Friday, August 15, 2014

Brits have mystery bugs too

Mites, like this rodent mite, are often blamed for mysterious
"bites" by sufferers of delusions of parasitosis.  But real mites
are rarely found in such cases.
A British weekly cultural and current affairs magazine, The New Statesman, yesterday published an article by a physician, Phil Whitaker, on his encounter with a delusional parasitosis patient.  I found it interesting because the description of how he handled a sufferer of delusions of parasitosis, a not-uncommon condition encountered by PMPs here "across the water" in the U.S.

Delusions of parasitosis is a mental illness in which the sufferer complains of non-existent insects or mites crawling on their skin, biting, or burrowing into their bodies.  In the past a clinical symptom of the condition was frequently referred to as "the matchbox sign". This came from the observation that sufferers often carried to the pest control professional, or physician, a small matchbox supposedly containing samples of a parasitic insect that was making life miserable.  Today, it's more likely to be a ziploc bag or plastic pill jar, or pieces of tape on a sheet of paper carrying the mystery samples.

The only point in his article on which I would disagree with Dr. Whitaker is the frequency, at least here in the States, of delusional parasitosis. He calls it rare. Based on stories I hear from likely delusional patients, I don't think it is. If I can believe half of the stories, doctors--at least here in the big city, Dallas--seem to be pretty aware, and a little gun shy, of anyone coming into their office complaining of "invisible bugs".  From my perspective it seems like the medical community could better help these patients by being better informed of the illness and of the available treatments.  This is a serious and highly disruptive mental illness, and one that often leaves pest management professionals confused and frustrated.

Our role in the pest management field is, of course, to take all complaints of biting pests seriously.  After all, our expertise is, or should be, to be very familiar with all biting pests likely to be in a home. Bird and rodent mite calls seem to be more common this year than ever before, a situation I blame on some very bad information being promoted on the Internet.  To learn more about biting mites, what they can and can't do, check out my biting mites in homes fact sheet.  And for a more general publication to share with customers who complain of mystery bugs, click here.

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