I can’t find a bed bug, but think I am being bitten. What do I do?

by nobugsonme on February 7, 2008 · 15 comments

in bed bugs, how to detect bed bugs, how to get rid of bed bugs

“In the Dark” writes,

I hope you don’t mind me asking for some advice here…after spending some time on the bedbugger site. I don’t know yet if I have bedbugs and have not seen any in my apartment on the upper westside, but have discovered bites on my upper body five times now in the past month. The most recent bite I saw was on my arm last night, which I noticed shortly after I got into bed.…this was after ten peaceful days of having no bites.

I thought I was through with this problem, but evidently not and I’m not sure what next steps to take.

Early on, I paid $300 to have an inspection from a top exterminator, but he saw nothing and doesn’t want to treat the problem unless I have more evidence. I spoke to another company on the phone who took a similar position. I have been vacuuming a lot and yesterday put my mattress and box spring in high quality encasements. I’ve laundered all bedding. I have been inspecting sheets and blankets, but not seeing anything.

I’m worried that if I keep waiting to see a bedbug, the problem will worsen. What are my options here?

Bedbuggers and Pest Control Professionals, what should “In the Dark” do?

(This comes up a lot and it seems like a good time to compose a FAQ, so let’s collaborate on this, shall we?)

Update 3/08: we do now have a FAQ on catching a bed bug sample.

1 bugbasher February 7, 2008 at 10:36 am

It’s time for a DIY inspection.Get yourself the right info first,there are many universitys and sites on the web that are written to teach the pro’s how to inspect.Read them carefully,glean all possible harborage areas these pests have been found.Now get a bright flashlight,magnifying glass, vacuum, and be prepared to move the furniture when neccessary.Check every nook and cranny possible,paying particular attention to the bed itself.If that fails,do what I and others have done and get a into hunter mode,lay in the bed with tv on and wait for them.In an early infestation this could take a few nights.Heavier infestation will produce results faster.Just make sure you have a flashlight and scotch tape handy to catch them.Option 1 will miss them iff they are in the walls,although you should still see fecal spots,option 2 will work if you have more than a few,which almost everyone does even when they are lucky enough to react to the bites,because you’ll have spent at least a week or 2 wondering where this rash came from!

2 parakeets February 7, 2008 at 11:04 am

I would love to see a FAQ about this, particularly whether there is any valid preventive treatment. When I went to the Boston Bedbug Conference, the panel of experts there said that while they were very much for careful inspection by PCOs, as noted above, they would not treat when they had no evidence of bedbug infestation, such as cases where people wanted to hire them to treat an apartment before they moved in just to make sure it didn’t have bedbugs.

Also, I hope the FAQ addresses the issue of diagnosis of possible bedbug bites. Many people are told to have their doctors diagnose whether their bites are bedbug bites. Is this possible? I went with known bedbug bites to a dermatology clinic but they could not tell me if my “rash,” as they called it, was even insect bites, let alone bedbug bites.

So people who are being told to get a doctor’s diagnosis, or to preventively use pesticides, might not be getting the correct info. The FAQs here are great because they can combine what we’ve learned from our collective front-line experience with known scientific facts.

3 lieutenantdan February 7, 2008 at 11:42 am

All good advice above.
What you can do is buy a couple of cans of Bedlam and spot treat tactical areas and baseboards and mouldings etc… if you are not against pesticides. You can also buy DE and dust outlets and such. See this site about what kind of DE and other DE info.
You need FoodGrade Freshwater DE not the other which can cause long term health problems. If you have kids or especially infants than you may need to research and add caution, pets too especially fish, birds and cats.
You are going through what many people have and are now experiencing. This site has many previous posts on this so you can look into that. Mystery bites and skin reactions.

4 fightorflight February 7, 2008 at 12:19 pm

Inspect, inspect, inspect… Yet we all know these beasts are very stealthy, inspection can produce false negatives, especially in the early stages of an infestation, and that time is of the essence here. Though practically this might be difficult to achieve, I wonder if the bedbugged and pest control communities should change the recommendation of inspecting all neighboring units to a recommendation of *treating* all neighboring units, horizontally, vertically and diagonally. That way, those that run away to find easier pickin’s elsewhere stand a better chance of getting their just desserts. By this logic, however, all units in the building should be treated, to kill any who have traveled further than your neighbors, through building infrastructure.

