How should we handle carpet beetle dermatitis?
July 1, 2013 6:58 PM   Subscribe

About a month ago, my partner began finding (what look like) insect bites scattered all over her body. They itch intensely but intermittently. We checked for bedbugs and found no evidence, but keep finding carpet beetles in our bedroom. My partner continues to find new bites, and it seems like she's getting them at night. Have you had any experience with "carpet beetle dermatitis?" Any telltale signs to help differentiate this from bedbug bites, ezcema, fleas, etc? Most importantly, what did you do to get rid of them?

We've basically been running a differential diagnosis on our apartment. Here are the things we've considered - please feel free to suggest things we may have overlooked.

We inspected every inch of the box-spring (including peeling back the fabric on the underside and checking behind the corner padding), bed frame, and mattress. We never found any evidence of bedbugs. We washed and dried our sheets, mattress covers, blankets, pillows, and pillow cases in hot water and dried them for a long time. We also got a bedbug mattress cover. I haven't seen any sign of bedbugs on the mattress cover.

My partner went to see our family physician, who said that she has seen many cases of bedbugs and that these bites/marks and patterns don't look the same. She suggested that it might be eczema. She also prescribed topical steroids which have helped (far more so than topical Benadryl, which didn't help very much).

I may still set up a bedbug trap just to be certain that it's not bedbugs.

We also considered fleas as a possibility. We did not come across any signs of fleas during our bedbug inspection. Our cat was shaved and groomed (by our vet) after my partner started finding the bites. (He had been scheduled for this before my partner started seeing the bites, FWIW.) I called our vet and double-checked that she did not see any indication of fleas on our cat. He has not been scratching or showing any signs of fleas.

-Carpet Beetles-
While inspecting our apartment for bedbugs, we came across 2 (of the same) small black and white speckled insect. I put them in a plastic bag to identify later. I've found a few more since then, virtually all on or within a few feet of our bed. (I found one on our mattress this morning.)

After some time with image galleries on various Cooperative Extension sites, I'm reasonably confident that we have some carpet beetles in our apartment.

While trying to identify this insect, I came across some case reports of "carpet beetle dermatitis," and I'm wondering if this is what my partner is experiencing. She has also been experiencing some symptoms of seasonal allergies (sneezing, runny eyes, a persistent cough), which hasn't been an issue for her during previous spring and summer seasons.

Have you had any experience with "carpet beetle dermatitis?" Any telltale signs to help differentiate this from bedbug bites, ezcema, fleas, delusional parasitosis, etc? Most importantly, what did you do to minimize the reaction? Eliminate the beetles?

The information I've found on dealing with carpet beetles suggests a cleaning regimen that would basically require frequent and extensive dusting, mopping, and washing (after work and commuting) of every crevice in our apartment. (Since it's in a late 19th century building with beautiful hardwood floors w/ abundant small gaps and crevices, extensive cleaning is a tall order.)

We'll do what we have to in order to stop the bites and my partner's accompanying itching and discomfort, but we'd prefer to not spend the rest of our lives with the dust-buster in hand.

I feel like I should point out that an anxiety-induced reaction of some kind is not out of the question. My partner has some anxiety issues and has had a hard time not scratching the bites/spots, thereby potentially compounding the problem.

All of this said, we're really hoping that it's eczema, and that the beetles are just a coincidence.

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posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can she start taking an overthecounter allergy medication to help figure up what is causing it! And whether the sneezes are connected?
posted by bq at 7:27 PM on July 1, 2013

This sounds like a job for a pest control professional. If I were in this situation I would instantly feel less anxious when I stopped finding gross beetles in my bed.
posted by steinwald at 7:45 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you own the place, call a pest control firm. If you rent, insist that your owner provide a pest-free environment - owner calls pest control. You spraying OTC products might just make the little varmints immune. Get help, and quit blaming you partner for scratching her itches.
posted by Cranberry at 8:12 PM on July 1, 2013

I recently moved into an apartment and my girlfriend started breaking out with red raised bumps on her legs. You could look at each bump and see that it was an individual insect bite. We went into bedbug panic mode but found no bed bugs.

When sweeping the floor, we saw a single flea. We bought a spray that kills adult fleas and their young, and sprayed the baseboards. In the next week, we saw two or three fleas as they were dying and the biting stopped.

Just because you don't see evidence of fleas doesn't mean they aren't there. We have no pets, and only saw a single flea, yet the gf had 10-20 bites.
posted by rancidchickn at 8:42 PM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

In delusional parasitosis, the red marks are the result of the scratching, rather than being the prompt for it. If you really think this might be a possibility, mention it to the primary care physician - it can be hard to identify if they aren't looking for it. But rule out any potential real causes of bites or the possibility that these are hives rather than bites prior to considering psychiatric diagnoses.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:36 PM on July 1, 2013

FYI - most landlords are expected to offer a warrant of habitability to their tenants and that includes a vermin free space.

You don't say where you live, but I would check with a local tenants' rights organization to find out exactly what the landlord is required to pay for when it comes to pest control.
posted by brookeb at 9:58 PM on July 1, 2013

Another angle - have you changed laundry detergents recently? I wonder if it might be an allergic reaction to the sheets. Or even if you haven't changed your detergent, if you share a washing machine with others that can also be a source of allergens.
posted by Lady Li at 1:46 AM on July 2, 2013

I don't know anything about the dermatitis part, but as far as getting rid of them, carpet beetles are not like bedbugs. You don't have to get as insane.

Carpet beetles basically like to live in dark, undisturbed places with lots of animal products to eat, eg, wool, silk, pet hair. Unlike bedbugs, carpet beetles will usually eventually go somewhere else if you make the living conditions for them unpleasant.

The best and easiest way to kill them is heat. Get/rent a steam cleaner/vacuum and steam your mattress, steam mop the floors and baseboards. Do you have stashes of clothing that sits undisturbed for long periods of time? Take it all out and throw it in the dryer (dry—it shouldn't shrink) or take it to the dry cleaners.

Then just vacuum regularly, especially since you have pets.
posted by thebazilist at 9:34 AM on July 2, 2013

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