Archived Story

The many remedies for chigger bites

Published 7:52pm Friday, July 18, 2014

You might be happy to learn that my chigger bites are starting to shrink. I know I am. And I’m even happier to report that I had a number of responses to my plea for a good chigger repellent.
Last Saturday, I wrote that I had 10 chigger bites after a short walk in the woods. That figure grew to 16 by mid week, when all the little redbug nibbles had time to blossom into full-blown chigger bites. They covered about 5 feet of me, from my ankles to my shoulder.
I’m actually quite proud of my self discipline. I adopted the stoic, stiff-upper-lip, I won’t-let-them-beat-me attitude that I’ve seen British military officers take against their tormentors in prison camp movies. That took some willpower, because what I really wanted to do was adopt my dog’s stance on the floor, bent over and chatter-gnawing and scratching hard enough to make light bulbs rattle in their sockets.
The stoic approach worked. Not one person remarked about me scratching in public.
And I can now take a deep breath and start to relax my tough guy act.
It would have been much, much easier if I had known last week what I know now.
Dr. B.B. Sellers’  wrote a letter to the editor suggesting I try taking 250 mg of vitamin B1 (thiamine) before heading into the woods. Others have echoed that remark, telling me they have had success using the vitamin repellent.
Dr. Sellers wrote, “… taken by mouth, thiamine is absorbed well into the blood stream and is secreted into every body fluid, including sweat. Although you will not be able to smell it, the bugs really hate the smell.”
I bought some, and took 250 mg to try it out, walking very briefly (with 16 amazingly itchy bites still doing their thing) though the same chiggery woods that I visited the week before. I don’t think I got one additional bite.
Andrea Peacock wrote and said she had some lavender essential oil that “smells nicely antiseptic, not so much like a grandmother” and some peppermint and lemongrass oils, too. All three are supposed to be good at keeping chiggers at bay.
Then I heard from another sympathizer who wrote a not-for-publication email about his experience getting swarmed by chiggers during Army ROTC training held in “the chigger capital of the world.” He and some of his Army buddies bought dog flea collars, cut them in half and used a sock to tie them around each leg above their boots.
“The surprising thing is that it worked …. Wearing them for the short times we were out in the field seemed to cause me no harm, and kept chiggers away, which at the time was the more important thing.”
Evidently, if you can believe what you read online, flea collars have been used by others with success. WARNING: I also learned online that some flea collars carry warnings because they contain ingredients that can cause cancer (Propoxur) or could cause nerve damage (Tetrachlorvinphos), especially in young children.
Finally, Dr. Eric Tyler called and said that scrubbing with a baking soda solution after you get out of the woods will wash away the chiggers before they have a chance to bite. He says it works, and I believe him.
I’m thinking a one-two punch of doctors’ advice would be the best practice: vitamins before you go and baking soda as soon as you get back.
I’ll let you know how that plan works out when I work up the courage to spend some extended time in my chiggery woods this summer.
Boone is publisher of The Outlook.