Moving, don't want to take parasites with me.
December 28, 2009 12:55 AM   Subscribe

I'm itchy at night. I'm worried that my apartment is infested with some sort of parasite. I'm moving in the next few days. How should I proceed?

I'm not sure if I have bed bugs, rat mites, bird mites, scabies, contact dermatitis, or delusional parasitosis, but I get itchy at night, occasionally with a few small, pea sized bumps. I don't know if the bumps are an actual bite, or just hives from me scratching. I seem to get this whenever I lay down in my bed. It's been happening over the past two years. Often enough that I've been paranoid about it. It doesn't seem to happen in other parts of my apartment.

My apartment complex has definitely had bed bugs in the past. There is an entry on bedbugregistry for my apartment complex from 1-2 years ago stating that there were was an infestation in the B building -- I live in the D building. Naturally, this has made me incredibly paranoid, and I've been constantly searching for signs of bed bugs.

I've done a ton of reading at over the past year, so I know what signs to look for. I haven't seen any cast skins, or live or dead bed bugs. I've only had small, brown-red stains on my sheets, indicative of a crushed bed bug. I've seen a stain maybe two times in two years, so it's possible that it's just my boogers or earwax or something. I've seen no fecal matter (smears or pellets). All I've noticed is a large amount of black fuzz/lint, probably because I've been looking over my sheets so thoroughly.

I know bed bugs can be notoriously difficult to pinpoint. But I feel like I should have seen something in the past two years. I work very odd hours, coming home to sleep at all hours of the day or night, and haven't seen a thing. This is with me doing a paranoid look-over of my mattress and sheets, waking up in the middle of the night and looking for any bugs, etc. Not a thing.

Also, my bites aren't the red welts I see in most bed bug bite photos. (I know that people react differently, some not at all. This just makes it more confusing.) And I often get itchy before I fall asleep, with no bugs to be seen. This makes me think that perhaps its something else?

I don't think its scabies, because the itching isn't crazy intense and insatiable. It's more of a dull itch, and it does go away after some time. I haven't seen any "burrows" on my skin, either. Could it be rat mites or bird mites?

My apartment is actually half below ground level, and the windows are very old, so I'm sure lots of dirt, dust, and bugs gets in. There's probably been some mold problems in this complex, too. Or it might just be my paranoia making me hypersensitive to normal itches.

In any case, my lease is up, and I'm moving in the next few days. I know that these parasites suck ass and can move with you, so I don't want to be the jerk and infest my new apartment building. What should I do to ensure that I don't take whatever this is with me?

I'm already tossing out a large portion of my furniture (sofa, loveseat, dresser, etc.). They're all old, and I was planning on replacing them when I moved, anyway. But my mattress is fairly new, so it'd suck to toss it out for nothing. The uncertainty is the worst part -- if I actually saw conclusive evidence of bed bugs, I'd burn it in a heartbeat.

As of right now, the mattress will be the last thing I move. I'll do a thorough inspection of it and my bedroom, maybe buy a steam cleaner and go over it. If I see any bugs, it's getting tossed out. I'll be laundering all of my clothes. Am I just overly paranoid? Should I not take any chances and toss out the mattress by default? Should I see if I can quickly get a PCO to verify if anything is even there? What if its some kind of mites?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Idea 1: Could be fleas. They're very mcuh like bed bugs

Idea 2: My wife and I had a similar reaction just recently. We swapped our laundry detergent and that seemed to do it. No problem with the clothes, though.
posted by GilloD at 1:04 AM on December 28, 2009

I'm going to vote for the laundry detergent being the culprit, along with a healthy dose of imagination.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:13 AM on December 28, 2009

There's a saying in my native country that if you think something is going to make you itch, you're going to itch. It doesn't translate too well! But basically, if you get obsessed with this idea, you'll never *not* feel it. So calm down. If your inspections are clean, you don't have much to worry about.

I'm a little sensitive to perfume smells, so I always use laundry detergent that is free from dyes and scents, which seems to me to be the most logical thing to use anyway. You clothes are in contact with your body, why would you want more chemicals on them? For the same reason, I don't use those horrible dryer sheets. And another thing is, don't *overuse* detergent. I've converted others to this, and they all report feeling a lot less itchy or at least experiencing fewer skin problems. It can save you money to try this, so that's where I'd go.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:22 AM on December 28, 2009

And I often get itchy before I fall asleep, with no bugs to be seen. This makes me think that perhaps its something else?

