Bed bugs? Photo by Flickr user Commodore Gandolf Cunningham used under a Creative Commons License
On Nov. 22, I received the letter below from Ruth Corbin, complaining about some mysterious something that was biting her. I printed her letter in my newspaper column and then took my annual Thanksgiving week off. When I got back into the office on Nov. 30, I had received 50 e-mails and letters in response to Ruth’s plea for help. It turns out Ruth is not alone. And if the 50 responses I received are any indicator, there are probably hundreds, even thousands of other people out there scratching their itching bites even as we speak, and wondering what the heck is biting them … and what can they do about it?
I can’t run all 50 responses to Ruth’s letter here, so I picked out a selection that covers most of the suggestions I received and you’ll find them below, after Ruth’s letter. If you suffer from similar problems … or have answers … please add your replies/comments at the end of this post. If we’re going to come up with some answers to help people with bite problems … the more, the merrier! /Gary
Rat mites? Photo by Flickr user asplosh used under a Creative Commons License
For the past 7 months I have been dealing with getting bug bites when I sleep.
It started when I stayed in a hotel in Sacramento and has continued. I’ve had my house fumigated, air ducks cleaned, purchased new pillows, washed and dry cleaned blankets and bed spreads and had my mattress and bedroom carpet steam cleaned. I even took my dogs to the vet and they were clean. I even went to the dermatologist who only confirmed they were bites.
The pest control people have made several trips out to inspect and lay traps to no avail. The bugs only bite me and seem to be invisible. I have no clue what is biting me and am desperate to know if others have had this experience and what they did. Desperate for help …
Ruth Corbin, cyberspace
RESPONSES TO RUTH’S LETTER:
*** THE BUGS that are biting Ruth Corbin may be completely incidental to her stay in a Sacramento hotel. We had a similar experience last year, after my husband had used a sleeping bag overnight in The Great Outdoors. Suddenly, we were besieged with microscopic little crawlies that bedeviled us all night long, prompting my husband to sleep in the bathtub one night in a desperate attempt to get away from them. After a week of trying to get rid of them with assorted methods, the only thing that worked was just regular household bug bombs. Aha, but fast forward to *this* year, when the army of bugs returned … and neither of us had spent any time in a hotel or The Great Outdoors.
Naturally, I returned to last year’s tried-and-true bomb zapper … but this time, the bugs returned after several days. The infestation seemed much worse than the previous year, and I was stymied. These critters are about one-half to one-third the size of the head of a pin, and are pale tannish/grayish and difficult to see. When you finally spot one, then it’s sort of easy to spot the others.
It finally dawned on me to check the window sill, which is right up against the headboard of our bed. Turned out that the window sill was covered with them, and suddenly the light bulb went off. Bird mites. After Googling for more information, I was pretty certain that’s what we were dealing with. Our house was built with a small exterior cubby about four feet away from our bedroom window, in which the pigeons love to set up housekeeping. Since that distance is further than an arm’s reach and our house is two stories, that cubby is nearly impossible for us to reach. We’ve tried to block it off over the years just because the pigeons’ constant “aah-OOO-gah” calling drives me batty. (Gimme mockingbirds, any day!)
It took getting up on the roof with a hose and a jet-sprayer nozzle to knock down the pigeons’ nesting material and flush out the mites along with it. One final bug bombing of the bedroom to zap that second wave of mites, and . . . voila. No more bugs. Finally. Ah, ’til next year, I’m sure!
We’ve had pigeons for years’N years, so I don’t understand why the mites have only been a problem for the past two years. In our case, the mites have made their appearance in June/July both times, but aside from the time of year, Ruth’s infestation sounds identical to ours. (Deborah Koch, Antioch, California)
*** THIS IS IN RESPONSE to your reader’s question about what could be “bugging” her while in bed. If she has had an exterminator, etc., and if it’s happening in both hotel rooms AND her own home, it may be similar to a situation I had about 5 years ago: a severe reaction to the detergent used on bedsheets.
