make mites not bite me or my kid.
December 15, 2015 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Something - possibly mites stirred up by my home renovation - has been biting me, and sometimes my kid, while we sleep. How can I prevent it?

You guys... this has been going on so long and it is so gross. I'll take any informed advice you've got, or even just sympathy.

I woke up some weeks ago with just a few, but very bad, bug bites on my right forearm. This is the part of me that is closest to the outer edge of the bed while I sleep. I went to a doctor who said that since we have no pets it was likely either bedbugs or mites, and that if it was mites, they would calm down when the renovation was over. I looked, found no evidence of bedbugs, assumed it was mites. One of my daughters got a couple bites too around the same time.

Then a few days ago I found one bedbug on the window blind in the bedroom. I freaked out, called a recommended exterminator/inspector. He came out and I watched while he methodically inspected the bed (he also checked the kids' beds.) He found no evidence of bedbugs other than the one I'd caught; had no explanation for how there could be just one (flat, like it hadn't eaten in a while) on the blind in my room. Since there was no infestation, he also thought mites were the likely explanation (the renovation did include work in the ceiling which had been full of ancient rat nests.) The solitary bedbug remained a mystery.

Then, the bites stopped showing up for a while, but then yesterday I had 3-4 of them again, and again they were on my right forearm and hand. This time I also had one on my left hand.

I am at my wits' end. I have extremely reactive skin and every one of these bites blows up like a giant red welt, is disfiguring and painful, and I'm scared they're - whatever they are - going to get at my face, or my girls'. The renovation will be over soon and of course I will have the house deep cleaned at that time, and fumigated if necessary (although right now I don't really have the money lying around for that) but in the meantime... have you ever dealt with something like this? Like assuming it is mites, what can I do?
posted by fingersandtoes to Home & Garden (19 answers total)
I have no idea if this will help for Mystery Bug bites, but my ex was career military and he consumed the smelliest garlic pills he could find to keep chiggers at bay while in the field in chigger country. He suffered a lot less than his coworkers. I would try that.
posted by Michele in California at 10:09 AM on December 15, 2015

Get another exterminator who knows what they are talking about with bedbugs. The one you hired did not.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:10 AM on December 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'm sorry but you almost certainly have a bed bug infestation assuming what you found was in fact a bed bug (did you keep it/take a picture?).

Get a second opinion asap, because if you do have an infestation, it'll be harder to get rid of the longer it stays around. Infestations are incredibly difficult to find even for experts. The little bastards are very, very, very good at finding hiding places our eyes can't reach and are not at all limited to hiding in if the inspector only inspected the bed and nowhere else, he definitely doesn't know what he's doing.

The answer to dealing with it depends what it is. If it is in fact bedbugs, you need to pay $$$ and do all the (extensive - again, if it isn't, they don't know what they're doing) prep work the company recommends to get it properly treated. They can be resistant to treatment too, so I'd highly recommend getting a company that will keep spraying at no additional fee until they're really gone (took 3 treatments for us). I react badly like you too - I'm sorry, it sucks. The only thing that helped me at all is maximum dosing of benedryl, and even that only turns it from unbearable into excruciating....if you're not already doing that, definitely give it a shot.
posted by randomnity at 10:23 AM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: the one on the blind was definitely a bedbug, no question. The exterminator identified it as such (and so did I, I know what a fully grown one looks like.)

Any thoughts on how to find a better inspector? How I found this one was, when I found the one bedbug on the blind, I thought maybe I should get one of those sniffer dogs to figure out where there might be others. But when I called the highest-rated sniffer dog guy on yelp, he said if I had found one on the blind there was no question I had them and I should go right to extermination, and he recommended the guy that came out.

How would one go about looking for them if not in the bed?
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:34 AM on December 15, 2015

Another possibility, especially with the recent ceiling renovations: do you think what you found could have been a very similar-looking, closely-related bat bug rather than an actual bed bug? If it's bat bugs instead, then getting rid of the bats is probably cheaper (and definitely more effective) than spraying for bed bugs. Still, I'd get a second opinion to rule out bed bugs if possible.
posted by randomnity at 10:35 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm sure I don't have bats now. BUT, this whole saga started a couple months ago when we were cabin-camping in the redwoods and got horribly bitten there, so maybe I could have taken a hitchhiked batbug home? Oh god. Ok I'm getting the microscope to be sure.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:41 AM on December 15, 2015

The description of the bites sound like bedbug bites to me. Can you post a pic?

