The Nite of the Mites

July 6, 2014 in General Topics

I’m so busy these days churning out my actual writing that I don’t get to spend as much time on the blog as I wish I could. And that’s a shame, because I always envisioned it as the chief portal by which all of you out there might interact with me. Right now, for example, I’m killing myself on Beacon- Part VIII. It’s the conclusion, it’s going to be as good as I can make it, and I’m 32,000 words deep into it already. While it’s flowing so well, my priority hasn’t been on updating the blog.

And then, of course, sometimes I can’t get to the blog to post any sort of update because life decides to intervene. And that’s exactly what happened in June. My family went through an experience so surreal that it just deserves a note dropped into the electronic ether.

First, as I told all of you earlier, my new baby girl, Hadley Faith, was born. Huzzah! She’s adorable, very sweet, and very healthy. And there’s some truth to the adage that the second child is easier. That’s not to say our first, Elianna, was hell on a diaper. Rather, we’re obviously more experienced the second time around.

What we didn’t know, returning home from our hospital stay, was that mother nature had also delivered something else: bird mites.

If you’ve never heard of those before, then don’t worry: I hadn’t either. Bird mites are a kind of avian parasite that can mass-produce into the tens of thousands when there is a ready host on-site. By “on-site”, in this case I mean a bird’s nest that had been established in our downstairs bathroom’s fan outlet vent. Thanks to a builder deciding to save two or three dollars, the laundry vent and this vent both didn’t have any sort of animal barrier on them; not even chicken wire. So a bunch of sparrows or starlings raised a nest of babies inside, and one of them brought these mites with them.

Sometime during our hospital stay, said birds learned how to fly! Wonderful! The only problem is that the mites–now denied their food source–went looking for takeout.

I first noticed the little bastards in the dozens in my upstairs master bath’s window. It took me a while to realize that what I was looking at–each about the size of a pepper flake–was moving. These things are so small that if you pick one up, it’ll move around on your finger and prove hard to squish, because they seem to fit into the massive canyonland of your fingerprint swirls.

I called up my pest control service and begged them to come out early the next day, and while I did I acquainted myself with my enemy via a magnifying glass. It appeared that both the upstairs and downstairs bathrooms had become infested with northern fowl mites. And the things were everywhere, including starting their spread into the bedrooms.

The first day I spent several hours cleaning the house myself, especially our upstairs bedroom, trying to make a “clean zone” for us to sleep. No dice. We were bombarded by pin-prick bites all night. It seems these little things can’t infest humans, but they’ll make “test bites” on people to see if the blood source will prove acceptable. That night was maddening for all three of us.

I want to touch on the other source of our anxiety–the sad misfortune of reading various websites that described all sorts of post-apocalyptic scenarios involving these little vermin. I read about people claiming these things infest the nostrils, the genitalia, the eyes, the ears. I read horror stories of folks tearing out all their carpet and having to smear themselves in gasoline or vasoline or chicken tetrazzini. People were lighting themselves on fire. Moving across the country. Salting the earth where the mites had been.

I’m exaggerating, of course, but you get the idea.

It’s scary when you’ve encountered something you’ve never run into before, and find that the information out there on the web is a mix of conflicting and alarmist. And so that’s my main motivation to take the time and write this post. If I can save someone from all that mental agony, then it’s worth it for me.

We attacked these bugs head on. First, the nests were removed and the offending entry points nuked with a high-end contact killer, administered by our pest guys in full-on respirator gear. Then most of the rooms of the house were hit with a high-end “safer for residential areas” spray by the same folks. As I’m anal about this sort of stuff, I worked in tandem with the pest guys. I was flipping furniture upside down so they could get into the guts an inner workings.

I quarantined our three cats in a safe place with full ventilation, water, and food, keeping them away from the chemicals. We then spent a night at a hotel (fun fact: this mess was how I spent my birthday) while the fumes did the work.

When I came back the next day, I’d already called the troops over. My brother, mom and I aired out the house, and proceeded to go into full-on cleanup mode.


