Author: Cheng Huang, Dermatology registrar, Waikato Hospital, Hamilton, New Zealand. Edited by: Joanne Petrie. DermNet New Zealand Editor in Chief: Adjunct A/Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand. September 2018.
Bird mites are minute (less than 1 mm long), oval-shaped arachnids with 8 legs. There are several species of bird mite. The most common species that affects humans in Australia is the domestic starling mite, Ornithonyssus bursa, from the family Macronyssidae; and the red poultry mite Dermanyssus, from the family Dermanyssidae .
Bird mites are naturally found where birds (such as poultry, sparrows, starlings or pigeons) and their nests are located. Bird mites prefer warm and humid living conditions and are most active during the spring and early summer.
Bird mites normally feed on the blood of birds. After young birds leave their nests, the mites may encounter humans while searching for a new bird host. Bird mites can bite anywhere on the human body but are more often experienced on exposed skin.
Although they may feed on human blood, bird mites are not able to complete their life cycle on humans and they do not burrow beneath the skin [2,3,4].
People who are at high risk of bird mite infestations include poultry farmers; people living in close proximity to bird nests; people who rear birds as a hobby (pigeon racers, breeders, pet keepers, etc); vets and zoo workers. Exposure to bird mites can also occur when using second-hand furniture, or when working/living in buildings which have been infested by bird mites.
A bird mite infestation presents as itchy bites.
Complications of bird mite infestation may include:
Suspicion of bird mite infestation should be raised when the patient presents with symptoms and clinical features of scabies but is not responding to appropriate treatment. A detailed history should be taken considering the season and the time of day when symptoms occur, the patient’s occupation, hobbies and living conditions.
Bird mites are too small to be seen without magnification. They can be collected with transparent adhesive tape and examined with a microscope. Identification of the species might require consultation with a specialist entomologist.
Bird mite infestation can be clinically difficult to distinguish from other mite and insect infestations such as scabies, fleas, body lice, mosquitoes, sand flies, horse flies, spiders, centipedes, bed bugs, ticks, midges, and harvest mites. [3,5]. Unlike scabies mites, bird mites do not result in burrows in the skin.
Treatment involves identifying and eradicating the mites.
The skin should be cleansed to remove any mites.
Bird mite infestation can be prevented by removing bird nests located near living and working areas.
The bites should clear up after bird mites are successfully eradicated.
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