Attacked by mystery bug. What bit me and how worried should I be?
April 5, 2017 10:15 AM   Subscribe

I know this will largely be a waiting game now, but I'm really curious what your opinions are regarding recent bites I got.

Last Friday, I took a half day after feeling sick and went home and just napped. I was basically on the couch from 3pm til around midnight, then I moved to the bed and kept sleeping till the next morning. I woke up the next morning scratching myself and found over 20 bites on me. There was more or less a loose row by my waistline, and the rest was scattered elsewhere.

Factor 1: We got the couch about a month ago off of craigslist. It's a nice clean couch and we got it from a wealthy area, so it wasn't just a sketchy craigslist purchase. We also paid a lot for it. I live with my bf and this is the first time any bites happened to either of us. We sit on it every night.

Factor 2: I wrapped myself with old wool blanket that we normally drape on top of our comforter. It has been warm lately so it was sitting on a chest by a window when I grabbed it.

Factor 3: I'm typically very reactive to insect bites and ant/fire ant bites swell up on me.

Factor 4: We have two cats. I brushed them and didn't find any fleas. They were treated with Aadvantage about a month ago.

The bites have mostly faded now. The weirdest part is how different bites had different reactions on my body. The one on my wrist swelled up to the size of a lime. I found two bite marks so almost sure that was a spider. The ones on my waist have tiny little red marks, surrounded by red flat patches. A few are three or four tiny red dots in a cluster. The red have faded after a few days so the dots are clearer. There's single ones on my leg that are like that too. There's also ones on my back that just feels like hard mosquito bites. They're all very itchy.

Clearly I'm worried we brought bed bugs in with the couch, but it seems weird to have such an attack after a month of nothing. I got two more little red bites on my arm a day later, but nothing since. BF hasn't gotten anything that he's noticed. We've since vacuumed the couch, put diatomaceous earth underneath the cushions, washed our sheets and vacuumed the house a few times. I inspected the couch all over after this but haven't found anything. I know we'll need to do loads more if it's actually anything. So, thoughts?
posted by monologish to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Unless there's a compelling reason why you shouldn't, I strongly suggest you go to a doctor - a dermatologist if possible. This may not be a serious threat to your health, but it sure isn't good for it.
posted by cerebus19 at 10:22 AM on April 5, 2017

Response by poster: forgot to add - i went to urgent care the next day because it was a saturday and nothing else was open. the guy was the most unhelpful. said it was definitely a bed bug type of thing -_- and offered to give me some cream. i have topical steroid cream already so have been applying that.
posted by monologish at 10:25 AM on April 5, 2017

That's what my bedbug bites looked like, and I had far fewer. My guess is that you have many of them; sorry.

They didn't bite you guys when you weren't sleeping for good reason. They react (i.e., come out and feast on your blood) to you emitting more carbon dioxide, like you do when you're still and breathing regularly. Yes; they know when you're sleeping.

Edited to add: the bites don't itch for hours after they inject you with the blood thinner—it's apparently an evolutionary thing that keeps them from being swatted away.

Again, sorry. But you need a bedbug specialist STAT before they find your bed.

They don't want your cat because your cat is too hairy—it's harder to manipulate their backward-facing mouthparts in order to draw their blood. It's rare for pets to suffer the effects. They prefer smoother humans. That's why you're not bitten all over your head, too. Just your smoother parts. Call pest control today.
posted by heyho at 10:37 AM on April 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

The couch could very well have had bedbug eggs in it, which have now hatched and are biting you. Bites that appear on exposed skin and/or in a line are pretty common indicators of bedbugs.

I hope you really love that couch. Bedbugs don't care if somebody is rich or poor--it's just as likely that Wealthy Executive got bedbugs from staying in an infected hotel. In other words, having gotten the couch from a wealthy area doesn't mean anything.

I would go buy a few bug foggers and fog the entire house--multiple times. Pack up the kitties and take them somewhere else for the day, and fog everything. Repeat at least a few times over the next week or two. Put all your clothes and your mattress/box spring in bedbug bags (airtight plastic so the bugs suffocate). Consider hiring a professional exterminator. Consider that quite seriously.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:42 AM on April 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Let me also advise that you not try to find proof that it's bedbugs before "bothering" the exterminator. It is bedbugs. What you described is spot-on. I am 98% certain because I've dealt with this before. Do not delay in treating this like a very real problem. You will save yourself a lot of trouble by confronting it head-on right away.

