Editor’s note from Nobugsonme: this is an exciting story.
I must confess, I thought S and G were mad when they decided to beg their PCO/entomologist friend to let them be bitten by bed bugs. He must have too: he made them sign a waiver, but he let them experiment.
I am really amazed at the story you’re about to read, and while I think it’s a bit crazy, it also provides a certain kind of scientific evidence that has been lacking. Look, this is not a controlled research study, and research needs to be done in order to draw any major conclusions. If we know one thing, it’s that we don’t all react the same to being bitten by bed bugs. Bed bug bites can look different, feel different, and take longer to appear (or, in fact, never appear) depending on who is bitten.
S and G each wanted to know if they would react differently to adults vs. nymphs, whether G would react at all, since he assumed he wasn’t being bitten at home, and whether S would react to having a dead bed bug on her skin. What I do think is safe to say is that S and G learned something very interesting about they way they react to being bitten by bed bugs. It may or may not correspond to your experience, but it probably does mirror lots of peoples’ experiences.
For some background on bed bug bites, here’s an article from last October about doctors (not) diagnosing them, which links to a number of photos of bed bug bites that do, and don’t, look typical. You may also be interested in S’s two photos from our “bite photos” page, which is a reminder that bites do not always look the same on the same person.
One final disclaimer: please do NOT try this at home. While bed bugs are not known to spread disease, that can always change, and it probably isn’t a good idea to get bitten on purpose or to share bed bugs with others.
So without further ado, here’s the first of two installments (the second is coming on Thursday morning). Thanks to S and G for taking it on the arm, in the name of research! And my super-special thanks to S for writing the article below.
Bite Fest 2007
I decided to get bitten because I really need to know if my bedbugs are gone. The infestation began in early December 06 and after 4 months, we really, really, really think they are gone. Our PCO does too. There’s been no evidence in months. But I am still waking up with little, mildly itchy bumps on my skin, maybe 3-4 a week, and nobody has been able to give me a satisfying explanation.
Are my bumps a reaction to the chemical? I don’t think so. I spoke with the makers of Demand, and no, it would not cause single, itchy bumps. Are they pimples? Well, a lot are on my face, but they look and feel different to pimples. Are they a skin hypersensitivity? Maybe. But could that account for ALL of them? The ones on my face look different than the ones on my chest, which look different than the ones on my arms or back. And what would I be having a hypersensitivity TO? Are they old bites flaring back up? Maybe, but some of them, I’m fairly certain, are in new places. Are they nymph bites? Maybe, although by now, wouldn’t the nymphs have grown up, and the bites gotten bigger? Are nymph bites smaller than adult bites? Finally, might these be regular bedbug bites, but I’m not reacting as much as I used to? Can you become immune?
All these questions have been plaguing me for months. I felt that at this point, after consulting two dermatologists, many PCOs online and in person, and gleaning everything I could from other peoples’ stories, I just had to try it out for myself. The only way to know if these are new bedbug bites, is to see what actual, confirmed bedbug bites look like. Not four months ago, but now. And not photos of other people’s bites, but my bites, on my skin.
So my PCO raises colonies of bedbugs because, well, he is crazy. But also brilliant. He feeds them on himself and keeps them in vials. He has adults, nymphs of every instar, including first instars. There was fecal matter, cast skins and a crumpled-up piece of paper in the vials – just a little jar of goodies! Ugh, it was SO GROSS. And something else, that I knew but was still gross to see for myself, was basically how LAZY they are. In the vial, they don’t crawl around. They just sit there, in the folds of the paper.
My lovely boyfriend (we’ll call him G) said he’d do this with me, because he wasn’t scared, and he knew it would help me to be braver. I am not brave. I had nightmares about this for weeks – mostly that the bug would somehow run up my arm and into my shirt. Also, in my nightmares they were humongous. The one dead one, that we found on a glue mat when our infestation began, had grown larger in my memory. So while my boyfriend was like “THEY’RE HUGE!” I was like “Oh, they’re actually not as big as I remember.”
The other reason for G to do this, was that he’s never found a single bite. So we hoped to answer the question “Do they just prefer me? Or do they bite him, and he doesn’t react?” We knew that if G DID react, then they have actually been choosing me over him all this time.
Andy (the PCO) was well-prepared when we arrived at his office, on the south side of Chicago. He had us sign waivers saying that we wouldn’t blame him or his company for any damages. Sure, no problem. Then, here’s what he did. He’d take the bug we wanted to test out of the main vial, with tweezers. He’d place it in a clean, empty vial. Then, he’d tip the vial sideways, until it was pressing against my arm. Then he’d turn it over, and just hold it down. This way, the bug had about a one-inch circle of skin, and couldn’t run away. We’d press the vial down firmly the entire time. When the bug was done biting, I’d gently tip my arm until the bug fell back into the vial, and then Andy would cover it with a lid. It was all very controlled.
BUT STILL REALLY GROSS!
So, here’s how it went. First, G did a first instar nymph.
This is the nymph on G:
This is G’s immediate reaction to the first instar nymph:
As you can see, his reaction was basically nothing. No itch, no red dot, no evidence that a bug was ever there. (We made a circle where the vial was, and a smaller circle where the actual bite took place).
While he was doing that, I did a cast skin. (We just placed it on my skin). I have read from multiple sources that chitin hypersensitivity could possibly elicit a bite-like skin response from a dead bug, or even a skin. (Their skin contains chitin).
This is the cast skin on S:
And S. right after the cast skin:
The skin sat on my arm for about 5 minutes. It fell off once, so we put it back in a different place (hence the two circles). No immediate reaction to the skin.
Meanwhile, the nymph was biting G, but he couldn’t feel a thing. They are really tiny. We watched it go from clear to red.
Then, G did an adult, while I did a first instar nymph. His adult was oh so gross. It landed on its back, then turned itself over, stood there, and started biting. It was really quick. Again, he didn’t feel a thing.
This is the adult after it fed on G:
As you can see, it’s huge. The adult grew fatter as well as longer, during the 5 minutes it was feeding.
I had the teeniest little first instar nymph that latched onto me quickly, and when I saw the little red spot form, I looked away. It was done after maybe 2 or 3 minutes. We took it off and circled the spot with pen.
This is S’s arm after the nymph:
There was the tiniest whitish flat swelling on my skin by the nymph bite, and that was all. G was showing no reaction to either bite. It seemed like we weren’t gonna learn anything from him about the difference between nymph and adult bites.
So he said, “I think you should do an adult.” I was not mentally prepared for this. They are just so much bigger, and grosser, to me. But I knew he was right, that would be a true experiment, and we’d learn so much more this way.
Adult biting S.
Andy brought it over in a vial, and I covered my face with my hands. He pressed that vial down so hard, and during the entire time, I kept telling him to press it harder! I did not feel the adult biting me. But I did start to feel an itch, about halfway through! And that freaking bug sat there for ten minutes. It felt like ten hours. I never looked. G held my hand and we tried to talk about other things. Finally, it was done and I knew it was done because right away, I felt it walk. I practically screamed, and Andy came over and took it away. It clung to my skin at first, it didn’t want to fall off and into the vial, he apparently had to move the vial a little, and I was trying hard not to cry. I never looked. And then it was off, and it was done.
S’s skin immediately after the adult bed bug bit her:
What happened the next day?
Did G develop a reaction to the bites? Did S?
If so, did the nymph and adult bites look different?
Did S develop a reaction to the cast shell?
And what does it all mean?
Tomorrow (Thursday) @ 9am EST, come back for Part 2 of S’s story.