Once bitten, twice shy...
January 20, 2014 8:22 AM   Subscribe

I discovered 47 mysterious insect bites on my body last night. I am at a loss as to what they could be. Lots of snowflake details (and a photo!) inside.

Last night as I was going to bed, I noticed that the "one or two" mysterious insect bites that had been bothering me all day were actually 47 individual bites. I have animals, so I immediately thought that they could be flea bites, but from what I have seen online they are too large to be from fleas. I bathed my cats in flea shampoo last night after I found the bites and I found one single flea on one of them. My dog has spot treatment on since he goes outside to use the bathroom so he shouldn't be the culprit. After the worry of fleas, my mind immediately went to bed bugs because I work at a hotel. I often handle sheets and lie down on a cot. I called my boss and she went to check the cot but it didn't have any signs on bedbugs.

I have a really gross head cold right now, so I then thought that the "bites" could maybe be an allergic reaction. I'm not on any medication that is unusual for me (Sudafed and Mucinex DM, both of which I have taken many times without adverse reactions). I have psoriasis but any flare-ups I have look nothing like these bites. They are about the size of a mosquito bite with a red dot in the center. My house seems pretty bug free (ladybugs are usually all I see), and as I worked night shift both Friday and Saturday nights and then had other obligations during the day, I feel like the bites probably came from my work environment anyway.

I live in Kentucky, if that makes any difference. The reason I find the whole situation so strange is because it wasn't 47 bites over a few days, it was 47 bites overnight. They seem to concentrate themselves around the back and front of my right thigh, my stomach, and my right arm. Here is a photo of the largest cluster of bites. I took two Benadryl pills last night and the swelling and itching is much better this morning. Should I see a doctor about this or just keep an eye on them? They're not causing me distress but the thought of being bitten by something 47 times makes my skin crawl.
posted by sarahgrace to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is it possible that you could have been exposed to bedbugs?
posted by bunderful at 8:30 AM on January 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I sometimes have an allergic reaction to flea bites that looks exactly like that. One or two bites turn into many. I goes away pretty fast for me. I wouldn't worry for now.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 8:34 AM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can definitely have bed bug bites even if a cot you sleep on doesn't have any visual evidence of bed bugs. I would ask around at work if anyone else has weird insect bites they can't account for.

The reason I'm immediately guessing bed bugs is that your experience of thinking you have one or two bites but discovering it's actually 47 is exactly how I realized my hostel in Peru had them. I thought I had a mosquito bite or two, and then I realized it was more like 30. And yet I hadn't seen a mosquito the whole time I'd been in country.

That said, fleas are definitely still a possibility. As a kid I spent one afternoon playing with a litter of puppies at my grandparents house and came home with enough flea bites to make my parents think I had chicken pox. I'm pretty sure just one or two fleas can leave quite a lot of bites, especially if your bites are localized to one spot. When I had bed bug bites, they were spread over all of my extremities.
posted by Sara C. at 8:36 AM on January 20, 2014

The bed bug theory still seems most plausible, as does an allergic reaction to something, but other possibilities:

Where are the bites on your body? When I got shingles I thought they were insect bites at first, but it spread a bit more slowly, it was more like a little row of "bites" that spread. If they're on both sides of your body you can pretty easily discount this though, shingles is always one side only.

Also it could be viral? One time I had a really painful, hive-like rash, that my doctor said was probably linked to the cold I had at the time - he said sometimes people get symptoms like this from viruses. It went away on its own but he did prescribe me a cream to help with the discomfort.
posted by SoftRain at 8:37 AM on January 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

It could certainly be bedbugs, but it also looks like a Weird Thing that I experienced a few months ago. I woke up one morning with dozens of itty-bitty bites on one foot and ankle. It looked almost just like your photo, like some weird combination of bug bites and a rash. It went away with a bit of steroid cream I got from my dermatologist...but we never figured out exactly what the cause was.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:49 AM on January 20, 2014

I had this which I got from a under-chlorinated hot tub and it looked just like that. My GP proscribed Cipro and it went away in a couple of days.
posted by Mr.Me at 9:01 AM on January 20, 2014

