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While it's possible for you to pick up certain mites from horses, don't panic about the possibility. Mites are species specific, so even if they get on you, they'll die in a few days. You might experience an itchy rash or bumps from the mites, but over-the-counter anti-itch products should take care of the problem. If the itching or rash doesn't go away in a couple of days, see the doctor.
Mange mites (Sarcoptes scabiei) cause a condition in equines called scabies. Horses with healthy immune systems usually aren't affected by scabies, but sick or debilitated animals are vulnerable. Horses with scabies suffer intense itching, with lesions appearing initially on the shoulders, head and neck. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, the lesions start out as small papules that develop into crusts. Hair loss ensues, along with the development of folds in the skin that can spread over the entire body.
To treat scabies, your vet might recommend sponging your horse with a lime sulfur dip several times over a two-week period, along with administering certain wormers that also act as miticides. Any equine the mangy horse has been in contact must receive treatment. Don't touch other horses after treating the mangy horse; bathe, and wash the clothes you were wearing in hot, soapy water to kill mites. While the equine mange mite won't live on you, human mange mites also exist. If you've had any direct contact with someone diagnosed with human mange, see your doctor.
Itchy harvest mites (Trombiculaal freddugesi), also known as chiggers, usually infest horses under the chin, along the neckline, legs and abdomen. While you can't see the mites on horses, you'll see scabby areas discharging serum. Your dogs and cats also attract these little pests. If the chiggers get on you, you'll itch pretty badly. Ask your vet about a miticide to eradicate chiggers on your horse. Your vet might prescribe medication to soothe your itchy equine.
Forage mites (Pyemotes tritici) are found in hay, straw and grain. They can infest your horse, causing wheals and itching. These can also cause itching in you. If you start itching from forage mites, you probably got them not from your horse but from contact with the infested forage.
Since the advent of wormers such as ivermectin and moxidectin, both of which contain miticides, mites are no longer a common problem in horses who receive good care. Since not all horses receive adequate care, ask your vet about using these wormers if you're rescuing or rehabilitating horses. Severely neglected horses who have mites shouldn't be wormed right away, as the impact of a huge worm kill-off could kill such horses. As a general precaution, every horse should have his own set of brushes, blankets and saddle pads so these items aren't used interchangeably on various equines.
- North Carolina State University: Mites That "Bug" People
- Iowa State University: Mange and Scabies Acariasis
- National Centre for Farmer Health: Scabies
- Merck Veterinary Manual: Mange in Horses
- Alabama Cooperative Extension System: Control of Chorioptic Mange Mites on Horses, Donkeys, and Mules
- Middletown Animal Hospital: Itchy Harvest Mites
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images