5 hopelessnomo February 7, 2008 at 1:27 pm

Some options are:

Rule out, as best as you can, alternative explanations by visiting your doctor and/or dermatologist.

While it may be very hard, it’s important to consider whether you can be getting bites elsewhere.

Keep calling. There are PCOs who make extremely thorough inspections; they are rare but some are out there. If you have just called two, you may not have exhausted the available options yet.

Place glue traps around your bed. You need multiple traps. (Someone recently gave specific advice about glue traps, that they should be taped down but I don’t recall the specifics at the moment.) It’s very inefficient and will likely not work but you should at least try it because it has worked for others on the odd occasion.

Consult a bedbug dog. Ask the two major canine academies for a referral in your area: Florida Canine Academy and J & K Canine Academy.

As bugbasher suggests, consider handling the inspection yourself. You would need to prepare by reviewing the available sources. It’s a very painstaking process that involves moving, turning over and taking apart everything. As Parakeets has said elsewhere, think high as well as low. You will need good light, a loupe or magnifying glass (or good camera) and perhaps a thin card, similar to a NYC transit card (a thin plastic card) to probe crevices.

Consider using NotSoSnug’s methods:

6 bedbugsenigma February 7, 2008 at 10:46 pm

Hopelessnomo, you’ve given the most thorough advice.

What I’d like to add is a comment and plea for PCOs.

It is crystal clear to me that PCOs should focus on detection because timing is crucial when it comes to bed bugs. In the Bed Bug Handbook it clearly states how difficult and nearly impossible it is to detect low-level populations by visual inspection (p. 98). Structural problems, like old floorboards with innumerable cracks, as in my apt, make the job of finding a bug impossible. Getting an inspection with a trained dog seems the only option (and in fact I am getting one).

My plea for PCOs is that in difficult situations in which the population may be low, they should either develop methods for getting that bug out of the crack or offer a trained dog, instead of simply telling you that with no evidence they won’t treat. Waiting means allowing the population to grow and the infestation to get much more difficult and troublesome to eliminate.

7 inthedark February 8, 2008 at 5:43 pm

Thanks so much to all who commented. I am so grateful for the internet sometimes and for people who are willing to give their time and advice. I will absolutely go into inspector mode immediately, though I already have done some things like put down glue boards and double sided tape near the bed. I peer about often with a flashlight, inspecting the bed and surroundings. As far as pulling apart furniture, have not gone that far and need to educate myself on that. I did speak to another PCO in New York who is quite willing to treat my apartment just on my description of the bites and circumstances, but now not sure if I should go through with it unless I see bugs or evidence. (By the way, my dermatologist did think I had bedbug bites). I really do think these bites are happening in my apartment and not elsewhere, possibly linked to an overseas visitor I had through the holidays. And as I’m the type who is reluctant to apply pesticides myself, I’m wondering if I should dive in and have it professionally done, despite lack of visual evidence. Has anyone else had treatment done without actually seeing bugs or fecal spots, etc….. It seems such a big commitment to go through all the preparation and treatment if there is a chance I don’t have bedbugs. I know no one can make this decision for me, but just throwing it out there to see what others have done in my position…Many thanks.

8 ljpizzo February 9, 2008 at 12:49 am

Please make sure that when you go inspecting you don’t rule out the living room couches and sofas or chairs. I tore my bedroom apart never found a single bug or fecal spot or blood stain. A couple weeks later I finally saw a nymph on my Sofa crawling towards me at about 9:00 ( I never expected to see them before midnight) while i was watching Family Guy. Since then I’ve found one more bug also on my couch and never found any signs of them in my bedroom. (It’s all my time on the laptop, I always sit on the couch even when doing homework and I take naps there… I guess it makes since that they are there and not my bed. I spend more time on the sofa than in bed.)

9 hopelessnomo February 9, 2008 at 11:13 pm


It’s impossible ethically to suggest that you treat with pesticides without evidence.

If you have bedbugs, there are fecal traces somewhere in your home that you are not finding.

