Bedbugs vs lice (can't believe I'm rooting for lice)
August 17, 2011 2:57 PM   Subscribe

The exterminator says it's a mild case of bedbugs. Is he almost certainly right? I don't have any bites and I don't want to go through an unnecessary fumigation. Could it be lice or something instead?

A little over a week ago, a gentleman friend and I started feeling very itchy at night at my apartment. We continued to feel itchy all day. This happened a couple of days in a row. One morning, I found some stuff on top of the sheets that looked a lot like a picture of bedbug eggs and droppings that we found online. For the last few days I've been feeling itchy both at night and in the day, but haven't found any actual bites. Today the exterminator came to do an inspection. He said that the the white things I found were bedbug eggs, and he presented me with something he found in my mattress seam that looked like just a tiny speck to me, but he said it was a bedbug. His co-worker said that I was lucky as it's a pretty mild infestation.

My question is, is it necessarily a bedgbug infestation at all? I itch, but I can't find any bites on me. The gentleman friend had recently been working at a school where one of the kids had head lice. (We looked for but didn't find lice, either. But my head has been itching, and I don't think that's typical of bedbugs?) Maybe this is just wishful thinking, since I don't look forward to preparing for fumigation or having my home chemical-bombed. Do you think the exterminator was probably right? Bedbugs for me is more business for him, after all. Would you go ahead with the bedbug treatment if you were in my shoes?

(FWIW, I live in New York and apparently this building has had infestations before.)
posted by toomuchkatherine to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
He found an actual bedbug on your mattress. He's an exterminator, so he knows what they look like. It's a bedbug infestation.
posted by amro at 2:59 PM on August 17, 2011

PS Lice don't make your skin itch.
posted by amro at 3:00 PM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you gotta trust the professional. Especially since the building has had infestations before.
posted by Specklet at 3:07 PM on August 17, 2011

Professionals make mistakes too. If you don't trust it, get a second opinion.

But no one on this board can answer it - you need an exterminator on site to make the determination.
posted by Flood at 3:14 PM on August 17, 2011

I think you should get a second opinion so you don't always worry you were ripped off, but I see nothing here that says it's not bed bugs. You don't need to have the big red bites to have been bitten, many people don't react that way.
posted by crabintheocean at 3:21 PM on August 17, 2011

Best answer: For the sake of your neighbors and houseguests you should be pretty aggressive in treating bedbugs. They will spread to blankets, clothing, furniture, carpets, and are very difficult to get rid of. This sound like your first experience with them. Be happy it is "mild" and hope that the treatments eradicate them the first time.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:34 PM on August 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

"Maybe this is just wishful thinking, since I don't look forward to preparing for fumigation or having my home chemical-bombed."

Many exterminators use a combination of HEPA filtered vacuum machines to remove live insects and obvious egg deposits, followed by steam/heat treatment to kill insects hiding inside mattresses/baseboards/carpeting, followed by targeted, low dose application of pyrethrin derived chemicals, often inside plastic mattress covers, to take care of new insects than might hatch from unkilled eggs. The amount and toxicity of such insecticides used in this kind of bedbug treatment is of very minimal possible impact to humans or pets, even those who are elderly, or have compromised immune systems. Follow ups at 2, 4 and 6 week intervals may be needed to ensure an infestation is truly killed off, as the 2 week egg hatch cycle of bed bugs is pretty predictable, and follow up inspection results are reliable indicators of whether an infestation is continuing.
posted by paulsc at 3:35 PM on August 17, 2011

You can get a second opinion if you want, but the exterminator has no interest in making the wrong call, then failing to address it. On the other hand, treatment may involve more than just a few chemical applications, so a second opinion might be worthwhile. If treatment is nothing more than a visit to spray, then it might be tough to justify waiting to get another opinion.

In light of the diagnosis, and the apparently early stage of development, perhaps it would be best to deal with this quickly, before you start getting bites.
posted by Hylas at 3:36 PM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bedbugs aren't anything to mess around with; especially since the building has a past history of bedbug infestations, the sooner you let the exterminator do his thing, the easier (and cheaper, in the long run!) it'll be to get rid of them. And if he suggests getting rid of your mattress, DO IT.
posted by easily confused at 4:20 PM on August 17, 2011

"But my head has been itching, and I don't think that's typical of bedbugs?"

Itching from lice can be psychosomatic. My head is starting to itch just reading about this.
posted by Mitheral at 4:47 PM on August 17, 2011

For reference, (adult - As in, egg-laying) bedbugs have an almost completely round (but flat) body, only slightly narrower than they are long, and about a quarter of an inch long. I wouldn't call that a "tiny spec", but you saw it, I did not. They actually look about the same size and shape as an adult wood or dog tick minus the legs.
posted by pla at 5:33 PM on August 17, 2011

I spent almost $2,000 all told getting rid of a rather small infestation in my old apartment, so I would encourage you to do the treatment. They don't just go away. If you don't treat it, the infestation will get worse and be much harder to get rid of. It may also spread to other apartments nearby, in addition to spreading to your stuff (couches, clothing, etc). Count your lucky stars that you caught it early, and just get the treatment done.

If you think the exterminator is cheating you, get a second opinion. But you should be able to google up some images of what bedbugs look like (I can't, just thinking about them makes me itch), and educate yourself. If you turn over your mattress and look really carefully in seams and floorboards, you may be able to find enough evidence on your own. For what its' worth, I didn't itch at all, it wasn't until a friend got huge welts that I figured out they were even there...
posted by gemmy at 7:27 PM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think everyone else has got it but just as a data point, lice - the kind you catch at schools, anyway - are only going to make your head itch. They won't bite you anywhere else. If only your head is itching and you have been exposed to lice, then yeah, you might not have bedbugs too. But if the rest of you is itching, write off the lice and focus on the bedbugs.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:38 PM on August 17, 2011

Response by poster: Pla, the thing I saw was way, way smaller than a quarter inch. The thing the exterm showed me honestly looked like a tiny piece of dirt. But I found something on my own that looked like the bedbugs people describe, only a lot smaller. But I saved it and showed it to the exterm when he got here and he said "that's a bedbug." So, okay, it sounds like the writing is on the wall and I should get over my wishful thinking that it's something else or it'll go away, and treat now. It's not a good time for it, but I guess it probably never is. Thanks everyone.
posted by toomuchkatherine at 9:13 AM on August 18, 2011

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