Do I have bugs? How can I tell? What should I do?
May 6, 2010 11:12 AM   Subscribe

Something is biting me. I think it might be bedbugs. But last time I thought I had bedbugs it turned out to be something else entirely. So, how can I figure out for sure what it is? What precautions should I take? And, perhaps more importantly, how do I notify my roommates in a timely fashion without unnecessarily freaking them out if it turns out to be a non-problem?

I woke up this morning with four itchy red bumps in a row just above the waistband of my pajama pants--which, from what I've read, seems like pretty classic bedbug bite patterns. But this is the first evidence I've seen, and last time I was convinced I had bedbugs it turned out not to be bug-related at all; it was just a mild allergic reaction to some medication I was taking at the time. (I am a little bit of a hypochondriac, and I do have a habit of jumping to the worst-case scenario with regards to symptoms.) How can I figure out what's really going on?

I rent a room from a couple of friends of mine, who own the house, so I'm also unsure about what I should tell them about this. I don't want to freak them out if it turns out to be nothing, but I also want to do the responsible thing and let them know what's going on so they can decide what to do. I already had plans to move out soon, which should make quarantining my stuff easier if it turns out to be necessary. To complicate matters a bit more, I'm a much more likely vector for infection than they are, since I travel a fair bit as part of my work. If there's a problem and it can be traced to me, do I have an ethical obligation to pay for the whole exterminating process? It would be something of a financial hardship for me to have to do so (there's a reason I'm renting a small basement room) but I want to do the right thing. For that matter, if there's a problem and it *can't* be traced to anyone in particular, what are my obligations then?

Finally, what precautions should I be taking? Should I put everything in plastic bags now, just in case? Should I dust my baseboards with insecticide? If I go through with my plans to visit friends out of town later this month, should I take measures to quarantine my luggage? Is it too soon to panic?

Email for questions:
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Before you fall in love with the ideo of bedbugs, check for ants around your bed. those assholes bite too.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:24 AM on May 6, 2010

My first reaction to bites all in a row would be fleas. Bites just under a tight part of clothing would be chiggers (but that's unlikely inside). A big part of the answer would depend on where you live and what else is around. Unless you know bedbugs are common in you neighborhood, I would go with that right off.
posted by Some1 at 11:38 AM on May 6, 2010

If you have a specific reason to suspect bedbugs, call an exterminator and have them check for bedbugs. If you don't have a specific reason to suspect bedbugs, personally I'd wait a while and see if things clear up on their own first; there are a lot of different reasons other than bedbugs you might be waking up with a few itchy bumps on your skin.

Save the worries about the financial hardship of exterminating the house or whose ethical obligation it would be or should you use insecticide or quarantine your luggage or bag your belongings and so on for after. You're jumping to the worst-case scenario.
posted by ook at 11:48 AM on May 6, 2010

If you think it might be bedbugs, go to and learn how to spot them. (Actually, anyone who travels a lot should go there and learn how to inspect a room.)

There are lots of biting insects. There is no reason to jump straight to bedbugs.

I've had bedbugs (and will again, since I live in a rowhouse). Not everyone reacts to their bites - I don't. Once you know what to look for, they aren't all that hard to spot. They are gross as all hell, but are not a disease vector (yet). You can bet that I inspect every place I sleep before laying down.

They are very difficult to get rid of. You need an exterminator who actually knows about bedbugs (as opposed to the other 99 out of a 100 who'll just tell you they do). Again, the info on will really help with figuring out how to hire a decent exterminator. Do not use insecticide, it just makes it harder on the exterminator. There is nothing you can get (except dichotomous earth) that can help.

Don't panic, get educated. You'll be fine. I've survived three bedbug infestations without green spots or hot pink horns.
posted by QIbHom at 12:04 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

To carry on with QIbHorn's link, this page suggests interceptors...which is such a cool idea I wish I'd thought of it.

That seems like an easy way to check and see if there are creepies crawling around.

Were it me, and I found a couple of bites, I'd assume ants, chiggers or mosquitoes...possibly fleas; but I live in the south with a passel of critters and children around the place tracking in god only knows what.
posted by dejah420 at 12:29 PM on May 6, 2010

My friend just had scabies, which is a mite that can leave evidence pretty similar to bedbugs. It was a very easy fix, just applied a lotion (insecticide) and the bites stopped appearing. Probably much better than bedbugs because they can't live off the host (you) for more than 24 hours.
posted by palacewalls at 2:56 PM on May 6, 2010

dichotomous earth

For your Googling ease, try diatomaceous earth.
posted by Sallyfur at 4:41 PM on May 6, 2010

Thank you, Sallyfur. Dyslexics Untie!
posted by QIbHom at 5:18 AM on May 7, 2010

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