Any thoughts on how to find a better inspector?

Angie's List
posted by Jacqueline at 10:48 AM on December 15, 2015

Best answer: If you had one bed bug and bites, it really is Occam's razor. You've got bed bugs.

I had the same experience (minus seeing the bed bug). No evidence other than the bites and blood on sheets. Called exterminator and he couldn't find them. It seemed to be such a minor infestation we took care of it ourselves. With used diatomaceous earth for about 3 months. Yes, it took 3 months. You could have just a few bedbugs but they can live a long, long time without feeding.
posted by ReluctantViking at 11:08 AM on December 15, 2015

Response by poster: Well, now I wish I'd used my question to ask for a recommendation for a bedbug inspector/exterminator in the bay area. If anyone wants to chime in with that, it seems like it would be the most useful answer!
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:32 AM on December 15, 2015

Best answer: How would one go about looking for them if not in the bed?

Here's one checklist. Again though, they're very hard to see - flat, dark, unmoving, and hiding in deep cracks. So not finding any bugs isn't proof that they aren't there. You'll have better luck looking for tell-tale signs: blood spots on the sheets or mattress is an obvious one, plus things like shed skins, fecal matter, black marks, or eggs along the edges of your mattress (look very carefully, with a flashlight, deep in the mattress seams). If you don't find any of that, you aren't necessarily in the clear, but you probably don't have a severe infestation at least.

One more thing - some people react right away, but others take a few days to react to the bites. (I got to precisely time my reaction time after a horrifying bedbug encounter the morning after a one-night stay in a hostel this summer - first itching started 2 nights later, with worsening welts developing over the following 2-3 days, then slowly improving over the next week or two). So on the outside chance that you did have only that one isolated bug that you caught a few days ago, you could wait a week or so to see if you get more bites. Unfortunately the odds are high that you will be bitten again, but you can decide whether it's worth that risk to be extra-sure that you still have a problem.

re: inspector/exterminator, I don't know about specific recommendation but the things I liked about ours were 1) he specialized in bedbugs and had a lot of experience with them (claimed he could smell which rooms they were in, then looked carefully there until he found the nest locations) and more importantly 2) he honoured the contract to keep spraying until I stopped getting bitten, even though he couldn't find any evidence of live bugs after the first spraying, and I had to be pretty insistent. It was not the cheapest exterminator out there but #2 especially was definitely worth paying extra for - otherwise we'd be right back where we started, after paying a big fee.
posted by randomnity at 11:36 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm casting another vote for bedbugs. Esp. if you find the telltale "marching" bite pattern.

Get another exterminator/inspector.
posted by -1 at 12:40 PM on December 15, 2015

Best answer: I've had ONE bedbug, if you can believe that. Infrequent, but very bad, bites. We had one company come in 3 times and smoke the place, and it did get better but that last little fucker still survived. I would go 3 weeks without a bite, think it was over, then... chomp chomp chomp.

Finally we called this other guy we knew from when we had mice a few years ago. He said it is totally possible to have ONE bedbug, and he sprayed the place and I didn't have any more bites.

Thing is, I was also sensitized to all irritants and insect bites for a while there. A few weeks after the last exterminator came, I had another raised red welt and nearly freaked out, until I saw it had a definite red point in the centre so probably wasn't a bedbug bite. I coached myself to calm down, and the irritation went down fairly soon and we haven't had a problem since.

Skin conditions are very closely connected to emotional conditions and the fear of bedbugs can be worse than anything the bugs themselves can do to you. Their bites are basically harmless unless you get so many of them you're at risk of anemia, and obviously your case isn't anywhere near that bad. They are exasperating little sods who exist only to bite humans (they don't like the taste of animals) and can go 18 months without food or water, can survive extreme temperatures, and are super talented at hiding. So it can feel like there's no way to win, but that is only a feeling. Be persistent, comply with what the exterminators tell you to do, and don't overreact. Keep trying and you will get rid of them.
posted by tel3path at 3:34 PM on December 15, 2015

Response by poster: My most current bites do have red marks in the center but I don't think my pattern is typical...

