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:



The Mite Protocols


These protocols are the result of one person’s experience and study. The protocols were not developed in a controlled fashion to demonstrate their safety and efficacy. Be aware that if you use these protocols, you do so at your own risk. Follow all directions on products you choose to use, and consult your physician regarding your health issues. Consult with a licensed pest control expert regarding environmental treatments that are legal in your community.

Introduction: I became heavily infested with D. gallinae in the Fall of 2009 from baby chicks raised in the family home.  Our older house with its wood paneling and carpet turned out to be “mite heaven,” as Vector Control called it.  I was more affected than other family members, and spent many nights that winter trying to sleep in the car.

Eventually the mite population skyrocketed and we moved out of our home. Specimens from the chickens were identified as D. gallinae in all life stages by a veterinary school parasitology lab, and we had the chickens put down.

Eliminating the source did not solve the problem immediately.  That took over a year and a lot of work.  Ending a mite infestation requires creating an environment that is so inhospitable to mites that you get rid of them faster than they can reproduce.  And it starts with getting rid of the source host, in our case the chickens.

Here’s the advice I wish I’d had at the outset:

  • Inform Yourself and Your Team: What is now known about parasitic mites may be different from what your doctor and pest control expert were taught in school. Educate yourself and share information with professionals, your spouse and family to improve your chances of getting good support.
  • Check the web Parasites and Vectors. Print and read the 2015 article, “Should the poultry red mite Dermanyssus gallinae be of wider concern for veterinary and medical science?” The article summarizes what is known about the ability of D. gallinae to switch host species, the human diseases it carries, and the under-diagnosis of the infestation in humans. This is a good reference to provide to your team.
  • If you can, also buy a copy of Control of Poultry Mites (Dermanyssus) by Dr. Olivier Sparagano.  Published in 2009, this book contains a wealth of information about everything from pesticide resistance, to mites as vectors of human diseases, to which essential oils work best as repellants.
  • Get Rid of All Possible Source Hosts: Your pet bird, the pigeons under your balcony, the bird’s nest in your child’s room, the mice in your basement, are all possible sources. Get rid of them all.
  • Get Rid of Most of Your Belongings:
  • Move into a place with no carpeting and no drapes (get blinds).
  • Get rid of your carpeted car and get a Jeep, or a Honda Element.
  • Look up the 5S system (which originated in Japan) for a method to pare down belongings.  Get rid of your upholstered furniture, or if you must, have plastic, not cloth, upholstery. Throw out your books and get a library card.  Throw out most of your clothes.

When everything you own becomes a fomite (an object that transmits an infection, in this case mites), it’s easy to let go of your possessions.

    • Cool Down Your Environments: Mite are more active and reproduce more rapidly in a warm environment. Keep your home, car and office cool.
    • Dry Out Your Environments: Mites are susceptible to desiccation (drying out). This is an effective way to interfere with mites that involves no toxic chemicals. Go to a major hardware store and buy dehumidifiers to run in every room. DO NOT run humidifiers in your home while you have mites.


  • Keep It Clean:
  • Use ammonia — not bleach — to wash your floors.  Bleach corrodes surfaces and provides hiding places for bugs.  And NEVER use ammonia and bleach together! That combination produces toxic gas.
  • Wash your laundry after each use, including sheets, on hot water, with detergent, Borax and ammonia.   Dry on high heat.  Thin clothes are easiest to wash thoroughly; avoid fuzzy clothes.
  • Wear washable shoes and wash them with your laundry every day.
  • Clean the inside of your car every day with antiseptic wipes.


  • Keep Your Body Mite-Unfriendly:
  • Keep your hair as short as you can stand it.  Wash whatever hair is left with a sulfur or tar dandruff shampoo at least once a day.  Follow up with a conditioner with essential oils.
  • Shower at least once a day, scrubbing with a rough washcloth. Use liquid soap that contains mite repellent natural ingredients such as neem, tea tree, eucalyptus, and/or lavender.  Wash your face with a cleanser that contains eucalyptus, or use an apricot scrub. A battery operated face brush that cleans in a circular motion is helpful. Try using peppermint lotion. Clean your shower after use, and dehumidify the bathroom.
  • Keep the following homemade mite repellants with you. Use as needed:  a) Lotion to which you have added essential oils and neem; b) a spray bottle containing witch hazel to which you have added essential oils plus neem.  Remember to follow label directions regarding amounts. You’ll find these two repellents are useful at different times.


