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July 25, 2012 7:17 PM   Subscribe

I've had two weird similar incidents that appear to be bug bites/stings. I have lived in Minnesota all my life, including in the far northern rural area, and never had anything like these. You are not my doctor, but maybe you've had similar issues and have an idea of what is biting/stinging me?

Likely places I may have encountered biting creatures: my ancient house, gardening in my yard, urban nature preserve/park I go to with my dogs. My husband has been to all of these places with me and has suffered no similar bites. I do water the plants more often than he does, so am regularly digging in the shrubbery to position hoses. I also am more likely to have a dog sitting on my lap.

Progression of the first incident 4 weeks ago-
* Mildly itchy spot on the inside of my right forearm. Don't recall any noteworthy bite or sting. Since this is Minnesota, assume mosquito bite. Try to leave it alone.
* Becomes hard itchy lump (smaller than pea sized). Try to leave it alone.
* Red area roughly the size of a quarter develops around lump, even more itchy. It is slightly firmer than surrounding area. Start using Benadryl cream on it. Also fighting a nasty cold at this point, so taking cold remedy including antihistamines too. Give in to urge and scratch a few times. Tiny blister in middle of lump bursts, a few tiny drops of clear liquid ooze out.
* Next day, red area has spread to 3 inches diameter, starts to look like a streak is heading towards my elbow. Worry about possible infection, go to urgent care.

Doctor notices rash is starting to look vaguely like a bullseye (red center, lighter ring, red area), and diagnoses possible Lyme Disease.

He explains that besides the rash, I have other early Lyme symptoms (fever, fatigue, headaches, cough), but they overlap with cold symptoms, so could just be the cold. He orders a Lyme test, but explains that because it detects antibodies, not Lyme bacteria, it is often negative in early stages. So regardless of results, he wants me to take 2 weeks of doxycycline. Test results are negative.

By the time I finish the antibiotics, the rash is gone, except area where lump was is still darker than surrounding skin. My cold is also cleared up.

Now this week (10 days after finishing antibiotics), another bite has appeared on outer side of my right forearm.

I first noticed it yesterday as a lump, this morning there was a red firm itchy spot I could cover with a quarter, by this afternoon, it extended about a centimeter around the edges of a quarter. Couldn't stand it this afternoon and scratched a little, same deal with a tiny blister in center of lump.

I understand that people with Lyme disease can get additional bullseye rashes away from the original bite, but this really seems to be centered around another bite, not just a rash. Do I have mutant spiders living in my shrubbery? Are new bugs moving in to the Twin Cities area that I've just not encountered before?
posted by superna to Health & Fitness (16 answers total)
It sounds a little like what I describe as "crazy mutant mosquito bites". I'm more reactive to mosquito bites than most*, and from time to time I'll get extremely severe ones that are a little like this. HUGE welts that remain itchy and inflamed long past the point where most mosquito bites would clear up. This is obviously not a legit medical condition -- I've simply never gotten around to seeing a doctor about what have always obviously been mosquito bites.

That said, the fact that you have classic lyme disease symptoms and even your doctor suspects lyme disease implies to me that this is not that.

*I've always been this way, though the "crazy mutant" bites started after I moved to New York. I'm not sure whether I'm more allergic to New York mosquitos or they really are bionic super-skeeters up here.
posted by Sara C. at 7:31 PM on July 25, 2012

I had a few recent bites that I think were no-see-ums. They started out like normal mosquito bites, then a day later they grew into big ugly rashes that lasted for about two weeks. Google Image Search returns a few rash pictures to compare to.
posted by stopgap at 7:32 PM on July 25, 2012

just a guess but maybe they're black fly bites?
posted by lester's sock puppet at 7:34 PM on July 25, 2012

It sounds a little like what I describe as "crazy mutant mosquito bites".

The description and photo look like my particularly nasty mosquito bites as well. When I was diagnosed for allergies as a young woman, I was proven to be extremely allergic to mosquitos. I stopped having them for a long time but my immune system is hyper right now and I've had a few bad bites again this year. The key to me isn't mosquito vs other bug so much as you're, or you have become, allergic to whatever it is (assuming it's not Lyme).

If you have an allergist or any history of serious allergies, you should check into that angle if the Lyme possibility doesn't pan out.
posted by immlass at 7:43 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I too have had mosquito bites that look like your picture, including the lump in he middle. And from my experience it's pretty common for the bites to take at least two weeks to clear up, sometimes longer. Of course following up with the Lyme disease test results will be helpful but until then (and after the fact!) protect yourself from those pesky mutant mosquitos anyways. There have been an unusually high number of west Nile cases near me this season. I'm not near YOU but it's still a possible concern.
posted by missriss89 at 8:30 PM on July 25, 2012

Oy, that looks nasty. I can't help the diagnosis, but I can suggest what you might want to try once you get these things, in order to prevent getting a staph infection or treat an incipient one. Ask the doctor treating you to give you a prescription for Bactroban topical ointment (generic version is Mupirocin). At the first sign of one of these spots, disinfect it (and surrounding area), and apply the ointment (I usually put a bandaid on over it, and keep one on the spot for 12-24 hours.) Do not scratch it. Taking Benadryl or another allergy medication (I use Zyrtec) might not be a bad idea as well.
posted by gudrun at 8:41 PM on July 25, 2012

I can definitely understand the urge to want to treat yourself empirically with mupirocin, but I would like to add that mupirocin is a treatment for an infected skin lesion, and when it is overused (like using it at the first sign of a wound), it can increase resistance amongst bacteria. That is why it typically only available by prescription. We doctors, and you non-doctors, all have a vested interest in wanting bacteria to be sensitive to mupirocin, because it conveniently (at least currently) works against the 'superbug' MRSA.

