Could I have bedbugs even though I don't itch?
March 13, 2007 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Could these small, non-itching red welts be caused by bedbugs?

I returned from a trip to New York City about a month ago. Having heard about bedbug problems there, I took precautions--chose a hostel with no reports of bedbugs (and no signs visible when I checked my bed), kept my suitcase in a plastic bag when I wasn't using it. After about two weeks at home with no sign of bugs, I figured I was safe.

A few days ago I noticed a few small red bumps on my skin. I didn't think anything of them for a while, as they don't itch at all. It occurred to me yesterday, however, that I should rule out the possibility of infestation. After doing some research, I've concluded that the bites show some characteristics of bedbug bites, in that they're located mostly on my torso, neck and upper legs, and some of them are in clusters of two or three. Contrariwise, they're small--half a cm in diameter or less--and as mentioned, they're not itchy, painful or irritated in any way. There are perhaps eight or nine bites total.

I don't relish the prospect of going into full scorched-earth bedbug-eviction proceedings without being certain that it's necessary, so I'm hoping AskMe can provide me with more data points on this issue. I've had trouble finding resources on bites that don't itch, since presumably no one is much troubled by them.

As a side question, since any infestation would necessarily be less than three or four weeks old, can I try more moderate tactics before throwing out my mattress and shrinking all my clothes in a hot dryer?
posted by fermion to Health & Fitness (17 answers total)
Best answer: Don't get crazy just yet. The paranoia that accompanies this problem gets out of control easily.

If they were bedbug bites, they'd certainly itch or hurt or both. They probably aren't.

For the time being, rather than throw out our mattress, use a hot iron over its entire surface, paying especial attention to the seams. Be careful not to melt or burn your mattress. Wash and dry your linens.

And then just wait. I know it's tough when there are things you think you ought to do to stave off potential invasion, but until you know for sure that you have them, everything else is just speculation and delusional parasitosis.

Clusters of bedbug bites are usually in a straight line, BTW.

You won't be able to tell for sure until you see some evidence-- actual bugs, or traces of them. Until then, calm down and limit your prevention to ironing and washing. That will give you something to do, may stamp out a problem if you caught it in time, and will make you feel better until you know more.
posted by hermitosis at 10:56 AM on March 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Get some chromatin and put it on. I had bedbugs, and a very bad infestation at that. It sounds likely if they are on your torso, I hope you are avoiding intercourse while you are dealing with this.
posted by parmanparman at 10:57 AM on March 13, 2007

I forgot to mention, put the chromatin on, go to bed for eight hours, then wash everything including yourself. Then take the mattress and air it out for a day. Bedbugs cannot live longer than 24 hours without eating.
posted by parmanparman at 10:58 AM on March 13, 2007

Don't throw out your mattress! You probably shouldn't do that even if you do have bed bugs.

Rule number one is don't do anything until you know it's bed bugs. You should see a bed bug or at least some of their dark stains and sweet smell if it is bed bugs.

But I do think it's possible that they wouldn't be itchy to you, in that your body chemistry just doesn't react to them like most folks' do, in which case you'd be very lucky.

Me, I'd do a thorough search, then a thorough vacuum (dispose of the bag immediately), wait a few days to see if the bites continue, then go from there.
posted by lampoil at 10:58 AM on March 13, 2007

You can also buy a plastic bedsleeve, if you are really freaking out. After ironing your mattress, immediately seal it in the plastic sleeve. If you HAVE brought home some bugs it's probable that they haven't spread far yet, and capping off hte mattress may do the trick. Might as well try the cheap solutions first, in the absence of evidence.
posted by hermitosis at 11:00 AM on March 13, 2007

What? Bed bugs can live 12-18 MONTHS without eating.
posted by lampoil at 11:01 AM on March 13, 2007

Seconding bedbugs living long periods without eating.
posted by hermitosis at 11:54 AM on March 13, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the words of moderation. I'm really not freaking out about this too much--that is, I'm not getting overly emotional about it--I just feel like I owe it to my roommates to be paranoid. I've heard too many horror stories of months-long extermination processes, stripped-down bedrooms, and sleepless nights.

