Do I need an exterminator, or a psychiatrist?
November 14, 2010 1:48 PM   Subscribe

Do I have bedbugs, or is it in my head?

My apartment: Student housing in an area (eastern Washington) that has NOT been linked to bedbug infestations. Moved in three months ago.
I have mostly rental furniture, including my bed. I'll be honest and say that the mattress is pretty gross-looking--dirty, scuffed edges, suspicious-looking dark stains. Initially, I threw a mattress cover over it and called it a day.
I've had furniture delivered and a houseguest (travelling through from Paris) within the last two weeks.
I have found one stain on the mattress cover that looks like a smear of blood, but there are definitely other things that could've caused it (me: prone to heavy periods and bloody hangnails; boyfriend: prone to heavy nosebleeds.)

Me: found one or two things that look like bug bites, though not really like bedbug bites. Small, not terribly itchy. Also have been experiencing recurrent itching without (visible) bites on several body parts. No clusters of bug bites. This started within the last week. I sometimes feel like there are things crawling on me when I'm in bed, but I'm almost totally sure that's just sensitive skin and sheets/hair/etc.

I also have had an episode, about two years ago, of delusional ideation (fairly serious stuff about being on a mission, pursued by imposters, etc.) at a time when I was severely anxious and depressed. I did not seek professional help for it then, which was probably a mistake.

I'm starting to obsess over this, and would like that to stop. I know that it's kind of ridiculous to ask the hivemind to diagnose or rule out either an infestation or severe psychological condition over the internet, and I'm not asking that. I'm asking how to go about this. Is it worth it to call an exterminator now, with several non-specific evidence signs. Will it be okay if I wait a few days/week and then call if I get conclusive-ish bites, or am I risking an intractable infestation that way? How sure should I be? Is it worth it, for peace of mind, to call someone to do an appraisal before I notify my landlord (i.e., the school) about my concerns?

On the other side of things, how do I (should I?) tell my relatively new therapist, whom I've been seeing strictly about dealing with social anxiety, that I might have something a tad more serious going on?

posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I can't help on the psychological front, but as far as the bedbugs go, a reasonable start would be to get a fully sealable plastic mattress cover (tape the zipper shut). Then wash and dry your linens and put them on your bed. Once you've done that, get some double sided tape and wrap it all around your bed, frame, floor around bed, etc. If you catch the buggers in the tape, then you've got positive proof. If you don't catch any but you stop perceiving any signs, then you've either trapped any real bugs in your mattress, or the very act of preventative care will at least make you think you've solved the problem, and you'll stop manifesting symptoms.
posted by oohisay at 2:08 PM on November 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also have been experiencing recurrent itching without (visible) bites on several body parts.

There's a lot in the question that I hope someone else addresses, but this is in no way related to bed bugs. It is probably a contact allergy, or even simpler, dry skin caused by the onset of fall/winter (I get this this time of year pretty regularly).
posted by advil at 2:10 PM on November 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't know if you need a psychiatrist per se (or what if anything this has to do with your prior mental health history), but there's a strong likelihood that you do NOT have bedbugs considering the lack of itchy bites.

Would a new mattress help with the obsessive feelings? If so, I'd replace your mattress, as it sounds like the one you have is nasty as it is.

You could call an exterminator, but I would keep in mind that there are exterminators out there who will tell you that you probably have bedbugs regardless of evidence, so that they can charge to to "eradicate" them. I would only go down that road if you are fairly sure that you have a bedbug infestation, have concrete evidence, and are prepared to be reasonable about it rather than letting yourself be taken advantage of.
posted by Sara C. at 2:14 PM on November 14, 2010

A few days or weeks' wait will not have a significant effect on the tractability of an infestation if you had one. But I don't think you have one.

Akin to the double-sided tape method: If your bed has legs, put each leg of the bed in a plastic dish (e.g. Gladware) with a small amount of mineral oil in it (enough to cover the bottom). If bed bugs are coming and going in the night, they will almost certainly do it by way of your bed legs, and they will get stuck in the mineral oil and you'll see them in the morning.

I've had friends go crazy over imaginary bedbugs before, but I've had and defeated real bedbugs with mostly just diatomaceous earth. I hate plastic mattress covers (hot, sweaty) so I don't think that's a reasonable start, but if it gave you peace of mind it would be worth it.
posted by xueexueg at 2:16 PM on November 14, 2010

Are you reading a lot of Bedbugger? If so, stop now. Bedbugs are nasty and stressful to deal with, but they're not the invisible, invincible boogiemen Bedbugger forum members make them seem. They're bugs, and not even poisonous ones. You're a human. In a showdown, you win.

If it makes you feel better, I drove myself a bit bedbug-crazy for a while and have never suffered from paranoid delusions-- definitely talk to your therapist since the idea of infestation is causing anxiety, but a little delusional parasitosis doesn't necessarily mean you're having a psychotic episode.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:31 PM on November 14, 2010

Quite possibly you need neither. While your mental health history may put you in a different situation, a quick search through MeFi will reveal that it's pretty common to be paranoid about bedbugs. For good reason, since getting them would be a terrible pain and they're all over the news lately.

I got pretty paranoid recently too when I bought some used sweaters and my friend went all "OMG WHAT ABOUT BEDBUGS" on me. I get a crawl-y feeling from dry skin, too, and once you start thinking about bedbugs it's easy to let your imagination get carried away.

