Probably no creature on earth can cause as much torment for its size than the tiny chigger. Tiny six-legged chigger larvae attack campers, picnickers, hikers, bird watchers, berry pickers, fishermen, soldiers, and homeowners in low, damp areas where vegetation is rank such as woodlands, berry patches, orchards, along lakes and streams, and even in drier places where vegetation is low such as lawns, golf courses, and parks. They are most numerous in early summer when grass, weeds and other vegetation are heaviest. Chiggers do not burrow into the skin, but insert their mouthparts in a skin pore or hair follicle. Their bites produce small, reddish welts on the skin accompanied by intense itching as irritating as acute cases of poison ivory or poison sumac. These symptoms often are the only way of learning that an outdoor area is infested since chiggers are so small that most cannot be seen without a magnifying glass. Chiggers feed on a wide variety of snakes, turtles, birds, and small mammals as well as humans.
After returning from a chigger-infested area, launder the field clothes in soapy, hot water (125°F.) for about half an hour. Infested clothes should not be worn again until they are properly laundered and/or exposed to hot sunshine. Unlaundered clothes or those laundered in cool water will contain the biting chiggers to again reinfest your skin. As soon as possible, take a good hot bath or shower and soap repeatedly. The chiggers may be dislodged, but you will still have the stylostomes, causing the severe itch. Scratching deep to remove stylostomes can cause secondary infections. For temporary relief of itching, apply ointments of benzocaine, hydrocortisone, calamine lotion, New Skin, After Bite, or others recommended by your pharmacist or medical doctor. Some use Vaseline, cold cream, baby oil, or fingernail polish. (The sooner the treatment, the better the results.)
Mowing of briars, weeds, and thick vegetation and close clipping of lawns, to eliminate shade and moisture, will reduce chigger populations, and permit sunlight and air to circulate freely. Chigger larvae can penetrate many types of clothing, but high boots and trousers of tightly woven fabric tucked into stockings or boots help deter them.
Before going into an area where chiggers may be present, protect yourself by using a repellent such as deet (Off MGK, Muskol, Detamide, Metadelphene, Repel, Diethy-toluamide) or permethrin available at many drugstores or hardware stores. Deet-based repellents are effective for only a few hours, whereas permethrin-based repellents are for use only on clothing and effective for several days. Apply the repellent to both the skin and clothing, especially on hands, arms, or legs, if uncovered, and to clothing openings at cuffs, neck, waistband, and upper edges of socks. Follow label directions since repellents may damage plastics, nail polish, and painted or varnished surfaces. Do not use indiscriminately as severe human allergies can develop. Keep moving since the worst chigger infestations occur when sitting or laying down in a sunny spot at midday with temperatures above 60°F. If possible, stick to roads and trails.