Finding them is difficult because they like to sandwich themselves between sheets of paper or folded fabric. This is why your bug guy will check the seams very carefully. They ooze out a bit of goo to make themselves stick to the paper/fabric, so you may notice little dark crosses, about the size of a t in 8-point Arial font. Dead giveaway if you see that on your couch fabric. But seriously, don't wait for proof.

Is your book case near your couch? If so, do what I did (it's disheartening, but it works): books all go into quarantine in airtight plastic bags for 18 months to be sure you kill the ones that might be hiding in them. These little fuckers can go at least 12 months between feedings. That's why they're so insidious. I did 18 months because I didn't want a repeat performance.

And for future reference: bedbugs can hitch rides into your house. Do not ever set your purse or suitcase/gym bag/whatever down on a carpeted floor, like, say... in a hotel room or at work. Always keep your stuff up on tables and whatnot in hotels. That's what those luggage racks are for.

My bedbug guy thought my bugs came from a library book. We actually found egg casings right under my desk, just under the book I'd checked out for three months and kept in the same spot the whole time! So yeah... library books :( That can apparently happen. But yours almost assuredly came from that couch, and the bug waited until one of you fell asleep for the length of time necessary to chew you up.

There's a saying about the bites sometimes showing up in groups of three, and it's referred to as breakfast/lunch/dinner. They won't always be in threes; mine weren't. But the idea is that they feast, move on a little, then bite again, then move on and bite again... and so on. That's why there are bite clusters.

I know far too much about this crap. I hated this event enough to really educate myself to mitigate the chances that it'll happen to me twice!
posted by heyho at 11:09 AM on April 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

Im gonna go against the grain and say that I dont think those are bedbug bites. I had a similar situation a couple years ago but the culprit turned out to dermestid beetles which are very common, almost everyone has had them in their house at some point but sometimes people are under stress and their bodies react to the insects more. If thats what these are they probably live in your wool blanket because dermestid beetle (so tiny you most likely cant see them) feed on organic animal material like wool or in my case Alpaca wool from my blanket. Those aren't actually bites either, the beetles have tiny hairs that irritate the skin of sensitive people. I had a bedbug specialist come out when this happened to me, and thats how we found all this out. Try putting your wool blanket through the dryer on high heat, then put the blanket in a black plastic bag and let it sit in the sun outside for a couple days. If you have any other wool or animal hair blanket or rugs do the same to them. I think you'll be OK.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:09 AM on April 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've also dealt with bedbugs but I find it very hard to tell from your description what you might have. Clusters are a useful sign but I really can't tell from the "waist" pictures if that is really bedbug clustering, or just a lot of bites in roughly the same area. One other reason I'm not sure is that bedbug bites are typically on exposed skin (not under clothes/blankets), which it isn't clear from your description is what really happened. The bites don't look very typical but people do react differently.

On the other hand, on the "nothing" issue: (i) they could be from eggs, as several people have pointed out, (ii) not everyone reacts to bedbug bites, so it's possible your boyfriend is one of the lucky (?) ones who will just never notice them, and (iii) they will feed on cats if there aren't humans around, so if your cats sleep on that couch it's possible that's been keeping a small population going.

tldr I think you should call a professional to really find out.
posted by advil at 12:14 PM on April 5, 2017

My roommate bought a couch on CL. It was comfy. People napped on it. We all got bit. Each thought this was something to soldier through alone so we didn't talk about it until dinner on a surprisingly warm day when the evidence was visible. This was 3 weeks after I'd been low person on the stairs with that couch. I argued that we had other commonalities. That we'd have to burn everything else. I loved that couch. It fit in the perfect place.

I got out-voted 5-1 about burning the couch cause almost everyone wants to see a couch tipped over the railing and the shattered but still couchy remains dragged towards the barn and set on fire. Note that most of the bitten seem to love fire and felt vindictive towards the poor couch.