  • The best way to know if treatment of an environment works is whether mites still affect you after the environment is treated.
  • Good diagnostic tools are being developed but are not widely available, so underdiagnosis is still a problem.
  • If you are a favored host, your experience may be different from others in your family. Parasitic mites are known to choose favorites in a flock to feed upon.
  • Believe in Your Senses:
  • Use Pesticides and Mite Growth Hormones as Directed: Your pest control professional will likely need to identify the species before using these products on your home. Mites evolve pesticide resistance; so discuss the choice of products with your pest control specialist.
  • Keep Your Bed Mite-Unfriendly: Wrap masking tape around the legs of your bed, sticky side out, to keep mites from climbing up from the floor. Cover your box spring, mattress, and pillows with plastic bed covers and wipe them down with antiseptic when you change bedding.
  • Get Out of Your House and Swim: The more you are at home, the more you are exposed to the mites in your environment. Get out and swim in a chlorinated pool every day.  Then sit in a chlorinated Jacuzzi and power wash your feet.  If you can’t do that, at least exercise (and work up a sweat) every day.
  • Own the Problem: Become your own expert. If you want to understand why nobody else in your family is being bitten the way you are, read about host selection. If you want to understand why your new bites are less visible than the first bites you received, read about immunosuppression by ectoparasites. More is known every day about parasitic mites. The more you learn, the better you can solve this problem.

Best of luck.  You can reclaim your life from this infestation.  You, and only you, can make it happen.

Envy – An Excerpt from the Book – The Year of the Mite

It was dusk, just when the bugs woke up to bite. While awaiting a load of laundry at a laundromat, I sat on a wooden bench on the sidewalk facing a restaurant. I was dressed in thin clothes that were easy to wash, and I was cold. It was a chilly night, and I was a homeless person with a six-figure income.

As I sat on the bench, a man and a woman in their forties approached the restaurant. He was trim, looked like he worked out. He had dark hair and a pencil moustache.

She was slender too, had light brown hair, wispy and almost blonde. She was wearing a baby blue sweater, had it wrapped tightly and her arms crossed.

When they arrived at the restaurant, the man reached across and opened the door for her. They passed through, into a warm evening of good food and later, maybe sex, and almost certainly a cozy sleep. And here is the thing: the expressions on their faces as they walked through the door. They were so blasé, almost bored, as if maybe they were both trying really hard to play it cool. That is what I’d like to think: that they were finally on a date with each other, really did appreciate what they had, could not wait to be together, and were wearing their game faces because they were both playing hard to get.

But in the moment I saw their faces, while I sat there cold because warm jackets are too hard to wash every night, while I had no appetite and things bit me and crawled on me, I believed these two people were just as uninterested as they looked. And I had a flash of complete hatred for this couple I never met. I hated them more intensely than I hated my screaming alcoholic eleventh grade chemistry teacher. I hated them more than I ever hated anybody, and these were people I never talked with, people who had done me no wrong. I hated them because I envied their ability to take it all for granted. I hated them because they were innocent of what it was to be haunted. I hated them because their skin was unmarked, and nobody was in their hair or their ears or their belly buttons. I hated them because I wanted that. I wanted to be just that privileged. I wanted to not even notice how good I had it, and I did not know if I would ever feel nonchalant again.

It was a flash, one second, then the door closed and I never saw them again. I don’t know whether they noticed what they ate, or if they spoke at dinner or just sat, glazed over. For all I know they were run over by a bus that night.

I am not even sure now which laundromat I sat near, what restaurant it was. If I saw that couple again I would not know them. But I will never forget those blank expressions, those bland eyes, the man smug and entitled, the woman serene and self-contained.

And I wonder if, in that moment when I hated them, I was alive in a way that they were not. It is tempting to believe that awareness is the prize and contentment the booby prize. But really, of course, it’s the other way around.