All you need to know about the house dust mite
For the Curious

House dust mites - one of UK's deadliest animals

Recently the BBC's on-line Earth News suggested that house dust mites were one of the deadliest animals in the UK because of their propensity to instigate severe allergic reactions, such as asthma. They report around 20% of the UK population is sensitised to the mite; 90% of the country's five million plus allergic asthmatics report the mite as a trigger; and in 2008 alone, over twelve hundred people died from an asthma attack.

What makes the allergy causing house dust mite so dangerous?

As an effective scavenger of a wide-range of organic matter, the house dust mite needs to depend upon its many digestive enzymes to break-down tough, often fibrous, foods. Unfortunately one of the mite's digestive enzymes is very similar to one produced by a parasitic mange mite that harms sheep and goats. Doctors now think that it is this similarity that may be the trigger for a harmful allergic reaction in house dust mite sensitive people. Their immune system has identified the house dust mite as a parasite, and a threat to their health.

House dust mites do not bite in the usual way, but their digestive enzymes can harm delicate cells in the eyes, nose, lungs and on skin. In vulnerable people this harm may result in an allergic reaction that, in the case of asthma, can be deadly.

The biology, ecology and allergenicity of house dust mites should be studied in schools as a project in life science. In this way older children can learn about the interesting, tiny, uninvited animal that may share their homes. The benefit will be that children grow-up with a basic understanding of the mite, and why it's a major cause of allergic diseases of asthma, rhinitis, and eczema. One of the spin-offs of a school project could be that carers and parents of allergic children may taking an interest during the educational process.


References

BBC's Earth News, on-line,Tiny Terrors, November 12th 2010

Cutaneous hypersensitivity reactions to Psoroptes ovis and Der p1 in sheep previously infested with P ovis, the sheep scab mite, Van den Broek AH, Huntley JF, Halliwell RE, Machell J, Taylor M, Miller HR, Vet. 'Immunol. Immunopathol'. 2003,30,91(2):105-17

Digestive Physiology of Synanthropic Mites (Acari:Acaridida), Tomas Erban and Jan Hubert, SOAJ Entomological Studies,Vol.1 (2012) 1-32

The effect of Psoroptes ovis infestation on ovine epidermal barrier function, Stoeckli MR,Mc NeillyTN, Frew D, Marr, EJ, Nisbet AJ, van den Broek AHM, Brugesss STG,Veterinary Research, 2013, 44:11