What is biting me?
March 20, 2013 1:39 PM   Subscribe

Can you guess what's biting me? I've been getting a few extremely itchy red bumps, very much like mosquito bites, but they are not mosquito bites because they follow the pattern that chigger bites do: they're not on exposed parts of my skin, but instead under my clothing. It seems that something small is leaping onto me and then crawling until it finds itself confined by clothing, then settling down to bite. The bites aren't like chigger bites, though.

The bites are soft red bumps without any center or pustule. They itch fiercely for a couple of days, then become less itchy. They appear to turn into bruises before eventually fading away. The spots turn dark like a bruise and then yellow as they fade. If I immediately put Afterbite (an ammonia product sold for treatment of insect bites) on the bites, they itch and swell less, and go away more quickly. Neither oral antihistamines nor cortisone ointments help.

It's not delusional parasitosis, because I don't believe that there are bugs on me. I know the bugs probably do stick around for a while, because I sometimes get more bites, but I'm always surprised when I do. There are no fibers or dirt on the bites. I don't have itching except where there's a red spot. I almost never feel anything that seems like bugs crawling on me.

It's not fleas, because the bites are mostly not around my ankles, and the bites are not small hard spots like flea bites, and my two cats are not scratching and do not have any flea droppings on them. I apply Revolution to them monthly; it seems to do a good job for them on both fleas and ear mites.

I think it's not bedbugs, because there have been no spots on the sheets, and because of the pattern of bites under clothing. The bites mostly appear under my bra straps or my underwear. Bedbugs don't do that, do they? We have bedbug-proof covers on the mattresses and pillows, but only because I am allergic to dust mites.

Unlike chigger bites, these bites appear even if I have not gone outside off of the pavement for several days. Chigger bites appear only if I have been walking across a field during the day.

It's not a personal allergy to something like our unscented laundry detergent, because my husband has been getting a few of the same sort of bites, too, though not as many, and he doesn't seem to itch as much. The kids are not getting bitten at all, though.

We do sometimes hear something like rats in our attic, so I was wondering if it might be mites from them. However, the rats never come into our living quarters. There are no openings in the wall. We never find signs of rats or mice in our food. When we opened up the crawl space, we found a few pecans that had been brought inside by the rats to feed on from the tree outside. When my husband spent time up in the attic looking for a nest, he found nothing, and he did not get any bites on him then, so it's not an infestation of some sort of parasite coming down from the attic. There are no birds' nests adjacent to the house, though we know that doves and great-tailed grackles do nest in the trees in our yard.

Our cats do go outside and then come back in. One likes to roll in the same dust as the chicken that lives outside in the backyard. I've been covering both cats and chicken thoroughly with diatomaceous earth, with no apparent effect on whatever it is. There's no sign of mites or other pests on either cats or chicken, as far as I can tell. There are squirrels and doves in the back yard, and we occasionally see opossums. We live in a warm climate and have not had a single hard freeze this winter to kill the bugs outdoors.

I have seen and captured only four or five bugs in the several months that this has been bothering me. I don't know whether or not these are what's biting me. They are extremely tiny, less than half a millimeter in diameter, and move very fast, much faster than, say, an ant crawls. When I see them it is only because the motion has caught my eye, but I can't see anything that tiny unless the light is very bright. They seem to be round and to have a lot of legs. I've seen red ones and bluish-gray ones.

Judging from the appearance of those few sightings, I was thinking maybe they are bird mites, but a bird expert told me that bird mites do not like to get on people because their body temperature is lower than that of birds. Whatever this is must like getting on people.

Do you have any idea what might be biting me, and what I should do to get rid of them?
posted by artistic verisimilitude to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I was getting mystery bites last year for a while and was convinced I had bedbugs or it was bird mites (I was working with birds at the time), but I actually think that it was rat/rodent mites. While I'm not positive that was what it was, we had a couple mice appear in our apartment around the time I was getting the bites and a month later when we finally got rid of them, the bites disappeared. So that's a possibility you might consider.
posted by geegollygosh at 1:47 PM on March 20, 2013

I know you say it's not fleas...but it sounds an awful lot like fleas. My cat got them once and I started itching before he did...
posted by kbennett289 at 1:50 PM on March 20, 2013

posted by barnone at 2:00 PM on March 20, 2013

Carpet beetle? They eat natural fiber (wool and such) and cause an allergic reaction in some people (maybe you react more than your husband). I would think the antihistamine would help the reaction, though.
posted by nat at 2:01 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ah, sorry. I somehow skipped over your mention of bedbugs.

