Should I go ahead and burn down my house?
October 5, 2011 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Were the bugs that I had to pry off of my skin ticks or bedbugs?

I spend the weekend with friends in the Swedish countryside, and was warned about ticks. As soon as I got home, I removed two ticks from my body (behind a knee and near my navel). I washed everything I wore to the hiking trip, but not all of it in hot water, and not the sheets I sleep in now.

Then, on Tuesday upon waking up I found another small tick on my neck, and this morning a big one behind my knee that was almost certainly not there the previous morning.

All four took quite some effort to detach from my skin, but I didn't really dwell too long on what they looked like since I was busy being absolutely terrified and making sure they're dead once I got them off. Looking at pictures of ticks and bedbugs, I'd say it could have been either. Meanwhile, I noticed a few additional insect bites around my crotch, lower belly, and elbows, but I could have gotten them during my trip.

Is there any chance these were bedbugs?

If not, will monitoring of my bites to make sure nothing weird occurs be sufficient to make sure that I can intervene early if I have Lyme disease (a third of ticks in the Stockholm region harbor the bacteria that can cause it) or tick-borne encephalitis (I am not vaccinated and incubation is 7-14 days, asymptomatic)?

I have emergency/limited health insurance now and will most likely not have full healthcare rights for another three-five weeks or so assuming I finally find the time to file my documents, so going to the doctor is not exactly trivial.
posted by halogen to Health & Fitness (15 answers total)
Best answer: Never dealt with bedbugs, but (having dealt with ticks alot) it sounds like what you're describing are, indeed, ticks.

No idea if you've been infected or not, but judging by those % numbers of infected ticks in the population I'd think that there would be a tremendous number of infections in Stockholm.... or much less than 1/3 of people bitten got the disease. I'd highly suspect the latter.

Good luck, you're probably fine. IANAD. I am a country raised survivor who is Lyme's free. YMMV.
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:03 PM on October 5, 2011

Best answer: Bedbugs don't attach. They crawl, bite, and scamper.
posted by griphus at 2:04 PM on October 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Single bites or small clusters of bites around your crotch and lower belly tends to suggest ticks. Were you wearing elasticized underwear? They'll often crawl up or down towards your crotch until they hit a barrier they can't get past, and then fang in there.

The classic pattern for bedbugs is a wiggly line with double or triple bites along a limb.
posted by Ahab at 2:05 PM on October 5, 2011

Best answer: They were not bedbugs if they were attached to you when you woke up.

I am allergic to bedbugs. I have been bitten (recently). I consider myself a lay expert. Can't say for sure they were ticks (although they sound like it), but I can tell you that they were not bedbugs.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:07 PM on October 5, 2011

possibly also chiggers
posted by yesster at 2:10 PM on October 5, 2011

Response by poster: Yeah, I'm assuming that even if the tick was a carrier, my immune system would be pretty good at preventing any serious infections - I got the number from this undated article (perhaps the 2005 in the URL is the publication year), and it seems really high.
posted by halogen at 2:13 PM on October 5, 2011

Definately ticks and not bedbugs IMO.

Also, monitoring the bite site will not neccessarily be enough - not all Lyme disease infections come with the characteristic bullseye rash, some don't at all. Aches and pains and any flu-like symptoms could indicate you are infected as well
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:15 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Chiggers are waaaaay too small to be seen easily and/or pulled off.

Did you make sure you got the whole bug? Sometimes ticks' heads stay behind.
posted by Specklet at 2:15 PM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

To answer the most important question, no, don't burn down your house. Ticks aren't particularly hardy. They need regular access to animal hosts to keep going. But if you're worried, get some permethrin powder from a vet or a travel medicine clinic, and wash your clothes and bedding in that. Handle with rubber gloves while wet, allow to dry outside, then wash again to remove the poison (maybe a couple of times). Then spray the mattress, bed and surrounding area with a residual insecticide before putting on clean bedding.
posted by Ahab at 2:17 PM on October 5, 2011

You will likely know if you have Lyme.

However, your doctor (or "doctor") may not! It's not uncommon that doctors just won't recognize Lyme. (I had to go to THREE, which was just bizarre, considering my symptoms and how sick I was.) But good news for the uninsured like you and me: treatment is a fairly cheap course of antibiotics. Panic not.

Also I have been bitten by ticks a TON, and in the Lyme center of the world geographically, and only gotten Lyme once (unlike, say, Martha Stewart, who's had Lyme repeatedly). Just because you've been attacked by ticks doesn't mean you'll get Lyme. But fever/joint pain/lopsided symptoms and SOME variant of rash (the whole "bullseye" thing is not always true) or some combo thereof: well, welcome to the club. You'll be okay!

If this weren't in public I'd tell you the grossest tick story ever. Ugh, that was a terrible way to wake up! (I survived.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 2:20 PM on October 5, 2011

(Ticks aren't particularly hardy. They need regular access to animal hosts to keep going -Actually, it depends on the kind of tick. Some go a year between feeding and moulting as part of their life cycle. But I can tell you from my dissertation that they die damn easily, it was a fine line between having them die from dehydration and die from drowning)
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:20 PM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Excellent, glad I won't have to deal with a bedbug nightmare (for the time being), and I'll pay close attention to anything weird going on with my body – it'll be fine. Thanks!

...existential crisis brought on by the realization that I can be thought of as an animal host.
posted by halogen at 2:27 PM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

The likelihood of contracting Lyme disease from a tick bite increases with the length of time that the tick is embedded in your skin. According to the CDC's website, in general, the tick would have to be embedded for 36-48 hours before the bacteria can be transmitted. It sounds like you removed the ticks pretty quickly so you should be okay as far as Lyme Disease is concerned.

I don't know anything about tick-borne encephalitis because that doesn't really exist in the U.S. But the CDC has some info about it.

I don't think what you found were bed bugs because bed bugs do not embed themselves in your skin the way ticks do.
posted by raynax at 3:14 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is there Lyme disease in Sweden? Ticks are unpleasant, but in many parts of the world they don't carry Lyme.
posted by theora55 at 6:58 PM on October 5, 2011

Do you still have those (dead, I hope) ticks you extracted? It's easy to test them for the Lyme spirochetes. Here in California, county public health departments offer the service for cheap or free. Surely in Sweden there's something similar.

Testing wouldn't prove you're guaranteed Lyme-free, because there's no way to know how many more there were. Common for many tick bites to go undetected. The nymphs are ridiculously tiny, and anyway ticks of all sizes are good at hiding in small dark niches under hair.

On the other hand, if say, the sample tested positive it should be easy to have any doctor write a prophylactic prescription for doxycycline immediately. I'd be surprised if you'd be required to even do an office visit. Proven effective if taken within 3 days of being bit.

The antibiotics work, though it's a very high dose that may make you feel like shit for several days.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:20 PM on October 5, 2011

« Older post-procedure dental pain   |   Used enjoyment or enjoyed usement? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.