I'll start vacuuming (and ironing, and washing.) Room needs it anyway.
posted by fermion at 12:46 PM on March 13, 2007

If you live somewhere warm and sunny, pull your mattress outside and let it sit in direct sun all day. Gets rid of bedbugs, if they are indeed the cause of your bites/rash. I did have bedbugs once, and the bites didn't itch much, but there were 50-100 of them, mostly on my torso and on the side I slept on. Since you only have 8 or 9 bites total, I doubt bedbugs are the cause.
posted by emd3737 at 1:10 PM on March 13, 2007

You might want to look at this post from yesterday.
posted by Xurando at 2:51 PM on March 13, 2007

Bedbugs cannot live longer than 24 hours without eating.

I've been beaten, but yeah, they live well over a year without eating.

Other bedbug myths:

- You can't see them (yes, you can, they get to be about the size of an adult tick)
- The bites always hurt or itch (not always the case, sometimes it just looks like a heat rash)
- Just getting rid of your bed/mattress works (had an old landlord who claimed this to get out of an extermination bill - the little fuckers live in walls, in the cracks of other furniture, clothes, luggage, etc.)

Re: paranoia:

This shit sets in quickly. Fight the urge to freak out as much as you can. Don't believe you have them right off the bat, so in the event that you don't, you won't be screwed-up psychologically for the next 3 months.

If you think you might, and try some suggestions in the thread without being able to determine it, drop the cash for an assessment from a properly licensed exterminator. Make sure the exterminator is trained to deal with bedbugs! Many simply aren't equipped or knowledgeable enough to deal with bedbug infestations. (You gotta know how to deal with bedbugs specifically as well as being specially licensed for the type of chemical(s) used to get rid of them.)

Good luck. Hope you don't actually have 'em! :)
posted by secret about box at 3:21 PM on March 13, 2007

If you live somewhere warm and sunny, pull your mattress outside and let it sit in direct sun all day. Gets rid of bedbugs, if they are indeed the cause of your bites/rash.

See? Myth. You might get rid of the bugs in the mattress right then, but you probably haven't gotten rid of your infestation. It won't get rid of the eggs, for example, nor will it affect any bugs hiding in your walls, clothes, luggage, other bedding materials, furniture crannies, or anywhere else.
posted by secret about box at 3:23 PM on March 13, 2007

Got bitten by bedbugs when visiting a friend in NYC. The bites itch. They hurt. They're red & my skin felt a little hard where the bite happened.

I hope you don't have them. I even saw one, so I know she did. (I was really wishing I'd stayed in a hotel.)
posted by miss lynnster at 3:43 PM on March 13, 2007

Go to your doc or a dermatologist first. I spent weeks obsessing about symptoms exactly like this, convinced myself I had bedbugs / fleas / scabies, read all over the net... and then got told that I had hives due to lack of sleep, over-exercise, and stress, and to try to chill more, sleep more, and keep applying aqueous cream BP.

Also, don't scratch. You run the risk of a nasty infection - specially if you're run-down. Keep your skin hydrated, and see your GP.
posted by paperpete at 4:32 PM on March 13, 2007

Since you only have 8 or 9 bites total, I doubt bedbugs are the cause.

Myth again!

My ex had bedbugs at his university. Took a few months to figure it out. I was over a lot, and we never had more than a dozen or so bites between us at any one time.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:04 PM on March 13, 2007

Careful now...
posted by davy at 10:53 PM on March 13, 2007

Ooops, looks like I've been perpetuating myths. Sorry! My bedbug experiences have all been in Central America, so perhaps the northern variety are different.
posted by emd3737 at 10:39 AM on March 14, 2007

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