Potential bed bugs and worried flatmate
September 30, 2015 7:07 AM   Subscribe

My flatmate has woken up with one or two small, red, itching bites on her legs or back each day for the past week or so. She is extremely distressed, having had a traumatic experience with bed bugs several years ago. Please help me figure out what to do.

For a week or two now, my flatmate (we are close friends) has woken up with a few (1-3) bites or marks of some kind every day. (The bites have not been grouped close together as I'm aware bed bug bites usually are.) We haven't seen any bugs and I don't know for certain what could be causing the bites. (I don't have any bites; I sleep in a separate room.)

My flatmate is certain we have bed bugs. She has had them previously and says the symptoms she is experiencing are the same as they were then. The previous incident was several years ago and was extremely traumatic for her: she had to get rid of basically all her possessions and move twice before she was rid of them. Because of that experience, she frequently expresses concerns about bed bugs, perhaps a few times a month, less on occasion. We've never had bed bugs since we've been flatmates and every time she's mentioned being concerned about bed bugs before, there's never been any evidence of having them (no bites, no bugs, no blood etc.) and she eventually moves on. I'm used to her worrying that we have bed bugs because of this, and when this happens, I try to do my best to reassure her that we don't have them.

However, this time is extremely upsetting for her because of the bites. I don't know if we have them or not because the bites are the only evidence we have. Something is going on, though, and I want to help her figure out what it is. She is very worried and has talked about moving out if this doesn't clear up in a few days.

I'm finding it difficult to figure out what to do here - I've never had bed bugs and the only evidence we have is her bites, so I'm at a loss as to where to go from here, especially as I know it can be difficult to pin down the cause of such bites. If we do have them, then of course I know we should start looking for somewhere else to live, but at the same time I don't want to overlook potential other explanations just because my flatmate is focused on bed bugs in particular. Whatever I do, I want to be respectful of my flatmate's feelings and cause her the least distress possible.

So far, we've cleaned and examined her room (we didn't find anything). She also purchased some diatomaceous earth and put that down in her room.

Is there any way to definitively find out what's causing these bites, or to rule out certain causes? What can I do to help my flatmate? I would be really grateful for any advice on this situation.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This woman (bedbugger.com post) had similar concerns and describes in detail the trapping and identification methods she used.
posted by wonton endangerment at 7:17 AM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

It could easily be fleas, mosquitos, or something else -- the best way to tell for sure is to get an exterminator in to check the place. Many will do this for cheap or even for free, depending on where you are; in any case, I'd say it was money well spent for your flatmate's peace of mind.
posted by Drexen at 7:17 AM on September 30, 2015

Second the exterminator suggestion. It seems to me it would be worth the money for her peace of mind.
posted by frumiousb at 7:35 AM on September 30, 2015

I was recently bitten by spiders in my sleep. Very itchy! (Benadryl (diphenhydramine) at night and Pepcid AC (famotidine) relieved the itch. For some reason the Pepcid has an antihistamine in it.)

Even though I did not catch any of the malevolent bugs in the act I'm reasonably certain it was spiders and not bedbugs because I have brought any possible "carriers" (used furniture; people who stay in hotels) of bedbugs into my house in the last several months.

Does she have pets? Does anyone else in the apartment? Does anyone in adjacent apartments? If so, chances are it's fleas biting her. Or spiders.

Get some sticky traps and put them around the edge of the room.
posted by mareli at 7:55 AM on September 30, 2015

I'm not sure where you are in the world, but this time of year in New York is sort of the last hurrah for mosquitoes and I end up getting way more mosquito bites than I would earlier in the summer.
posted by cakelite at 7:56 AM on September 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nthing hiring a professional exterminator; find one who specializes in bedbug detection if possible. If it is bedbugs, best to catch and treat them ASAP.

And thanks for looking after your friend and taking her concerns seriously. Bedbugs will mess with your head.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:33 AM on September 30, 2015

Just thinking out loud, but white sheets help here. They'll show blood spots and the bugs themselves more easily. I might also put white paper down at the points where the bed contacts the ground. This will make any bugs easier to see.
posted by cnc at 1:05 PM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

You really need to call an exterminator. You don't say if your friend did so last time, but it might have saved her having to move and get rid of her stuff.

Thing is, bedbug bites can somehow sensitize you to other-bug bites so they come up itchier than they otherwise would. I've also heard tell of ancient bedbug bites coming up again, or even for the first time, purely as a result of anxiety about bed bugs. Skin is very very closely linked to emotional state and it absolutely can conjure these things out of nowhere.

In short, bed bug fear can be worse than actual bedbugs. If an exterminator who specializes in bedbugs can come over to investigate, treat and reassure, I think that will go a long way.

Plus, do the bites have a discernible centre? If they do, they're definitely not bedbug bites.
posted by tel3path at 3:35 PM on September 30, 2015

Oh, man, they say that once you get bedbugs, you have them for life. Not because they never physically go away, but because you'll always be afraid of them and always checking your sheets and inspecting your skin and looking at pictures of other people's skin. It's horrible. I'm so, so sorry your flatmate's suffering like this.

Call the exterminator, so that if there isn't *actually* an infestation, at least your flatmate will have had a trained professional give the all-clear.
posted by Ashen at 8:37 PM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

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