what is biting me?
July 4, 2005 11:10 AM   Subscribe

I moved to san francisco two months ago and have been bitten by some type of insect about 40 times since then. the favorite spot appears to be my left arm with 17 bites scattered from my hand to my shoulder. i never feel myself being bitten, the bites are very small and they itch unlike anything i've ever experienced. i have not had this reaction to mosquitos before, and usually feel them as they bite me and see them. does anyone have any idea of what could be biting me and any natural remedies for itching and/or insect repellent for the body?
posted by centrs to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)
I'm pretty ignorant of bugs in general, but could these be bed bugs?
posted by hototogisu at 11:17 AM on July 4, 2005

Mosquitos are uncommon in San Francisco, which is not, in general, an overly buggy place to begin with. Fleas, however, are endemic year round in many local areas because of the mild climate. The bite pattern you describe suggests you have an infestation of some bug (sounds consistent with fleas, but maybe something else) in your living or work area. You should concentrate on that rather than looking for a chemical solution for your skin.
posted by caitlinb at 11:20 AM on July 4, 2005

Bedbugs prefer the torso area (which could include your arms, depending on how you sleep), and tend to work along a particular area, resulting in clusters of bites in one particular region. You'd never notice a bedbug biting you, since they do so as you sleep, in the hours before dawn. And infestations have reached epidemic proportions nationwide in the past year -- no longer are they found only in nasty old motels.
posted by waldo at 11:33 AM on July 4, 2005

Response by poster: we have 3 cats, and we had a problem with fleas once in texas, so i'm familiar with what a flea bite feels like and two of my cats are white, so fleas are easy to spot. these are smaller than flea bites, itch more and the cats do not have fleas and are not scratching themselves.

my husband shares a bed with me and he doesn't have any bites. plus, we just bought a new bed, pillows, bedding, everything as a result of our move. we live in a very old building and i have seen a spider or two on occasion, but it seems like they would not bite this frequently and would also bite my husband.

i seem to get bitten on the weekends or bites will show up the next day after we were out the night before. there seems to be a delay between being bitten and the bites showing up.

i did some research and actually san francisco has mosquito problems due to the fact that parts of the city are actually built on old swamp land. that the city tries to keep under control. however, in the past i have felt myself being bitten and slapped mosquitos away. i don't feel these bites or see anything on me until they start to itch.

when we lived in texas, i could go outside with friends and i would end up with a bunch of mosquito bites while they would have none or much fewer. i think i have a body chemistry that is attractive to biting insects.

i am wondering if these could be no-see-ums? i searched and could not find out a lot of info on them. these bites are tiny and the itch lasts about 3-4 days. while i have a large concentration on the one arm, i've been bitten on my feet, clusters of bites on my calves and knees, i've been bitten on my stomach and breasts - everywhere. all i know is that they are driving me crazy and leaving unsightly marks and scars on me.
posted by centrs at 11:46 AM on July 4, 2005

What we call no-see-ums here in Canada actually hurt quite a bit when they bite, and you'd probably notice them before they got under your clothes.
posted by teg at 12:07 PM on July 4, 2005

When we moved to San Francisco our daughter was similarly afflicted, with itches from a cause we never determined. None of the rest of the family had a problem. I know this isn't much help to you, but after six or nine months whatever it was stopped and didn't come back. The best relief for her was a cool bath.

I'd try to find out what cover might protect you -- long sleeves or bugoff or whatever. Although DEET is horrible, you could use it for a few days to experimentally determine whether repellents help -- if it does then you might find something else less toxic.

Could it be an allergic reaction to detergents left in your sheets or clothes (different water = different residues)?