You could always get your bites checked out by a doctor. Besides that, I don't think there's anything to suggest that you actually have bedbugs.
posted by vanitas at 2:57 PM on November 14, 2010

I will also say this: the only reason bedbugs are an undesirable thing to deal with is that they bite you, and that's itchy and potentially unsightly. If you're not itchy, it's not an issue. Period.
posted by Sara C. at 3:00 PM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think you should mention it to your therapist, not because you are delusional, but because you're worried about being delusional. Which sounds stupid, but is a real concern that your therapist is in a position to assess for reality. Besides, holding out on your therapist is never helpful, even when you're seeing him/her for an unrelated problem of limited scope.

FWIW, I don't have delusional parasitosis, but I'm a bit prone to persistent thoughts, and I do consistently itch thinking about bedbugs, lice, fleas, or dry skin. I have also had used mattresses and futons, at various points, and the only way I could deal with the low-level hygiene horror was to spend the money on an anti-allergy mattress cover. (Plastic would work, too, but the crinkly noise would keep the mattress on my mind.) Replacing the mattress outright would be great for my peace of mind, but cheeze, those things are expensive.
posted by gingerest at 3:49 PM on November 14, 2010

I travel a lot and live in fear of bringing bedbugs home, so I can sympathize.

With that as background, I'd suggest that you're statistically unlikely to have bedbugs given the facts you laid out, and that it's perfectly reasonable to assume that you are bedbug free until/unless definitive signs of bedbugs occur.

You won't really be able to prove that you don't have bedbugs (well, you could bring in a trained bedbug sniffing dog, but that's expensive and unlikely to be readily available in your area). If this is really, really bothering you, there are some reasonable and inexpensive things you can do to check for bedbugs. You may want to inspect your linens, mattress, box spring, bed frame, headboard, nightstand, etc for the definitive signs of an infestation: actual bedbugs, their cast skins, or characteristic pattern of fecal spray. If you find nothing but want an even greater level of assurance, you can set out commercial bedbug traps on the legs of your bedframe; if you have the kind of significant bedbug infestation that you are fearing, some bugs will likely show up in the traps.

But again, I wouldn't really worry about a bedbug infestation until/unless you have definitive evidence.
posted by Dimpy at 3:53 PM on November 14, 2010

I'm sorry (to some extent) that you don't live in a place where they're likely, because you're not getting feedback from friends/media reassuring you that your paranoia is shared and normal (and yet still probably paranoia). I have this feedback, and it's helpful, especially because I've had mysterious hives the past few months, so if I've had a bad day, I am *this close* to losing the "omg what if it is, it's probably not, but what if it is, but it's seriously not likely, but what if" war.

What I would recommend is investing minimal effort/resources on constructive action: buying a $25 mattress cover and taping up the zipper and moving your bed away from anything else (walls and other furniture). Maybe putting your bed legs in dishes of mineral oil, if you're not anticipating visitors who will think that's weird. And then see how it goes (look for itchy bites in a row), before calling an exterminator or making any other mental/physical/financial commitments to this thing as even a potential reality.

You could *maybe* mention it to your therapist, but I would probably start by asking your friends if it's something they worry about. If they do (it's on the news, so it's not at all impossible that they worry too), then it could be enough of a relief to hear that.
posted by unknowncommand at 4:32 PM on November 14, 2010

It is probably a contact allergy, or even simpler, dry skin caused by the onset of fall/winter (I get this this time of year pretty regularly).

I once went through this phase of feeling itchy and wondering if there were some kind of bugs that were living in my bed and getting really paranoid overall (this was before the big bed bug outbreak). Ultimately, it went away with some moisturizer. :)
posted by salvia at 6:20 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've had bedbugs and the bites, at least on me, are pretty unmistakable. They're big, itchy bumps, much like mosquito bites. When I say itchy, I mean really really really itchy like poison ivy, drive you crazy kind of itching, not just the occasional small itch. There are always 3 or more bites and they are always in either a row or a clump. Usually one of those is the big one and the others are a little smaller. I seem to be more allergic than many people but even the rest of the family had bites that looked like, well, bites. Honestly, they're kind of hard to miss - you might think they were mosquito bites or flea bites but you're going to know pretty clearly that you were actually bitten. Therefore, my guess would be that no, you do not have bedbugs. I wouldn't call an exterminator - they will ask you to produce an actual bug first, anyway, at least the honest ones will - but if you are still worried, maybe get a mattress cover. They have them at Wal Mart and they cost like $40, tops.

As far as the therapist goes, I don't see where it would hurt to mention it to him/her - remember, this is really normal; everybody gets skeeved out by bedbugs and lice and stuff like that and when they're mentioned I think everybody has short bouts of oh god I am itching I must be infested - but I can see where it might hurt not to mention it. I wouldn't hold back information from your therapist.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:06 PM on November 14, 2010

I've had bedbugs and I'm nthing that this doesn't sound like bedbugs, but just dry skin due to the low humidity typical of the onset of winter and increased use of artificial heating. Get a humidifier for your apartment and start using a moisturizing oil after your shower or bath. I recently began using Palmer's Cocoa Butter Formula Moisturizing Body Oil with Vitamin E and it's awesome. Not only did it stop my itchiness, it made my skin much smoother, and now I smell like chocolate (which seems to work as an aphrodisiac even better than those pheromone perfumes!).
posted by Jacqueline at 9:58 PM on November 14, 2010

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