mites, and Lice than Farm-raised Chickens

Really hope she reads David George’s article on the plasticity of the D. gallinae genome, and how chicken mites can create medical problems.


This idea that parasites can’t cross host species lines seems to be one of those memes that won’t go away, like the flat earth.


The Mite Fight: Breaking a Negative Cycle

It has been more than fifty years since human erythrocytes were first identified in the gut of a Dermanyssus gallinae (red poultry mite) in a New York City apartment.  The journal article that disclosed this finding is interesting not only for its scientific content but also for what it tells us about the history of scientific attitudes about mites as human parasites.  The abstract of the article states, in part:

“Although a marked clinical dermatitis is common in some individuals that become closely associated with the bird mite, Dermanyssus gallinae, the literature presents little evidence that this mite will ingest human blood and many investigators feel that this species will never ingest it.”

The unfortunate reality is that, half a century later, persons with parasitic mites still encounter helping professionals who emphatically dismiss this public health issue.

While skepticism is an important part of the scientific method, the refusal to entertain the possibility of this health problem is profoundly unscientific.  When scientists maintain that parasitic mite infestation of humans is “impossible,” they fail to ask the questions and perform the studies that could demonstrate the reality of this problem.  For example, recent studies of non-parasitic Demodex face mites using polymerase chain reaction have increased the estimated infestation rate from about 8% of humans to 100% of humans.  This is academically interesting, but the improved methods are still not used for persons who experience parasitic mite infestation.  If in fact there is more than a 90% false positive rate using the old methods, then by far the majority of people with these mites are not receiving the care they need.

Lacking valid collection methods, the numbers of persons with parasitic mites remain unknown and are likely underestimated.  This in turn leads to underfunding research into diagnosis and treatment.

Reliance on poor diagnostic methods for parasitic mites also leads to false diagnoses of delusional parasitosis.  An article in Clinical Microbiological Review states that delusional parasitosis “is characterized by the fixed belief of being infested with pathogens against all medical evidence.”  If, however, the “medical evidence” is based on testing with a very high false negative rate, then the psychological diagnosis is a house built on quicksand.

For persons with parasitic mites, the mite fight is not just against the arthropods that bite them.  Affected individuals must also grapple with helping professionals who, despite best intentions, often do more harm than good.

Fifty years ago, when that journal article about human blood cells in mite guts was published, each person with parasitic mites faced those unfortunate attitudes alone.  With no community of fellow survivors, the experience must have been incredibly isolating.

Fortunately, times are changing.  There is an online community of people facing the challenge of eliminating a parasitic mite infestation.  There are moves in the direction of a patient advocacy organization, a much-needed step.  In the absence of necessary research, people with parasitic mites are sharing what works for them (as in the protocols on this website and in the book version of The Year of the Mite).  And just as importantly, there are professionals in several fields who take this public health issue seriously.  That means the potential for more organized research along with increased credibility for those who have parasitic mites.

There is an online meme that advises:  Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it.  A lot of time has passed since that 1958 article.  It is time to open minds, to use the scientific method to study this problem.  Too many have suffered too much for too many years.







The Impact of Patient Organization on Health Care

I have been reading Steve Silberman’s excellent book Neurotribes, in which he discusses the ways families with autism organized to change the old paradigm of the “refrigerator mom,” the now-discredited idea that mothers caused autism by psychologically rejecting their babies in utero.  It seems to me that the challenges with professional acknowledgement of infestation by parasitic mites requires a similar level of patient organization.  I hope to find ways to help move that along.

Book Launch Party – The Year of the Mite

Book Launch Party – The Year of the Mite

Do you raise chickens? Have you been thinking about it? Come to the book launch party for The Year of the Mite!

All it took was a few baby chicks and a carpeted floor, and soon, Jane Ishka, a San Francisco Bay Area homesteader, literally felt her skin crawling. She-and her house, her car, and all of her belongings-had been infested by the red poultry mite, Dermanyssus gallinae.  Driven from her home and bed by the biting and itching, Jane used her scientific background to figure out what was wrong, and most importantly, how to fix it.

Come hear the entertaining and informative Jane Ishka read from her new book, The Year of the Mite.  Jane will discuss how the book is helping shift popular and professional thinking about parasitic mite infestations.

Thursday, 06/09/16

Octopus Literary Salon

2101 Webster Street
Oakland, CA 94612


Mike Linn
Email: [email protected]
Website: Click to Visit


Free admission – pay for refreshments

See the full entry, including map, on the Bay Area Science Festival Calendar:



Host Expansion in Mites.

Paradigm Shifts are Hard to Do: Host Expansion in Mites.

The process of publishing The Year of the Mite has been fascinating.

Year of the Mite Book Cover

This story is based on a year in the life of an American family.

The support from our community is terrific.  And in that community I include not only folks who have (or have had) parasitic mites, but also the many professionals whose mite paradigm has already shifted. And make no mistake: a shift is happening.  It started in 1958, when entomologists published an article about isolation of human blood cells in the guts of chicken mites in a New York City apartment.  For those who read it, that professional journal article moved the conversation from “chicken mites don’t bite people,” to “chicken mites can’t reproduce while feeding on human blood.” At last, host expansion in mites starts to be recognized.

The ground shifted again with the 2015 publication of the David Green article in Parasite and Vector regarding the ability of what we call “chicken mites” to change host species.  These mites are quite adaptable to new host species — a process called “host expansion.”  A whole group of entomologists published those findings.  Those of us who have had parasitic mites quite agree.

Like many paradigm shifts, this one is happening slowly, and it is not happening evenly across the board.  While obtaining permission for the quotes in The Year of the Mite, I encountered one author who refused to grant permission to use an informative quotation from an agricultural bulletin.  This scientist told me he frequently heard from people who claim to have mites, and that what I alleged about mite behavior on humans was impossible.

I found that attitude troubling in two respects.  First, I doubt that a word like “impossible” furthers the scientific goal of exploring the universe with an open mind.  At its best, science offers a terrific opportunity to ask questions and learn more about existence, with no agenda, no ax to grind.

Second, as a mite survivor, I am concerned when I  encounter professionals who deny the possibility that the evidence of my senses, along with parasitic mites collected in the environment, reflected an objective phenomenon.  I am especially concerned for the health and safety of people who still have mites.  And I know that folks with parasitic mites are out there – many write to me at this site, and on my Facebook page.

On the other hand, science runs on data, and data about parasitic mite infestation is tough to come by.  Mites are rapidly moving organisms, many translucent, and many the size of the point of a pin.  The good news is, this lack of data may be ripe for change.  Researchers who study face mites have developed a new way to collect mite DNA from the faces of people with these scavenger mites, and then sequence the mite DNA to distinguish it from host DNA.  Using these methods, scientists have raised the estimate of people with face mites from a small minority to almost 100% of humans.

This same method could be used to collect parasitic mites.  Collection of Dermanyssus gallinae from the skin of people with parasitic mites would shift the conversation yet again, to make it clear what species of mites inhabit a human host.

Paradigm shifts are hard to do.  But the good news is that in science, data eventually wins.  For the sake of people with parasitic mites, the next phase in this shift can’t happen soon enough.