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FOR RELEASE: September 22, 2004
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Health Departments Identify Cause of Rash as Mite Bites

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is collaborating with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to respond to public inquiries about a rash illness experienced by some persons in northeastern Oklahoma and southeastern Kansas.

An investigation indicates the rash appears to be the result of bites from the straw itch mite, not a communicable disease. This mite is invisible to the naked eye and is a parasite that feeds on insect larvae associated with grain and storage. They are small enough to float in the breeze like dust.

Persons in southeast Kansas have reported the rash to local health authorities and county health departments in Oklahoma’s Ottawa, Craig and Tulsa counties have also reported cases similar to the rash illness seen in southeastern Kansas.

“We are working with the county health departments and local providers to identify how many people currently have the rash. It is not contagious and generally clears in a week or two,” said Sara Russell, epidemiologist for the OSDH.

Kansas and Oklahoma health officials recommend the use of insect repellent containing DEET for preventing the bites. Avoid grassy areas, and shower with plenty of soap and water after being in grassy areas. Oral antihistamines and topical anti-itch creams have been useful in alleviating the discomfort caused by the bites. In most cases the bites clear in one to two weeks. If you continue to have discomfort, see your physician.

Health officials say spraying outdoors for mites is not effective and that mite populations should decrease or completely disappear with our first frost. There is no evidence that the bites transmit disease, or that mites can be spread from one person to another.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health joins teams from CDC, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Kansas State University, University of Nebraska, Kansas Department of Agriculture, Pittsburg State University, Kansas State Extension, and the Kansas Crawford County Health Department as they continue to investigate the rash illness.

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