I read a story about someone living in the tropics. To save money they stopped ironing their shirts, following which the eggs laid in the cloth were no longer killed, so hatched into something very unpleasant. Very unlikely in non-tropical SF, but just speculating on the unexpected results of small behavioral changes subsequent to your move...
posted by anadem at 12:35 PM on July 4, 2005

You can get dryer sachets of dried lavender at Trader Joe's in SF. Bugs of all sorts (spiders, fleas, mosquitoes) don't like the smell of the lavender and will be more likely to stay away. This was a big help to my boyfriend who always seems to be a bug banquet.
Other smells that various bugs are supposed to dislike: rosemary, peppermint, clove and cedar. You could experiment with misting watered down essential oils over your clothes or putting cedar blocks in your drawers.
posted by tinamonster at 1:32 PM on July 4, 2005

Could be scabies. [Pictures]
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:41 PM on July 4, 2005

I'm gonna guess scabies on this one.
posted by rxrfrx at 2:43 PM on July 4, 2005

centrs, I had the same problem with SF mosquitoes when I first moved here in September. I actually had similar problems with Venice's mosquitoes when I moved to Italy several years ago, and with DC mosquitoes when I moved to Washington a year ago. My non-researched opinion is that the mosquitoes in different areas are carrying different enough "itching triggers" that your body has to build up an immunity to them from scratch every time you move. (I believe this because the first few bites I get every year, regardless of where I live, are so much worse than the ones I get at the end of the summer; my body somehow seems to get used to them.)

No suggestions for making it stop, but I did want you to know you weren't nuts (assuming it is mosquitoes).
posted by occhiblu at 2:51 PM on July 4, 2005

Response by poster: dude, it's most defintely not scabies. it doesn't look *that* bad. hehe. i'm thinking that maybe occhiblu is right. i love the scent of lavendar, so i will pick up some oil. also burt's bees makes a water/lavendar spray that i like.
posted by centrs at 3:20 PM on July 4, 2005

This thread had a lot of good itch/repellant discussion.
posted by desuetude at 4:52 PM on July 4, 2005

I live in the deep woods in the North East, with clouds of black flies, no-see-ums, mosquitos and deer flies. I spend most of my days outside and so have had opportunity to try lots of repellents and itch relievers.

The best repellant I have found is the small plastic bottles of oil containing 25 - 30% DEET. They come under a variety of brand names. It lasts longer than the spray-on repellants, and does not seem to smell as much. However, DEET eats plastic, so be warned.

The best way to alleviate itching from these critters is a mild solution of ammonia, which neutralizes the toxin which causes the itching. It is available over the counter in the form of a pen shaped tube (with pocket clip). Apply a bit to the itch and within 10 minutes all discomfort is gone. In a pinch, I have mixed a 5% solution of Chlorox, which seems to work as well, but leaves a smell I don't like.
posted by RMALCOLM at 8:35 PM on July 4, 2005

Show a doctor if it persists or increases.
posted by webmeta at 10:51 PM on July 4, 2005

I vote Fleas.

If Google can't find a piece of information, does it really exist?

I haven't found anything to support this on Google, but when I was growing up it was a given that San Francisco was infested with fleas. The opera house was famous for it. And there has to be a reason so many Bay Area streets are named Alameda de las Pulgas.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:37 PM on July 4, 2005

Pray that it's not the dreaded Norwegian Scabies.
My actual vote would be for bedbugs, which in my modest experience tend to bite in straight lines, as they work their way across your somnolent flesh.
posted by roofus at 2:17 AM on July 5, 2005

I'm a native San Franciscan who finds your misery familiar sounding. I think you're suffering from the bite of the San Francisco Sand Flea. Back in my youth in SF, the cheap Market Street movie theatres were known as "flea pits." Customers got bitten, with tourists and new residents most likely to suffer. A trip to the beach could also be an itchy experience.

My suggestions: tell a local pharmacist that you may be suffering from sand flea bites and ask for relief recommendations. If that doesn't help, see an allergist.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:09 AM on July 5, 2005

Definitely sounds like fleas. A roommate brought them into a house with a used couch once. Out of about five of us, only two of us really reacted with small welts and itching.

They itch like mad.

Victoria also has a flea problem, if you have furry pets. Maybe it's a mild/damp climate thing.

Heh, I think I remember reading the short story anadem referenced, but it involved a "native wife" and a prick of a white man, ironing, bug eggs, and...
posted by Savannah at 7:04 AM on July 5, 2005

« Older Get rid of home phone?   |   Does the Thermacell mosquito repellent product... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.