They can hide in the tiniest places and you may have to take the painstaking route of examining everything. Start at the head of your bed and proceed from there. What I meant by taking things apart is that you have to be prepared to, for example, take down a picture frame and open it from the back and examine every centimeter on all sides and between the glass and the print…

When you examine a nightstand, you have to take out the drawer if it has one and look very closely at the back, the underside, and turn over the piece of furniture and examine it from all sides. There are many, many other places to look. You should check out the many resources, photographs and videos linked on the sidebar here. They should help.

You should be able to find at least fecal traces somewhere.

There was someone here who found a harborage inside a smoke detector that everyone, including the PCO, had overlooked.

The problem with treating without evidence is that, if you are wrong, the problem will not go away but by then you will be so invested in having bedbugs — bedbugs that can’t be killed at that — that you will be less likely to look for alternative explanations.

If you can afford it, a dog might be a solution here.

Also, while you may think it was the holiday guest, what if there is another source? What if the neighbors have bedbugs? Have you talked to them? Many people have bedbugs and don’t know it (because they are not attuned to the signs and/or are not allergic), or have bedbugs and are getting treated but have not been advised to inform their neighbors, or the landlord, whose responsibility this is, refuses to have the adjacent apartments inspected.

10 nobugsonme February 10, 2008 at 12:04 am


As the FAQs indicate, I do not recommend doing your own pest control, so I am glad you’re not going that route.

hopelessnomo’s advice is correct in that getting a professional to treat without evidence–even when they are willing–is problematic.

I can think of one person who treated herself for months before offering her DIY pesticides as a gift to others on the yahoo group, when eventually became clear she had folliculitis. And others with bed bugs encouraged her to spring into action and self-treat, and she wasted months of her life and lots of money.

I can think of others who were treated without definite evidence, one of whom paid a PCO who would treat in this circumstance, and she never ever was sure she actually had bed bugs, though at the time, she was “sure.”

It’s worth getting doctors to rule out everything medical, and it’s worth remembering that they cannot diagnose bed bug bites by appearance. That doesn’t mean you don’t have bed bugs, but I would agree with those suggesting you find concrete evidence before treating.

Another thing to remember is that you can actually have a delay from hours to days (as long as 9 days, we’re told) before bite marks and itching appear (if they do: we’re told as many as 50% of people have no reaction to bites).

Most of us seem to get them within 24 hours, though few actually see themselves bitten and know for sure. In your case, this delay can mean you were not even bitten at home. It’s possible that you were bitten in someone else’s home or another place you have been on those occasions. Keeping a journal of when new bites appear may help.

The link to NotSoSnug’s methodology describes something painstaking but which may bear fruit.

11 aballen March 9, 2008 at 11:04 am

I used large glue traps, the kind for mice, and a microscope. I was inspected three times before I caught a nymph in the glue trap. They are not identifiable to the naked eye and look like a pale yellow or cream colored speck, pin head size. It was only under the microscope that I could tell it was a bedbug, and I finally convinced my PCO and the rest of the world who believed I was simply neurotic about the bed bugs. I still use this method to monitor the effectiveness of my PCO treatment and the BB movement within my home.

12 nobugsonme March 9, 2008 at 11:12 am

Glue traps can be a tool but they don’t do anything to attract bed bugs, so getting one to walk over it can be a crapshoot.

Sean the PCO suggested putting a disposable hand warmer in the center of the glue trap as this would release CO2 and heat, thereby more likely attracting bed bugs.

We do have a FAQ now on catching a sample.

13 lizzy July 15, 2008 at 9:13 pm

hey i have a question related to this topic i have a six year old boy who likes to eat on the couch.
i decided to clean the whole thing today with him and found 4 wierd looking bugs. they were not flat or round they were thin and looked more like earwigs but way smaller could they be bed bugs?

14 nobugsonme July 16, 2008 at 12:04 am


Look closely at these photos. Bed bugs look quite different depending on their life stage and whether they have fed or not.

15 flealux July 22, 2008 at 12:15 am

i cant find traces of anything anywhere in my bedroom, but did find one and killed it in my drawer of clothing..i had just come back from traveling and withing a week was getting one bite every other night. now my roomate hasnt gotten anything so its def just in my room, but have laundered all of my clothing, scrubbed my room, checked the mattress multiple times. cant find anything. i was going to try and stay up to try and find something. but im not getting bitten heavy so there is no infestation..i really think its just a few that i brought back with me. im not sure what to do..

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