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Good Question: What Are Chiggers And How Do You Get Them?

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(credit: CBS) John Lauritsen
John Lauritsen is a reporter from Montevideo, Minn. He joined WCCO-...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — You hear people complain about them all the time in the summer: chigger bites.

For some people, they are even worse than mosquito bites because more can attack at once and they can leave you itchy for days.

Chiggers are ugly, little beasts that look like something out of a bad sci-fi movie.

“Chiggers are an immature form of a free-living mite,” said Jeff Hahn, an entomologist with University of Minnesota Extension.

He says chiggers are basically juvenile mites. They’re like ticks, but they don’t drink our blood, and they don’t burrow into our skin.

Instead, they have a taste for dissolved body tissues. Disgusting, yes, but you won’t find them in the water.

“And that’s something I hear people saying, thinking they are associated with lakes,” Hahn said. “They’re really not.”

So if it’s not chiggers biting us in the lake, what is it?

“Swimmer’s itch seems to be shorter lasting and less common,” Hahn said.

Swimmer’s itch is actually a flatworm — a type of parasite that infests ducks, snails and, occasionally, humans.

It bites us, and like chiggers, it may take a couple days for the marks to show up.

And when they do, they often look a lot like chigger bites.

“If you’ve been swimming and you get something later, it’s probably swimmer’s itch,” Hahn said.

Here’s another disturbing fact: Chiggers can attach themselves to us for several days and they’re too small to see.

Hahn says the best treatment for chiggers and the Swimmer’s itch flatworm is to take a soapy bath or shower after you’ve been in the woods or water.

The best prevention for chiggers is any insect repellent with DEET in it.

The best prevention for Swimmer’s itch is to simply not go in the water where Swimmer’s itch is suspected.

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