My “bug bites” started after a stay at a hotel in the city, and the management swore up and down that they did not have bed bugs or any other kind of biting bug. My mysterious bites continued after I returned home. A dermatologist confirmed they were indeed some sort of “bug bite” – but another doctor suggested they could be sudden allergic reactions to detergent. Sometimes your body gets hypersensitive. A change in detergent, like the harsh chemicals used in hotel bedding, can cause your skin to react in strange ways, and the now-hypersensitive skin can continue to react at home.
I started washing my sheets in a very mild detergent and avoided direct skin-contact with my sheets for a week or so – and voila, no more “bug bites”. I hope this might help your reader (or anyone else!). (Tissa Richards, Danville, California)
*** TELL RUCH CORBIN
she should research online and suggest http://www.bedbugger.com
as a highly used, well rated site. The experts on this site were tremendously useful for me. Had I not asked questions there, I wouldn’t have realized how quickly I had to resolve this and how long lasting the problem. The site posts pictures of bites, evidence of bugs, other potential related bug-related problems. The clue is this started after she stayed at a hotel in Sacramento. Bedbugs are a well known problem in the Eastern United States, including tony apartments in Manhattan, plus a growing issue in San Francisco. Most doctors and exterminators in the West don’t recognize the evidence. If she thinks she has bedbugs, she must find an exterminator knowledgeable about bedbugs or she’ll waste her money. Again the website is a good source to ask for references in the Bay Area.
My problem started with a hotel stay in Ashland, Oregon. I called the hotel, they said they checked and denied any problem. The bugs are very small and can hitch a ride in luggage and clothing. Their eggs last for months. Once established in a home, they spread so its critical she act quickly. (Ex. steam cleaning a mattress won’t help.) For me, the critters were in an office chair, which I threw out. Before I figured that out, I did an exhausting and extensive regime washing, bagging clothing, linens, etc. (D. in cyberspace)
*** RUTH’S BUG BITING PROBLEM … might not be bed bugs. She might have a case of scabies. These bugs also are invisible & are active at night while sleeping. She might be the only one bitten because she may not have passed it on to her bed partner (as yet). Did her dermatologist do a scraping of her bites to determine if there were any “eggs” visible under microscopic examination? Scabies is not fun but at least it can be “cured” more easily than bed bugs. (Barbara in cyberspace)
*** ONE POSSIBILITY
for Ruth’s bug bites might be Tropical Rat Mites. I had a similar experience of being bitten by an insect that I couldn’t see. Last summer I saw a roof rat on my garden window. When I went out to see what the heck they were doing up there, I found out they had a nest above the window in the soffit. I fixed the small opening and got rid of the rats. A few days later I started getting bites. I just happened to notice that my kitchen counter top looked like I had spilled salt and pepper on it. I cleaned it off but it kept coming back. I picked up a few of these on a piece of clear tape and checked them out with a magnifying glass — that’s when I discovered they were insects. After much research I discovered that they were tropical rat mites (they are about the size of a period and smaller). Since I had gotten rid of their hosts, they were coming after me. Rat mites are attracted to carbon dioxide (our breath), heat and moisture. They will travel along electric lines and plumbing pipes within the walls to reach you — they were coming out of my electrical outlets in the kitchen! Fortunately humans are not their hosts and cannot reproduce without a rat but they will still bite us. I would recommend a pest control company to get rid of them — but as I found out the hard way, not very many pest control companies are even aware of these mites.Maybe Ruth can tell you if she is aware of any rats that may be around her house or if she has recently gotten rid of them — this might be what’s biting her. I’m sending you a couple of links that provides some information but you may already know about these critters!http://www.acvcsd.org/biting_mites.pdf
http://www.ccmvcd.dst.ca.us/pdf/Mites prevention and conrol.pdf
Hope this helps. (Jan, Walnut Creek, California)