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Acariasis

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Introduction

  • Cause: Ophionyssus natricis (commonly known as the ‘snake mite’) is the most common mite found on pet reptiles. In addition to snakes, it can affect lizards and rarely chelonians.
  • Signs: pruritus and rubbing behavior, or a change in other behaviors such as hyperactivity or immersing themselves in water more frequently. Mites may be visible on the skin surface or in the reptile’s environment. Mites may directly damage the skin, leading to dysecdysis and potentially secondary bacterial and fungal skin infections. In some cases, severe anemia and dehydration may result and there is the potential for transmission of blood-borne infections between reptiles in a collection.
  • Diagnosis: may be seen with the naked eye but can be confirmed by microscopy of tape impressions smears.
  • Treatment: can be challenging as the mite life cycle is short (7-16 days) so mite populations can escalate quickly. Extended treatment of both the reptile and the environment is required. Poor hygiene, stress and lack of quarantine in collections can exacerbate mite infestations so these must be addressed.
  • Prognosis: good if treatment addresses both the reptile and environment, but it can often be challenging to eliminate mites from a collection.
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Presenting signs

Geographic incidence

  • Worldwide.

Age predisposition

  • May see in young reptiles, eg when kept in overcrowded enclosures such as at pet shops, but no overt age predisposition.

Breed/Species predisposition

  • Less commonly seen in chelonians.

Public health considerations

  • Some people can develop dermatitis due to infection with O. natricis.

Cost considerations

  • Minimal unless multiple animals need treatment and if treatment needs to be prolonged.
  • May have cost considerations regarding replacement of enclosures and vivarium furniture due to recurrent reinfection.

Pathogenesis

Etiology

  • Ophionyssus natricis, the ‘snake mite’.

Predisposing factors

General

  • Contact with infected reptiles, substrate or enclosure.

Specific

  • Stress and overcrowding.
  • Poor enclosure hygiene.
  • Lack of appropriate quarantine procedure within a collection.

Pathophysiology

Timecourse

  • O. natricis:
    • The mite’s life cycle is 7-16 days and is direct so infestations may spread very quickly and may be difficult to eliminate from the environment.
    • Eggs are laid in humid places in the environment such as cracks in wood, enclosure lips and hides. These hatch into larvae which develop into adults through feeding and non-feeding life stages.
    • Adults can live for up to 40 days without feeding.

Epidemiology

  • Transmission is by direct contact with an infested reptile, infested substrate or vivarium/enclosure.

Diagnosis

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Treatment

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Prevention

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Outcomes

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Wiechert J M (2007) Infection of Hermann’s tortoises, Testudo hermanni boettgeri, with the common snake mite, Ophionyssus natricis. J Herpetol Med Surg 17 (2), 53-54 VetMedResource.
  • Wozniak E J & deNardo D F (2000) The biology, clinical significance, and control of the common snake mite, Ophionyssus natricis, in captive reptiles. J Herpetol Med Surg 10 (3), 4-10 VetMedResource.
  • Schultz H (1975) Human infestation by Ophionyssus natricis snake mites. Br J Dermatol 93 (6), 695-697 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Eatwell K & Hedley J (2019) Parasitology. In: BSAVA Manual of Reptiles. 3rd edn. Eds: Girling S J & Raiti P. BSAVA, UK. pp 411-422.
  • Fitzgerald K T (2019) Acariasis. In: Mader’s Reptile and Amphibian Medicine and Surgery. Eds: Divers S J & Stahl S. Elsevier, USA. pp 1290-129.
  • Fraser M A & Girling S J (2019) Dermatology. In: BSAVA Manual of Reptiles. 3rd edn. Eds: Girling S J & Raiti P. BSAVA, UK.
  • Rockwell K & Mitchell M A (2019) Antiparasitic Therapy. In: Mader’s Reptile and Amphibian Medicine and Surgery. Eds: Divers S J & Stahl S. Elsevier, USA. pp 1165-1170.
  • Schneller P & Pantchev N (2008) General parasitology in snakes, lizards and chelonians. In: Parasitology in Snakes, Lizards and Chelonians: A Husbandry Guide. Chimaira, Germany. pp 32-35.