When you say "smoke the place" do you mean a whole-house fumigation? That's what the first guy I talked to said would definitely work...
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:41 PM on December 15, 2015

Best answer: Others have already chimed in, but I'll just add that when my apartment got bedbugs several different exterminators never found any actual bugs despite my getting multiple bites a night. They only believed me because I wasn't the only one in the building complaining, and then because the treatments worked. Treatments included spraying some kind of poison, and eventually heat treatment (they literally turned my apartment into an oven with a special heater). Both required I take pets out of the building for the day but not overnight. The bites I got had a tiny blister or cluster of teeny tiny blisters in the center, you could feel them if you ran a finger over them.

Since you had such a bad reaction, as tel3path said you may find that you now have allergic reactions to things you ordinarily wouldn't (I got hives from eating wheat, never having had any food allergies before). Over the counter allergy meds helped a lot for both the initial bites and subsequent hypersensitivity, I took benedryl at night and zyrtec during the day and for really bad bites a little doctor-prescribed hydrocortisone cream. I kept taking zyrtec for quite a while afterwards and eventually things calmed down.
posted by cali at 12:45 AM on December 16, 2015

Best answer: You've seen a bedbug, it's acting like bedbugs, therefore it's bedbugs. There isn't any one definitive format for a bedbug bite. I think they usually don't have a red point at the center, but that very last one was the only one that ever did. If yours mostly do, you should still assume bedbugs until proven otherwise.

Yes to antihistamines and hydrocortisone till it all blows over.
posted by tel3path at 2:27 AM on December 16, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks you guys, I know it's Occam's Razor but it still has been very helpful to hear that such a thing as a "low-level to the point of invisibility" infestation exists; I hadn't known that. I'll proceed with that assumption. Of course there could ALSO be mites (and with the amount of old rat crap that got dumped out of my kitchen ceiling I'd be surprised if there weren't) so I think I might start with spraying for the bedbugs and then do a whole house thing when the renovation is all done.

Here's a follow up question: do you think that I ought to refrain from having guests over until I've gone [some amount of time] without a bite, and what is that amount of time? What if guests never go to the bedrooms? I would hate for anyone to pick up something like this in my house.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:33 AM on December 16, 2015

Best answer: Well, I wouldn't have guests over till you're clear, especially when you don't know where the infestation is located.

I'd ask the exterminator how long to wait, but 4 weeks should be enough based on my limited experience.
posted by tel3path at 7:50 AM on December 16, 2015

Response by poster: update: I had a guy come with a bedbug sniffer dog. The night before he came, I saw another bedbug. It was crawling on the carpet. The dog then confirmed bedbugs in the bed. Curiously, even with the dog's two "right there!!" alerts, neither his inspector handler nor the recommended exterminator who is going to be treating the house were able to find ANY sign at all of the infestation. No carapaces, feces, nothing! So these are guys #2 and #3 who can't see any sign of them. But with the dog's say-so, plus the 2 specimens I found, I'm going to get a professional extermination done. Still not sure what route I ought to go for that (heat, fumigation, spot chemical.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:04 PM on December 23, 2015

Do you share any walls with your neighbours? They can get in through the electrical outlets (the bedbugs, I mean, not the neighbours). That's what the last guy suspected could have happened in our case. He also pointed out the window to a pile of discarded mattresses in next door's yard, and said that's what people do when they have bedbugs. On the other hand, next door have been renovating forever and their yard is full of all kinds of debris, not just the mattresses. Also, I bought a second hand dresser right before we had the infestation, and the first guy said it was obviously that and there were many signs of infestation in the dresser, but the second guy said there was no sign the dresser had ever been infested.

We had three smoke treatments, and one spot chemical, and it was the spot chemical that seemingly ended it all.
posted by tel3path at 2:49 PM on December 23, 2015

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