This is precisely the itchy symptom I suffered from a few weeks ago. I traced it to skin that's become dry due to exposure to the dry air of winter after a pre-bedtime bath or shower.

My remedy involved lathering my skin with an inexpensive moisturizer after emerging from the bath. The itching went away immediately and has yet to return.
posted by Gordion Knott at 2:36 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was popping into to say that dry skin could be the culprit. Applying body moisturizer at night (& if you are somewhere drastically cold, in the morning as well), and investing in a humidifier may solve your problems. The laundry detergent suggestion is a good one, as well.
posted by katemcd at 4:36 AM on December 28, 2009

I'm chiming in with the laundry detergent, dryness etc,
but if you want to be more cautious, just put an allergen cover over the mattress, and put your pillows, bedding etc through a dryer for at least 15mins on hot.
posted by Elysum at 4:51 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had this problem recently with dust mites. I started using a bedroom that I hadn't used in months without properly cleaning it first.

I had raised bumps (hives) all over my lower legs, and sometimes around my waist area. After I removed all the linen and washed in hot, hot water, and did a very very thorough cleaning of the room, (you would not believe the amount of dust that had accumulated under and around the bed). I then vacuumed and used a hand steamer on the mattress.

Problem solved. Before doing this I had tried changing laundry detergents thinking it might be a reaction, but that didn't make sense to me because these are sheets and detergents that I had used for years. It also didn't help. I also have incredibly dry skin, moreso in the winter, but again, this was a condition I had always had, so it didn't make sense that all of a sudden I would be reacting this way. I had no pets in the house for quite a while, so fleas were very unlikely as well.

It wasn't until I got rid of the dust in the entire room that the issue was solved.
It might not be dust mites, it might be some other type of mite, and I'm not sure if this would work in every case, but I would still recommend steaming the mattress.

Until I figured out what the problem was and solved it, I had a tube of hydrocortisone cream next to the bed so that whenever I started itching I could put this on and sleep through the rest of the night.
posted by newpotato at 6:09 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Extremely low humidity levels?
posted by Chuckles at 7:01 AM on December 28, 2009

If it's dust mites or bed bugs, putting your mattress- and box spring - in a mattress encasement should solve the problem when you move. Don't get suckered into buying one from the specialty bedbug places either - you can get exactly the same thing from any big Mart store for about half the price: they should cost around $30 - $40 each.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:16 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

This does not sound like a case of bed bugs. If you'd had them for two years, you would have seen conclusive evidence for now (conclusive evidence = a bug confirmed by an entymologist). It's very easy to get sucked into the panic mode.

Having said that, if you just want to set your mind at ease (though not your wallet), there are two surefire ways to kill all bed bugs and eggs in one go, Both of which can be done on a moving van:

Thermal remediation - 110 F is the kill point for all stages bed bugs and their eggs, but they usually heat for hotter and longer depending on how densely packed everything is

Vikane fumigation - Vikane is an odorless colorless gas that gets into all crevices and kills basically anything. They tent the truck and then release the gas for a few hours and then air it out for another few.

Both of these solutions can be get expensive. Another alternative is to get a scent detection dog to see if the dog finds anything. The only study I've been able to find on them says that they can be 98% accurate. The best way to find one is to find a team in your area that is NESDCA certified.

Oh, I almost forgot: the first thing you might want to try is this low-cost DIY monitor that Wan-Tien Tsai of Rutgers University in New Brunswick has been testing.

Again, it does not sound like you have bed bugs - it sounds like you fell down the paranoia hole from reading with too few grains of salt. It's very easy to convince yourself that you are itchy, especially while reading vulnerable people's panicky posts about itches and blemishes and creepy bugs that bite you in the middle of the night.
posted by nomad at 10:12 AM on December 28, 2009

Does it get better or worse the first night after laundering/changing your sheets? If better, I'd say dust mites; if worse, more likely laundry detergent allergy. I'm allergic to dust mites, and I can always tell if I need to wash my sheets because I will start to itch at night.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:21 AM on December 28, 2009

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