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.