  • Mopped the walls.
  • Shampooed the carpets and furniture.
  • Bagged up all clothing and washed and dried it all (this took a few days).
  • Bagged up all fabric items (toys, etc) and washed and dried them all.
  • Mopped the floors.
  • Wrapped the mattresses and box springs in vinyl covers.
  • Washed the cats (or rather, I did–at one that next morning).

Rooms were blocked off with towels sprayed with Orkin Home Defense Max, creating a kill zone around each door frame. This allowed us to move from high priority to low priority rooms, only opening them up when we were ready.

That night, I had *one* bite, which might not have even been a bite. Since then? Nothing, other than some brief mentally-oriented “ghost bites” one night earlier this week.

My guess is that a lot of the people that have posted their horror stories were in full-on freakout mode, in that same place I was (minus the added joy and stress and sleep deprivation added by the presence of a newborn). I know that if I had done all that work and spent all that money over the course of a few days, that if the bugs had come back I would have had a mental breakdown.

But that’s the thing–they didn’t. Lo and behold, through aggressive treatment, action and (and this is key) identifying and removing the source of the issue (the nest)–the bird mites were annihilated. This was not the life-ending, soul-crushing end-of-days scenario that so many people screamed about on the web.

This was three days of suck, followed by victory. Fin.

My assumption, looking back, is that most people in panic mode posting “HOW DO I KILL THEM?!!!!” on the web wouldn’t return to these same threads and post triumphant updates once the issue is resolved. Why would they want too? The whole experience was traumatic and occupied all their mental energy. Who could blame them for wanting the bugs dead and never wanting to look back?

So I wanted to write this to give those out there that have encountered these things, and are searching around the web and now freaking out, a reality check. And to do that, I just want you in that position to focus on a few things:

1. I couldn’t find an entomologist, anywhere, that was claiming these things lasted any real time on humans. The response was universal: annoying test bites, sure, but never more than a week or two of life inside the home once the source of the infestation (the nest or nests) are/were removed. Our houses are bad environments for mites–they’re climate-controlled, we don’t have the right kind of blood, etc.

2. Getting rid of the source is the key. Look carefully at the horror stories, and see how many of them aren’t really bird mite issues, but issues with landlords that won’t bring in pest service companies to get rid of bird nests, etc.

A roach infestation sucks, right? But if it’s a crappy apartment complex that’s to blame for the roaches in such numbers, then why would you say that’s primarily an aspect of the roaches, and not of crappy apartment complexes run by horrible landlords? If you drove around without a tire on one of your wheels, would you say cars are death traps because of the sparks and fire?

3. If bird mites are so completely impossible to get rid of, why aren’t they well-known among homeowners? Think about it: Why aren’t these things already as infamous as bed bugs? Why did you have to go searching the web for info on them? Why don’t we lull kids to sleep telling them not to let the bird mites bite? Why does my pest service charge 1/3 as much to treat bird mites as opposed to bed bugs?

4. Delusional parisitosis is real. “Ghost bites” following an infestation are real. The skin has its own memory, too–just earlier this week (as I alluded to earlier) I was thinking about the mites and I started to “feel” them biting again. I’ve since gotten over it. It’s just human nature to be weirded out by this stuff. And I’m not pointing fingers at anyone, but I will say this: getting treatment for mental health issues is so important. Even if you’re sure that no one understands you, and that bugs are really under your skin–get treated. I mean, let’s look at the two possible outcomes: it isn’t a mental disorder, and you move on–or it is, and you save yourself a lot of grief and tens of thousands of dollars and potentially health-threatening levels of stress and exhaustion. Look at all options.

Anyway, so ends the bird mite encounter. May I never see them again (and with the bird cages over our vents, we shouldn’t). I hope this post helps someone out there who’s Googling around and worried sick to step back and take a breath.

I know you’re getting bitten now, and maybe your loved ones, too, and I know that sucks. But take action, take common-sense house-cleaning steps after that action, and whatever you do, after you read this and get the professionals involved, do me a favor:

Stay off the web. Come back later post-infestation and post somewhere–anywhere–that you killed those things 🙂 The next person will appreciate you.