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Diagnosis: Delicious – Are you being eaten up by bedbugs?

Posted: October 1st, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

A recent commenter on our post about healing bedbug bite scars brought up the difficulty in finding the true source of an insect bite. I asked her to send in a photo, and maybe some of our readers can weigh in on whether or not these look like bedbug bites.

S. B. writes in: “A couple of these, I am sure are mosquito bites.  I often get lots of them.  But these have lasted weirdly long.  The bite on the bottom left of the picture, below my left knee, is brand new.  It is a large red area with a yellowish center.  Like it was instantly kinda infecty.  That happened at work today.”

S.B., I understand the worry. Are they or aren’t they? Many workplaces are infested with bedbugs, including Google and Sirius Radio. It’s not anyone’s fault, exactly. The bedbugs stick out a figurative thumb and ride in on someone who is unlucky enough to have a home infestation, and then they will spread like carnies until systematically eliminated. It’s easy to experience anxiety. Just this morning, I woke up and found an itchy spot on my hip and immediately entertained thoughts of combing over my mattress with a magnifying glass and calling in sniffer beagles. The spot turned out to be a healing cut from a few weeks back. Oops. I am going to sue myself if I develop delusional parasitosis from this gig.

Bedbug bites are tough to distinguish from the bites of mosquitos, fleas, mites, and biting flies. However, they typically feed at night, in the pre-dawn hours, and you would likely see greater distribution over the body, including on the torso and arms. This WebMD slideshow on bedbug bites points out that the bites often occur in a haphazard line (Slide 5). Since the bugs shoot you up with a topical anesthesia when they bite, they often move from spot to spot without you even noticing. They might as well queue up for a tiny conga line: you won’t feel a thing at the time.

Other bite patterns may present, though. It depends on the individual situation to some degree. Another common pattern is known as “breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” or b-l-d. This refers to a cluster of 3 bites close together. You can find gallery after gallery of bedbug bite photos on Flickr, and you will notice they all look somewhat different. It’s tempting to agonize over the appearance of bites, but searching the environment is more productive. Even dermatologists and entomologists can have trouble determining the source of bites.

Given that your bites occurred during daylight and are confined to one area of the body with seemingly random distribution, I’d wager that those are not bedbug bites, or at least not the product of you bringing them in from home. Mosquitos are a possibility. Fleas go for the ankles and lower legs. The poor little creatures can’t jump much higher!  If you feel an actual sting/bite sensation, I’d be even more inclined to think of another insect besides bedbugs.

Of course you’ll want to check your chair, desk, other furniture, and your general work area for bedbug signs: shed casings, dead bedbugs, dark black or rusty spots (feces), or very rarely you might see a live bedbug. You should perform this same inspection in your own bedroom, paying special attention to mattress creases and cracks and crevices in headboards and night stands, including recessed holes for screws.

Are others in your office also suffering from bites? It’s worth reporting that you are being bitten to an office manager or building services just so they can keep track in the event that others have the same issue. It is certainly embarrassing to even entertain the speculation, but if more people are forthcoming, workplace situations might be sooner taken in hand.

So pending the finding of actual bedbug signs besides bites, I’m going to guess you are in the clear, but you should maintain diligence with inspecting your surroundings. If you find nothing but are still concerned, there are commercial bedbug detector products on the market, which we will be discussing soon. What think you, gentle readers?