This bites
March 22, 2016 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Something has been sporadically biting me in my sleep since January, possibly before. No physical evidence of bed bugs has been found, though I'm fearing the worst. What should my next steps be?

In January, I was being bitten by something while I slept at night. New bites would crop up in the morning. I would say I had perhaps a dozen bites during this time, most of them in the classic bed bug "breakfast-lunch-dinner" pattern. Most of them were under clothes, which was odd. Once, I felt the bite as it was happening but did not catch the culprit. This gave me hope, because I'd read that you generally don't feel a bed bug bite.

During this time I hunted all around the mattress, sheets, floorboards, etc., but never saw a bed bug, b. bug casting or fecal stain. I did find some blood spots on the sheets, but that could have been due to the fact that my skin was totally dry and cracked from the winter and prone to randomly bleeding (gross, I know).

Nevertheless, I hired a bed bug sniffing dog, and my place was declared clean. I was leery of this, though, because the dog seemed really overly excited by all the fun cat smells in the house (cats were not present, but their smells still were).

After that, the bites seemed to stop? I'm not sure. I had maybe one or two noticeable bites between then and now.

In the last couple of nights, however, the biting has returned. Two nights ago I got three bites on my neck, two next to each other and one on the other side. This morning I awoke to a fresh bite on my finger.

Other possibly relevant details:
I have cats, who sleep on the bed. I periodically treat them for fleas with Revolution. They definitely have no fleas on them right now.

I did find one flea on me this past winter sometime, but none since.

I work in an environment known to have "areas of concern" during our monthly bed bug inspection. Think movie theater or hotel. I avoid these areas like the plague.

I live in one of the most b. bug infested cities in the country.

No recent trips or anything like that.

Something was biting me in November of last year, though not in the patently obvious bed bug 1-2-3 pattern. That biting also seemed to stop for a couple months before returning in January.

My current bites are more like big puffy welts, whereas the bites in January were small, pinpoint bites that bled when scratched.

Does this sound like a slow-brewing bed bug infestation? I've read that it can take six months for an infestation to really become obvious. Plus we keep our house at 59 degrees F in the winter, which probably slows things down for any bugs.

And there's always the possibility that I've brought a new friend home since January.

What should my next steps be? Hire a different inspector? Wait for more evidence? I'm pretty fucking broke at the moment, but I guess if we could head off any huge infestations early that would be less expensive in the long run.

Any other advice? Thanks!!
posted by whistle pig to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Seconding the bedbugger forums. The professionals who post there will sort you out.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:38 AM on March 22, 2016

Could they be spider bites?
posted by lizbunny at 9:42 AM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Bugs are probably more likely given what you describe, but it's always good to rule out hives, which can look and feel remarkably like bites. (I once posted on here asking what was biting my wife, and after a dozen people consoled me for my bedbug infestation, one person said "Try Benadryl" and that turned out to be it. YMMV.)
posted by Beardman at 9:54 AM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Is it possible that you have a minor infection that's giving you a sporadic pimple-like rash? Because that's what it sounds like to me from your description.
posted by purpleclover at 10:13 AM on March 22, 2016

In my case, after months of low-level biting, I eventually found an actual bedbug. The damn thing was hanging out on a venetian blind, of all places. An inspector swore up and down I couldn't possibly have an infestation because there was no sign of it (no carapaces, feces etc) but there was the bug, so. My point is, yes, in a cold house, a bedbug presence can stay at very low numbers for a long time, to the point of near invisibility.

(In your case, the dog says no, but dogs are only about 90% accurate if I recall correctly. Humans, like 40%, per my later, better inspector.)

Check the bedbugger forums. There is advice there on what to do if you can't afford to fumigate, as well as what else it could be, and how to figure out what else it could be.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:38 AM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you been tested for allergies? I developed cat allergies as an adult and I'll get hives and welts.
posted by melissam at 10:42 AM on March 22, 2016

Seconding Beardman. It couldn't hurt to switch to free and clear detergent and hypoallergenic soap if you aren't already using such products, for example. Hives look exactly like bug bites, for the most part, except that there is no tiny punctate mark in the center of them.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:43 AM on March 22, 2016

I'm agreeing with the allergy suggestions, simply because your bites started out as pin pricks and are now puffy and swollen. Go see your doctor and let them have a look. You could be reacting to something you are eating or something that you are being exposed to at work. It could really be anything.

Are you the only one in your house getting bitten, by the way?

It could be fleas. The cats have been treated but you haven't. The nasty little things could be hatching and feeding off of you. If your doctor confirms bites, then you will need to do a bomb.
posted by myselfasme at 11:06 AM on March 22, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for your answers, everyone.

