What is causing this and how do we stop it? (kill it. kill it with fire?)
August 18, 2009 9:07 PM   Subscribe

Help identify possible source or cause of these bites!

My SO has been getting some raised / swollen areas on her heel / foot, and one on her pinky finger, beginning four days ago. We believe they are bites, but the source eludes us. She's extremely sensitive to tactile stimuli, so ordinarily she would notice say, a mosquito or similar. At first we suspected the dreaded--shhhh!--bedbug but these bites are occurring during the day, and an exhaustive search (including stripping the bed and laundering everything) turned up nothing.

The bites are extremely itchy at first, swell quickly like a mosquito bite, then recede, except in one case, in which the bite receded somewhat, then blistered, filling with clear liquid (lymph? plasma?).

The size of the bites vary, but they generally range from 5-15 mm in diameter, and the high point of the swelling is perhaps 3 or 4 mm.

Pictures here and here here.

We have an indoor cat, who hasn't been particularly itchy or scratchy--we combed her today, also turned up nothing. If it were fleas, we would see them. Likewise with bedbugs or spiders (but which, under different circumstances, would fit certain diagnostic criteria for bites of this nature).

I vacuumed the other day, and we have regular high-traffic wall-to-wall carpet, which I just crawled over with a high-powered flashlight, literally prying apart the nap to examine. Nothing.

Interestingly, she has gotten several "bites" like this recently, I have been in all the same places, and I have not received a single one. She does not use any skin lotion or any attractant we can identify (no perfume, etc).

She just brushed against the shower curtain five minutes ago, and the one on her pinky "reactivated" and is now itchy again.

We live in a rented condo, have been here for four years, and nothing like this has happened in the past.

We are in upstate New York.
posted by exlotuseater to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
This seems more like skin allergies than actual bugs. I have really sensitive skin and get similar "bites" from shampoo, stress, and creams etc.

However I am not a doctor; just seems like its probably not a bug or fungus if you aren't also falling prey.
posted by shownomercy at 9:49 PM on August 18, 2009

See a dermatologist immediately. They can give you better diagnoses than we can.

I can't tell too well from the photos if the bites have 'eyes'-- pinprick points where the fangs actually sank in. If there aren't eyes, might these not be bites at all? They could be an allergic reaction to something (either topical or internal).
posted by ms.codex at 9:54 PM on August 18, 2009

Those pictures look more like an allergic reaction than a bug bite, and this sentence from your question would seem to indicate an allergic flare-up...

She just brushed against the shower curtain five minutes ago, and the one on her pinky "reactivated" and is now itchy again.
posted by amyms at 9:57 PM on August 18, 2009

She could try taking a Benadryl to see if that will reduce the reaction. This won't identify the source but maybe it gives some relief, and will give you another data point (ie, does this respond to Benadryl, whatever it is).
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:01 PM on August 18, 2009

Sounds more like hives than anything else. Seconding the benadryl suggestion, plus a visit to an allergist.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:23 PM on August 18, 2009

You don't say where you live but if it's anywhere in the southern US, they look like they could ant bites. If so, they can take a week or more to heal and can be pretty itchy and painful.
posted by tamitang at 1:40 AM on August 19, 2009

Fleas would be biting her foot and ankles too, not just her heel. Does she rest her heels against something while sitting? I tend to tuck my heels under the edge of the couch, could she be allergic to something her heels are coming into contact with frequently? I have no good explanation for the finger.
posted by crankylex at 5:44 AM on August 19, 2009

I've had hives, and I've had mysterious please-kill-it-with-fire bites like these - that I still do get. A lot. These bites or stings are very different from hives in my experience. But mine started when we moved to a much more insect-laden place. (I don't know what they are either. I suspect spiders because I see so many of them in the house, but the internet laughs at me. Laughs and laughs.)

Mine mostly (though not always) show up on ankles/feet and fingers, more rarely on upper leg and arm area, very seldom on any part of the trunk area, never on the face/neck - and sometimes do the blister/clear fluid thing. As in your case, my husband never/rarely seems to get these bites, yet I'm not wearing scented attractants. or more specifically, it doesn't seem to matter, with or without. Is a mystery. Maybe we both get the bites, but only I react to them.

At any rate, since unlike me you haven't changed location, it seems odd that this would happen suddenly after nothing for four years. Have you by chance brought in any new plants/bulbs or similar that might have been carrying insect hitchhikers? Probably not firewood in August, right? Or are you early planners? ... Has your SO been doing gardening that might be in a different spot or somehow different than usual? How about her workplace? Any conditions there that might have changed recently? Did anything change in your neighborhood recently? Buildings being torn down or major works? Do you have adjoining apartments? Has anyone moved out or in? You might ask your local USDA Cooperative Extension or University entomology department if there is any general unusual/heightened insect activity in your area. You could also ask if any of your neighbors have been similarly affected.
posted by taz at 6:05 AM on August 19, 2009

I'm going to second the notion of fleas. You don't think you have them until you spot one biting you and jumping away. Bastards. Get a good can of fleaspray, get a flea collar for your cat, and see if that helps.
posted by np312 at 10:36 AM on August 19, 2009

I'll be the one to say it, if only so you can vehemently deny it and prove me wrong, but those look and sound very much like the bites I got during the horrid bedbug phase. The GF (whose apartment hosted the infestation) never got a bite either, even though she was right there next to me. Some people are sensitive to them, and some other fortunate bastards aren't.

Mine didn't always make themselves known first thing in the morning, but would gradually appear over the course of the day.

So, my point is, don't rule out bedbugs. And don't look for them during the day, 'cause if they're there you won't find them in the daytime. You need to go in there at night, with a flashlight, and surprise them.

And I hope to god, for her sake, that it's something else.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:53 AM on August 19, 2009

Response by poster: quick update:

Thanks for your answers. She did go to the Dr., and we're waiting on a culture from one of the bites; she was sent home with cortisone or similar, and a "not sure what this is, call back for results and follow up visit," so I'll update with any details.

Still can't find anything in the bed / rug / floor.
posted by exlotuseater at 3:39 AM on August 20, 2009

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