It is possible that those are bedbug bites (I have dealt with an infestation in the past, so am well acquainted with them). However, a bedbug infestation that results in that many bites and that much of a clustering (especially on your legs which would typically be covered by sheets; bedbugs prioritize exposed skin) really wouldn't have arrived overnight. With the beginnings of an infestation you would expect more the classic 2-3 in a row patterns or clusters in just a few random places. Basically, bedbugs don't feed all that often (I've seen figures like once a week per bug, or even less often) and don't individually make a huge number of bites, so to get that many bites at once there would have to be a fair number of them. I also think that with enough bugs to make that many bites, it wouldn't be too hard to find evidence of them. (Though, it requires some experience to know what to look for, and honestly, management at a hotel is not going to necessarily want to find this evidence; you may want to look at the description of possible evidence on the site I linked, which looks pretty good at least relative to my experiences and research).

So, bedbugs are possible but it isn't my first expectation given your description and the picture; I think you would have had bites before this, the bites would likely be a bit more distributed and mainly on parts of your skin that are exposed to the air while sleeping, the bites would likely form smaller rather than larger clusters, and there would be evidence of an infestation given the number of bites.
posted by advil at 9:05 AM on January 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

From looking at your photo again, is it possible that you sat in ants?
posted by Sara C. at 9:06 AM on January 20, 2014

If you'd been putting your butt into nature lately, and it weren't January, I'd be speculating about chiggers. I've had fungal infections that looked like that, too. Going to a doctor isn't the worst idea, though, because rashes can look like all sorts of things. If this had sprung up on me overnight, I probably would get looked at.
posted by Coatlicue at 9:24 AM on January 20, 2014

I'd suggest reading about shingles to see if that seems to match your symptoms. It sounds like the itchy bumps are all on the same side of your body, which would fit.
posted by Redstart at 9:44 AM on January 20, 2014

Seconding possible shingles.
posted by beagle at 10:05 AM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been on the receiving end of a concentrated bedbug one-night onslaught. The result didn't look like your picture, and unless you don't wear pants at your job it seems odd that you'd have them on your leg like that. (Bedbugs go for the convenient exposed skin.)

However, your picture does remind me of something that happened to my friends and I a couple of years ago. We went to a brewery/bar and we all got terrible bites (~10 people). The seats were wooden chairs and wooden benches, so not clear what happened there. Terribly itchy, and a ton of them. We were bit in places that are covered by clothing but not tightly so, like where one's shirt meets one pants. If you were out and about with anyone maybe ask them if they have unexplained bites.

Also investigate the possibility of shingles.
posted by stowaway at 10:08 AM on January 20, 2014

Fleas got me once like that, and, given your work in a hotel, bedbugs are definitely an option. If either of those are the answer, you may get more bites.

I have gotten skin rashes due to developing allergies to medication. Just because you have taken sudafed previously, does not mean you could not develop an allergy to it. Bodies can change. It's interesting that benadryl helped, because that implies it could be some kind of allergy or histamine reaction.

Could also be a rash associated with a virus. I once got Pityriasis rosea, which was annoying but not particularly debilitating. I mention Pityriasis because it is often preceded by an upper respiratory infection, and you currently have one.

You are up on all your childhood vaccinations?, because chicken pox or measles could possibly be another explanation. Note that you would only usually get shingles if you had had chicken pox at some point in your life.
posted by gudrun at 11:50 AM on January 20, 2014

Check your MeMail.
posted by acorncup at 12:05 PM on January 20, 2014

any hormonal changes lately? I once had a lot of bumps in the same area as you are showing in this picture, when before I hadn't had any, within a few weeks of trying a new birth control.
posted by cacao at 12:30 PM on January 20, 2014

Shingles lesions are blisters, and they sprout up along a the path of a nerve or "dermatome", not just over half your body. The photo doesn't appear to show either blisters or lesions following a dermatome - if they're on both an arm and a leg, that can't be dermatomal.

Pityriasis rash is not typically raised clusters of tiny bumps like the ones in the photo, it is patchy.

I believe the other possibilities raised are plausible. If it's too itchy for Benadryl to cover, a physician might give you oral steroids. They might also be able to give you a better suggestion as to what the cause is after a full history and physical.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:10 PM on January 20, 2014

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