Disclaimer: This post is speculative: I don’t understand this phenomenon, or what causes it, but I thought we should talk about it anyway. Having read some pretty weird stuff on the web about bed bugs and other pests, I want to assure you that we Bedbuggers are scientifically-minded. With that in mind, the following describes sensations some of us have experienced and possible explanations from scientific sources.
Please do not adjust your set– the site is not hosted by a 1970’s Leonard Nimoy and I will not be blogging about the Loch Ness Monster tomorrow. We want rational, researched, peer-reviewed information on the after effects of bed bug bites, and causes of sensations we’re experiencing. However, until we get that (remember, bed bug entomologists have their hands and brains tied up right now with the whole killing-the-monsters business), we have to share information amonst ourselves. Entomologists and doctors are encouraged to share their input and I’d love sources on this. But be warned, non-sufferers may just not get this one.
On another thread, Hopelessnomo’ raised the question of whether it’s possible to feel bites, sense bugs crawling on the skin, and even see “bites” in the absence of bed bugs (I distinguish actual bed bug bites here from “bites” which may or may not have another cause, by use of those quotation marks):
I moved to escape bedbugs. I took extreme precautions. I am fairly certain that I don’t have bedbugs in my new apartment. . . . I moved about 2 months ago. My “bites” (both biting sensations and small nymph-like bites) have only recently begun to fade. I’m sitting here, using the computer at work since I no longer own a computer, and it’s very warm and I feel faint crawling and itching sensations on my arm and back. I’m not sure if this will ever go away. A few weeks ago, I was still feeling what I call the “memory” of bites at different times during the day. . . . [The new bites are] Complete with raised bumps and little red dots and all the old manifestations, except that there was a difference in the quality of these sensations that I cannot articulate that allowed me . . . to believe that they were not new bites.
I did a bit of snipping for space, but you get the idea. What could be causing this?
1. Bed bugs. Yeah, we know. It’s improbable in this case, though it is worth taking seriously as the most likely cause in most cases.
2. Old bites that won’t stop itching plus lingering allergies. (Nomo’, are the new bite marks in the same places, or are you breaking out in new “bites”?)
3. Sensitivity to insect by-products touched or ingested. (Eh?) Seriously. This came up on the yahoo Bedbugger group (which is not affiliated with this site, but which you can join by clicking the links in the sidebar under “information and help”). American Museum of Natural History entomologist Lou Sorkin said (9/25/06, message 1358: I can’t link to these but you can join the group and view it),
I know it has been reported for mites [that] shed skins of the mites on a patient’s skin sometime after having been bitten will elicit a similar or indistiguishable “bite” from an early bite.
Though bed bugs are true bugs, and not “mites,” Lou is speculating over whether the same thing may happen with bed bugs as happens with mites. Lou continues:
A researcher who raises bed bugs told me that a person had been bitten and had “typical bites” (bites had been witnessed by the researcher) and later when the patient ate a . . . preparation vitamin D (later found out to have been mixed with crustacean shell derivative called chitin . . . . The patient broke out in “bites” indistinguishable from real bites.
Perhaps chitin–made from shells of unidentified origin (usually it’s shellfish) used in the vitamins caused an allergic reaction in someone who had become very sensitive to chitin in bed bug shells? However, Lou noted in another message that chitin is not supposed to cause reactions, and he speculated that perhaps something else was in the vitamin.
4. On the Leonard Lopate show on NPR (2/3/06), Richard Pollack, Harvard entomologist, and Richard Cooper of Cooper Pest Solutions in NJ (a PCO), discussed how sometimes people who are no longer getting bitten get new “bites” (that is, lesions appear, even in the absence of bed bugs) after bed bugs are gone. A caller to the show reports occasional isolated “bites” three and six months after an infestation. (Possibly, but not likely to be a reinfestation if they wait 3 months to feed.)
Richard Pollack gives as another example of this: a grad student he knows who was exposed to bed bugs in a hotel room, months later experienced “bites,” identical lesions, though she was not exposed to bed bugs in the interim. Granted, how you can be sure you were not exposed to bed bugs–especially if you’re a student living in Boston– is a tricky question! Nevertheless, these “phantom bites” seem to be a phenomenon bed bug researchers are aware of.
Is it an allergy to debris left behind after the infestation? Is it a lingering skin problem caused by months of allergic reactions to bites? Is it your imagination? A reaction to pesticides (which can also cause allergies and reactions)?
5. Some other non-bed-bug-related cause:
There is at least one person who was on the yahoo group who had bites but could find no bed bugs (or other mites). After months of treatment, she finally found out the cause: folliculitis. She never had bed bugs. (I found this out offlist.) It’s just a reminder to rule out everything. However, it’s unlikely that bites which continued after an infestation and a careful move (like Nomo’s) would be caused by something else. Possible, not likely, but I want to throw it out there for others.
Warning: I strongly discourage anyone from assuming their bed bugs are gone and that the bites are just “phantom” bites unless they have really good evidence this is the case. Bed bugs are really hard to get rid of and they can linger a long time; don’t ignore bites unless you have very good reason to think they are gone. Nomo’ didn’t “just move,” Nomo’ went to extreme lengths while moving; “just moving” on its own, and even parting with lots of stuff, is not reason enough to assume you have phantom bites.
Also, don’t panic if you are fighting bed bugs and worry this will never end. This reaction is not experienced by everyone.
That said, does one of these theories explain what’s happening to Nomo’? I’m going to ask Lou to pop in and see this thread if he has time. Perhaps he will have further insight. I welcome your thoughts and any relevant leads. This should probably become a FAQ, but it needs some whittling down.
And let me give another plug for the Leonard Lopate show on NPR, which mentions how hard the bugs are to find, how people can go for months without seeing any bed bugs, as well as how bites do not look the same on every person, or on the same person at different times. NJ PCO Richard Cooper also says they’re seeing infested laundromats. That is so, so something I had in mind: most people in NYC go to laundromats; many leave their laundry (unsealed! unattended! for days! side-by-side with others’ dirty laundry! Arrrggghhh!)