In other words, if you want mupirocin to keep working for you in the future, you may want to restrain yourself from using it on non-infected wounds, and just use bacitracin or Neosporin.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:04 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

You may want to ask the doctor to rule out a chronic staph infection, by taking a swab of the fluid from the blister and culturing it. Two doctors initially misdiagnosed my staph boils (including a red line streaking up my to my elbow and armpit) as spider bites. They gave me antibiotics, I finished the full course, my skin seemingly returned to normal, then two weeks later the boils came back with a vengeance. Neosporin, tea tree oil, etc didn't faze them. Three months later I finally found a doctor who identified them as "probably staph" and he cultured the fluid to make sure.

My mosquito bites turn into huge welty monstrosities like in your photo, but I'm just throwing staph out there as something to rule out because I wish to God I'd known early on that staph colonization could cause those lesions.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:36 AM on July 26, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the ideas!

I have had numerous mosquito bites during this time frame that didn't turn into this kind of mess, so it doesn't seem like a newly developed mosquito allergy.

The fly bites I'm familiar with hurt like the dickens, so I think I'd remember if I got one of those. But maybe black fly bites don't hurt like horse fly and deer fly bites do?

Some of those no-see-um bite photos look similar, but do we really get those in the metro area? I associate them with marshy/lake shore areas up north.

Wow, thanks for the tip about staph, I'll keep it in mind if this turns into a chronic thing.

The spot is now bigger and slightly bullseye pattern like the previous one, so I am going to make an appointment with my regular doctor, let her know what the urgent care guy said about the last one and see what she thinks.
posted by superna at 6:59 AM on July 26, 2012

Chiming in to say that mosquitoes have always eaten me alive this time of year and some of the bites come out looking exactly like that (some not all--why, I have no idea. Maybe they just latch on longer so more of that irritating saliva of theirs gets into my system?? The one i have now was the circumference of a tennis ball at its worst). I also get a little blister with clear liquid (sometimes a few, actually). Assuming it is a mosquito: For prevention, go to a health food store and find some lemon eucalyptus extract. It smells strong (but not bad the way regular bug spray might) and one dab anywhere on my body really keeps the mosquitoes away. As far as treatment, I would second taking a Benadryl if you can (like if you are in a situation where it's OK for you to be drowsy) and--this is weird--put a piece of scotch tape over the red bump in the center (the epicenter, if you will) it makes the itching go away. Ice helps too (if yours are like mine they get red-hot).
posted by lovableiago at 8:59 AM on July 26, 2012

In that photo, I kind of see ... a little bit ... as if they're three in a straight line, with the center one creating the "bullseye" effect. (The other two I'm seeing are extending out from about 5:00 on the "circle" of your rash.) If I'm seeing that right, that sort of three-bites-in-a-line pattern is indicative of a bedbug infestation. It would also explain it reappearing.
posted by WCityMike at 1:08 PM on July 26, 2012

Response by poster: The marks at 5:00 are just the faint remains of healing scrapes from yard work, so hopefully not bedbugs.
posted by superna at 1:22 PM on July 26, 2012

Response by poster: I should also mention the patch of darker odd skin texture in the lower left of the picture is an old scar.
posted by superna at 1:26 PM on July 26, 2012

I've had a spider bite that looks similar (no clue what type of spider), and I had no clue how I got it either. The point at which I was told to go to the doctor was when there was signs of cellulitis (area warm to the touch, unusually swollen etc). It seems odd though that you would get two spider bites so close together. I would definitely see your doctor though regarding the lyme thing. That would be my only worry since you have an additional spot.
posted by Quincy at 4:24 PM on July 26, 2012

Point of interest treehorn+bunny, I did not want to scare the OP, but the reason I'm using Mupiricin is that I've had cellulitis four times from "bites" like hers. Mupiricin nips it in the bud, and is the only thing that has worked for that. It just laughed at Neosporin (actually Polysporin is probably better to use than Neosporin or Bacitracin if you want to try over the counter meds.) Hopefully superna will not wind up with my problems, but if she does, she should know about it. My father could have died from a poorly treated staph/MRSA infection and his doctor finally gave him Mupiricin for the same reason I have it. Believe me, I'm not over using it. I have one small tube that I will not even use a quarter of before the expiration date. I think that is preferable to the heavy duty antibiotics I had to be on repeatedly to treat the cellulitis, plus the chunk I had to have taken out of my arm (plus the risk of death).
posted by gudrun at 4:40 PM on July 26, 2012

The first and hopefully only time I had chigger bites, they looked something like that (bites in a line, swelling, getting itchier and itchier over the course of days). They were on my lower legs and not my arms, so I thought it was poison ivy it itched and looked so bad. Couldn't sleep from the itching. Went to the doctor and she basically said. "Are you kidding me? That's frickin' chigger bites, dumbass."

I sort of did not believe her, but did some digging and I think I ended up learning that chiggers cause the same type of immune response as poison ivy, so they have a lot of similar characteristics (delayed onset, crazy itchiness way worse than normal mosquito bites, blistering, etc.)

I live in Missouri but spent most of my life in the Deep South and on the East Coast, so I was unfamiliar with chiggers. Maybe this winter was so mild that they made it all the way up to Minnesota.

This is pure speculation.
posted by slenderloris at 5:55 PM on July 26, 2012

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