I will say that I don't think these are hives, at least not based on the images I'm seeing on the internet of hives. They seem much more like discrete bug bites. And it seems suspicious that new ones crop up only after having been in bed overnight. We use hypoallergenic detergent. I'm the only human sleeping in this bed.

I have posted before on the bedbugger forums, but tend to only get one or no answers. I'll try reposting there, getting some traps, and if the bites continue, hiring a different sniffer dog.
posted by whistle pig at 11:18 AM on March 22, 2016

When this happened to me, it turned out to be an allergic reaction to a medication I was taking. My hives started out looking a lot like bug bites, and I did the same bed bug search and everything for months, until my hives turned into bigger welts and actually looked like hives and I wrote down everything I was eating/drinking/taking and eliminated the most likely allergic reaction inducing causes.
posted by mollywas at 11:27 AM on March 22, 2016

it seems suspicious that new ones crop up only after having been in bed overnight.

Not disputing that it could be bugs, but FWIW, this was also true in my wife's case--it turned out that the hives were related to getting too warm under the bedsheets at night. (Once she went to a private karaoke room without AC and afterwards her back looked like she'd been dropped into some Indiana Jones-style insect hell-pit.)

Best of luck, whatever it turns out to be. I know this shit is stressful.
posted by Beardman at 11:39 AM on March 22, 2016

Look into rat mites. They are carried by rodents who could be living under your house/walls. Bites are really itchy and sound similar to what you might have.
posted by monologish at 11:44 AM on March 22, 2016

Spider bites maybe?
posted by bluesky78987 at 3:25 PM on March 22, 2016

Not to derail but since it's been offered up a couple times; spiders don't bite people in their sleep. They need to be provoked to bite, otherwise eating insects and other tiny animals.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:29 PM on March 22, 2016

I just went through my own bedbug nightmare and completely sympathize with the uncertainty of not knowing if you have them or not. In the end, I did have them, but there are a lot of options for what it could be. I would check into fleas and other kinds of bugs, including spiders, bat bugs (if you live in a place with an attic), etc. In my case, it was intermittent bites that showed up every few says, with the biggest space being 15 days in between bites. I got a very good guy to come out and do an inspection--he looked at all the creases in my mattress with a magnifying loupe (what a jeweler uses), the baseboards, where they also tend to be, and in the wooden frame (they love wooden bed frames!). He didn't find anything beyond the one bedbug casing that I had already found under my bed. They really are very tricky bugs to find if you have a small infestation. As he told me, it might have been just one male bedbug who caught a ride and was incapable of reproducing. He didn't recommend treatment unless I found a live bug or more evidence. I ended up finding a live bug crawling on me later, so decided to pay for treatment and am now bug free.

Basically, unless you find a live bug, there is not enough evidence for a good pest control guy to treat. My friend had a similar experience, where they couldn't find anything when they inspected and then later treated after she found a bedbug crawling across her bed. They are very tricky creatures, but there are also a ton of other things it could be, so unless you find solid evidence, there is not reason to believe it's bedbugs yet. Don't put too much credence into how your bites look or the pattern they're in, as everyone responds to them differently and they often don't come in the breakfast-lunch-dinner pattern. I'd recommend your next steps to be to buy traps, keep checking your mattress, and get another inspector if you think they will be more likely to find anything. If you're in the NYC area, I recommend Beach Pest Control! I found the bedbugger forums most useful as a reference tool.

As far as bed bug traps, I got the Step-Up traps--never caught anything in there, either, but I think that I had an extraordinarily small infestation and treated very early. Those traps seem to be what people recommend, though.

Good luck, I know how intensely stressful this can be. The thought that no one has ever died from these and that this is a treatable problem kept me going. If it is bedbugs, you can successfully treat them!
posted by 1004 Holds at 6:30 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Bedbugs can occur with no physical evidence other than bites in the pattern that you describe, especially in smaller less established infestations.
posted by bunderful at 7:40 PM on March 22, 2016

I had a similar experience in February last year, also with a bed bug sniffing dog who couldn't find anything.

Like monologish, I think it may be rat mites. The pest control company who brought the dog left a lot of the sticky cardboard "tent" traps which never caught anything other than spiders (and the bites were definitely not spider bites). However, I suspected there were rats since it's a common problem in my neighbourhood. Since the landlords hired an exterminator for the rats this past fall, I haven't had a single bite.

The only thing that seemed to help cut down the number of bites last year was frequently washing the sheets in hot water. The bites would stop for a few days then start ramping up again. I also experimented with spraying the mattress and bed frame with rubbing alcohol but I don't know if that made a difference.
posted by meadowlands at 11:24 PM on March 22, 2016

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