The bites mostly appear under my bra straps or my underwear. Bedbugs don't do that, do they? We have bedbug-proof covers on the mattresses and pillows, but only because I am allergic to dust mites.
Have you considered that it's a rash instead? Maybe to elastic or another kind of material? Can you switch up your laundry detergent to something hypoallergenic and do an extra rinse on the clothes?
posted by barnone at 2:01 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We had this exact same problem -- and to make a very long story short, they went away when we got rid of the rats in our crawlspace and did a chemical spray (not sure what it was - used a professional exterminator) in our attic. They were absolutely, positively some sort of mite coming off the rats and into our living area, and basically they didn't bother us until they had reached epic proportions because they were so very, very small. We had to do a second chemical spray a week or two later in the attic -- the exterminator said this is because we needed to kill everything that had newly hatched.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:25 PM on March 20, 2013

Not being an entomologist I have no idea what insect it might be--but it seems to me you have so many insect vectors I am surprised you get as few bites as you do. Seriously, I would keep the cats in for several months (away from the chickens in particular) and give your cats access to the attic. If you can not use your cats as the original mouser do get rid of any rodents in the house. Good luck and hopefully no scratching.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:27 PM on March 20, 2013

Best answer: Sounds like it might be related to the rats (or squirrels? - esp. with mention of the pecans brought in) in the attic. Probably worth trying to get rid of them either way.
posted by catatethebird at 6:11 PM on March 20, 2013

I had something very much like this... memail me.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:12 PM on March 20, 2013

Could it be scabies? One of my kids had them at one point, and they're caused by a particular type of mite. We were told that they're spread through skin to skin contact and bedding or clothes. We treated it with a prescription skin cream, laundering all of the child's linens, and bagging up what couldn't be washed for a couple of weeks until the mites died.
posted by GeekDad at 6:24 PM on March 20, 2013

You have scabies. Skip the topical permethrin and ask your doc for oral ivermectin.

You will itch for up to 4-6 weeks after treatment. I'm sorry! It's the worst thing I've ever been through.

Good luck.
posted by Punctual at 7:57 PM on March 20, 2013

Bedbug covers don't keep them away, they just prevent the bugs from residing directly on the mattress. There's not always spots on the sheets either. They are usually hiding in the tiny cracks of your bed frame, especially if it's a wood one. Make sure to examine all areas of the bed frame and furniture within a few feet of your bed closely with a flashlight. When we had bedbugs, I only had a few bumps on my chest and I attributed them to mosquito's for months before I clued in to examine the fine cracks of my futon frame with a flashlight because there was no other signs.

Due to your climate, it would be a number of things; Here's a list of types of mites that can bite humans: http://mitetreatments.com/
posted by tenaciousmoon at 8:30 PM on March 20, 2013

Doesn't sound like scabies to me. Scabies usually leave tunnels on your skin. Plus, there's a reason it's called the 7-year itch. When my husband picked up scabies after staying in a hotel, he was scratching for a good six months after the scabies had been killed via lotion (two applications a few days apart) and a pill. If you're not itching constantly, it's probably not scabies.

That being said, please call a qualified exterminator and plan to see a dermatologist.
posted by FergieBelle at 6:00 AM on March 21, 2013

Spiders? Exterminators here said there was nothing they could do about them. I got glue traps. They seem to be gone, knock on wood.
posted by mareli at 6:09 AM on March 21, 2013

A pretty tell tale sign of a bedbug bite, is that they usually come in threes, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, sometimes in a line.
posted by timsteil at 8:48 AM on March 21, 2013

Response by poster: Definitely not scabies. There are no tunnel-like markings under my skin, and the bites are widely spaced. They are not progressing from one part of my body to another: instead, one spot will appear on my lower back, and then a new one will appear under my sock, and then the next day one under my arm.

This also does not seem like the pattern of an allergic rash. Of course anything can trigger an allergy in someone, though I always use hypoallergenic detergent, and always double-rinse my clothing, and never use fabric softener. The spots appear even when I am wearing latex-free undergarments.

I am still thinking it's not bedbugs, because there is never a breakfast-lunch-dinner pattern of three bites. (Thanks, timsteil.) I keep looking for signs of bedbugs. I'm not 100% certain it's not them, but it seems unlikely. I am going to continue to search.

The roof rats were making noises again yesterday, scrambling around in the wall. I think that's where we need to focus our efforts.

Thanks for your help, all of you.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 11:05 AM on March 22, 2013

Best answer: I think it's probably rat mites. This happened in a house I lived in years ago. All the housemates got bitten, but especially me, because I lived in the attic. Ugh, it was horrid. These are the steps we took:

Got rid of the rats through trapping, and also knocking down the nest they'd made in our abundant backyard foliage

Cleaned and vacuumed everything really well

Bug-bombed every room, waited a week, bug-bombed again. We didn't hire an exterminator, we just got aerosol bug bombs from the drug store

And that killed all the rat mites.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 12:45 AM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Update: although we still have roof rats in the attic wall, we no longer have mites in the house. This coincides with trapping and relocating the opossums living under the house slab (in the impossible-to-fill-in space left after foundation repair). I don't know if this shows cause and effect, but the timing suggests that it might.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 9:43 AM on August 8, 2013

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