Dale Fort Blog Number 28

7 03 2014

 HOUSE DUST MITES

House dust mitesA contented flock of house dust mites graze their way gently across your underwear

Whilst not in the same league as Tardigrades for resilience (see Blog Number 27), house dust mites still manage to be more or less a universal inhabitant of our houses.  Their food mainly comprises the flakes of human skin that continuously slough off our outer layer.  A human loses about a pound of skin a year in this way, so if they didn’t eat it, after a couple of decades you could be wading thigh deep through your own epidermis.

 Eating up the mess we make could be seen as a useful service but there’s a problem with house dust mites and it relates to their rather poor digestive systems.  They have only a simple gut, without a stomach and their food is not digested on a single passage through the tube.  They get around this by secreting enzymes and a fungus on to skin particles.  The fungus helps to digest the food (saprophytic nutrition).  They then eat the little lump of skin and it passes through partially digested.  They then eat it again and again and again.  After about the fourth time they can no longer get anymore nutriment out of it and it becomes reclassified as faecal matter.

house dust mite

These little lumps of mite-poo are very light and once airborne can remain so for hours.  Sitting on the sofa, bouncing on the bed and similar exciting human activities can easily cause up to 15.456 billion of them to be launched into the air.  (Actually I made that last bit up but nevertheless it’s lots and lots).

 They are chock-full of digestive enzymes from the mite’s digestive system.  (Enzymes are the proteins help speed (or catalyse) up the chemical reactions that keep mites and everyone else alive).  Some people are extremely sensitive to them and when they breathe them in the protein digesting enzymes begin to attack their lungs.  Asthma, dermatitis, conjunctivitis and sore throats may result.

Our warm, carpeted, softly furnished houses provide ideal conditions for house dust mites.  They are particularly sensitive to desiccation but find a perfect environment inside mattresses which are topped up nightly with sweat, saliva and possibly worse by their human occupants.  They are known to move up and down the fibres of carpets in order to regulate their humidity.  It is believed by many that the huge increases in asthma and allergies in recent times might be put down to the inhalation of these particles.

   The way around it is to sleep on an impervious mattress, vacuum more or less continuously with a vortex machine or one with a special filter and wash all your bedding and clothing at more than 60OC every couple of days.  Alternatively, you could become a naturist and move into a cave or shipping container or similar. It might be cold, draughty and hard-surfaced but there will be very few house dust mites (no sofas or comfy beds allowed of course).

Look out for Blog 29 which will be extremely alluring in its own way…….

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