The bites stopped. That's all I can tell you about bitey couches.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 12:24 PM on April 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

A dermatologist will tell you that there are patterns more typically characteristic of bedbugs vs fleas or whatever, but the bite's appearance itself depends not only on your skin but on the age of the bug. The nymphs are far more voracious than the adults. You really can't tell what species of arthropod bit you. [SOURCE: my own, horrible, bedbug experiences and visits to multiple specialists.] That said, it looks and sounds like bedbugs to me. Burn that couch NOW - at the very least, put it on the curb, like right now (spray it with water or something so nobody will take it) and have your municipal waste removal get rid of it ASAP - and then pray. You may get very very lucky and not have had them migrate elsewhere yet.

(By the way, when I brought bedbugs home from a trip, I got low level bit for months and my husband never got bit at all. Different skins reacts differently.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:29 PM on April 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Wash the blanket too. If you can't wash it hot at least put it in the dryer on high heat for a good long time.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:34 PM on April 5, 2017

Response by poster: We got a pest guy out and he couldn't find any bed bugs or blood smears. :/
posted by monologish at 9:03 AM on April 6, 2017

Seriously, everything you related here points to Dermestid beetles (also known as Carpet Beetles).
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:25 AM on April 6, 2017

That happened to me too when I had the bedbugs in my house. He couldn't find bugs or smears and assured me I didn't have bedbugs; then a few days later I spotted one myself. Don't trust those guys. (I then called a guy with a bedbug sniffing dog, and the dog did point to the bed, but the guy was still unable to spot them.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:25 AM on April 6, 2017

I just want to signal boost fingersandtoes comment that you cannot tell what bit you from the bites. Your particular immune system is what causes the inflammation, redness, and itchiness, and two different people bitten by the same bug may have very different symptoms. The behavioral symptoms of the bites are a bit more sure; as people have said, bedbugs like to march across you and take a bite every little bit, it's a hold-over from when their ancestors were sapsuckers that would take samples across stems or leaves to find a good spot. This is a paradigmatic bedbug bite syndrome. If you have that, it's likely that you have bedbugs; if you don't, you don't know whether you have bedbugs or not until you find the bugs that are causing your bites.

I'd suggest taking another nap on the couch without the wool blanket, and see what happens. I know, you don't wanna get bit again, but if you've got bedbugs, they'll bite again. If you've got carpet beetle larvae, their trichomes are in the wool blanket and you won't get "bites" again.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 10:14 AM on April 6, 2017

I am very reactive to bug bites. I definitely was able to tell that I had bed bugs at a time when there was no physical sign of them in my room--and was able to confirm it after I'd started treating by finding an actual live bug. The stuff that they look for typically--dogs aside--is stuff that doesn't show up until you've got a lot of them and they've been settled in for awhile.


We got the couch about a month ago off of craigslist. It's a nice clean couch and we got it from a wealthy area, so it wasn't just a sketchy craigslist purchase.

Take that off your list of considerations. Bedbugs are not a thing that only sketchy places have, now. Your couch from an affluent place could very well have artisanal bedbugs sourced from a luxury hotel in NYC. Treat all purchases of used upholstered furniture as potential sources of bedbugs and plan accordingly.
posted by Sequence at 12:00 PM on April 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm an exterminator. Do not try to solve this problem yourself. Over-the-counter products can spook them and they will flee to another room. Call a different exterminator for a second opinion. An experienced technician will tell you that just because he can't find them, doesn't mean you don't have them. Did he say "you don't have them" or did he say "I can't find any"? They are small and good at hiding. Many times by the time that they are easy to find, then they have been there a while. Check your local ordinances about disposal of infested furniture, then get rid of the couch. Better safe than sorry. Put plain white sheets on all your beds, and keep an eye on them for little stains that look like a tiny drop of coffee. That is thier droppings. If it turns out it's not bedbugs, then it could be scabies. If so, you will need to see a doctor.
posted by ambulocetus at 8:43 PM on April 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: If anyone's interested, we just got another exterminator out. It was fleas. Found some in our bed and a dead one in the couch.
posted by monologish at 12:23 PM on April 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

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