How Mites Choose a Host and Why They Chose You

Having a family member or friend with parasitic mites can be confusing. 
The affected person claims to be infested, yet the mites are not visible and there are often no physical signs.

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions that may help you.

Click on the ? or a heading to see  the answer

Mites are supposed to be ectoparasites that live outside the body.
My family member claims mites bite her/him inside her/his nose and ears.
How is that possible?

We call bird mites ectoparasites.
But mites are attracted to warmth and moisture.
And there is no dividing line stopping a mite from crawling into a body cavity.

What can our family do to help?

Keep an open mind.
Your family member may not be able to prove she/he has mites, and you cannot prove she/he does not have mites.
If your loved one does have an infestation, saying the person has a psychological problem will add to the burden of getting rid of these vermin. Imagine being in their shoes.

Your family member may get lucky and capture a specimen tomorrow, or get a positive result for a mite DNA test.
Or they may never have that good fortune.
Either way, this is a person you love and respect.
Trust them to let you know the kind of help they need.

Is there a diagnostic test for mites? How about a treatment?

Research Associate Laboratory in Texas ( has developed diagnostic tests for some of the more common parasitic mites.
However a person could still have a problem with a less common species for which there is not yet a test.

As for a treatment: researchers are developing a poultry vaccine that would boost the ability of the bird’s immune system to combat parasitic mites.
It would be possible to develop a similar vaccine for humans.

Because mites hide in the environment as well as attacking a human or other animal, treating both at the same time is key.

Are mite infestations becoming more common?

There are several reasons why mite infestations may be increasingly common.

  • Mites reproduce rapidly and are evolving resistance to pesticides.
  • The popularity of backyard poultry raised by non-farmers who lack pest management skills may lead to more mites (and bed bugs) in our cities and towns.
  • Global warming could also make it easier for these heat-loving organisms to spread.

How do you get rid of mites and how long does it take?

The key to getting rid of mites is to kill them faster than they can reproduce. And because the host and the environment are co-infested, both must be addressed at the same time.

Killing mites involves:

  • Frequent and thorough cleaning of the body and the dwelling
  • Use of pyrethrins and other pesticides on the dwelling

Lowering mites’ reproductive rate involves:

  • Using growth hormones on the dwelling that prevent sexual maturation of mites
  • Eliminating mite hiding places (such as carpeting in home and car)
  • Maintaining a cool, dry environment (use of dehumidifiers is recommended)

Every situation is different and there is no exact timeline. Family support can speed up the process.

If one family member has mites, why don’t other people in the family have them?

Agricultural bulletins advise farmers who think their flock may have mites to take several chickens to the veterinarian.

This is because there is a big variation in the level of infestation of different individuals.

Mites tend to cluster on one bird in a flock and bleed it to the point where it is a stationary meal.

There is no reason mites infesting a human family would behave differently than they do when they choose a favorite chicken.

If my family member has mites, why are there no bite marks?

When a mite ingests living blood, the blood mounts an immune response from inside the mite’s gut. When any parasite ingests blood, it leaves behind proteins in the host.

Mites have evolved to leave behind a protein that suppresses the immune system of the host, so the mite won’t be attacked by its food.

One effect is that bite marks are less pronounced (or nonexistent) when a host has been bitten by mites for months.

If she/he has mites, why can’t you see them? Why don’t we have specimens?

Bird mites are notoriously hard to catch. They are the size of the point of a pin, translucent, and quick moving. The glue traps used for mites don’t have pheromones, like moth traps do, so they don’t attract mites. Mites respond strongly to pheromones, so it would be a big improvement if mite traps were baited with pheromones.

There are diagnostic tests based on DNA for some species of mites. In the case of an infestation with one of those types of mites, identifying the cause of the problem just requires collecting DNA left behind by a mite—not a specimen of the mite itself.
See Research Associates Laboratory in Texas for more information.

My doctor/pesticide professional/farm club teacher says chicken mites don’t bite people, and/or can’t reproduce on human blood. Is that true?

Multiple studies prove otherwise, going all the way back to 1958, when an article published in a scientific journal documented finding human blood cells in mite intestines.

The only way those cells got there is for “bird mites” to feed on human blood. It is unfortunate that misinformation about mites has persisted for decades.

Leading mite experts such as Dr. Olivier Sparagano acknowledge that what we call “bird mites” can reproduce when they feed on human blood.

These mites can adapt to a variety of species, including us humans.

Our house has already been treated for mites. Why does my family member still claim to get bitten?

Farmers know how hard it is to get rid of mites in a chicken coop.
Sometimes the only way is to burn it to the ground, and then treat the dirt where the coop stood. Treatment isn’t easy in a human home, either.

Mites rapidly evolve resistance to pesticides. In addition, mites can hide inside books, wood paneling, etc., during pest treatment.

Pest control professionals realize there is no test to prove that a building no longer has mites.
As a result, a pest control company typically will refuse to represent in writing that the mites in a treated building are gone.

The most accurate way to check the effectiveness of pest control efforts is to treat a home and then see if a susceptible person is still bitten.