Bed Bug Symptoms and Other Possible Culprits

For many people, the suspicion of bed bugs in the home is an anxiety-ridden experience. These people fear that a hidden infestation exists, or is growing, and that they will never be rid of the problem. These are the people who frantically call multiple pest control companies, health departments, and K-9 inspection companies. Some of these people are sold products or services they don’t need and end-up disappointed, misled, and out substantial sums of money.

The truth is, anyone can determine if they have a bed bug problem. Sometimes it takes awhile, but rest assured, the bugs will make themselves known. We tell people that if we could remove all the emotion and anxiety around the bed bug issue, they would be better prepared to make informed decisions.

Is it a bed bug problem?

With all the media attention on bed bugs these days, it’s only natural for people to assume that their problem is bed bugs. The truth is there are lots of potential causes of lesions that appear as “bites” on people. When we work with clients, our first job is to determine what the problem is. There’s are many signs to look out for to determine whether bed bugs are the culprit.

  • Live bed bugs (of various stages)
  • Dried excrement or fecal stains (essentially processed dried blood) on bedding, in crevices on the bed frame, crevices on furniture, around baseboards, etc.
  • Exoskeletons also called cast skins
  • Lesions that appear after sleeping in areas with bed bugs

What else could it be?

There are lots of possible culprits that may cause lesions or blood stains. People bleed for many of reasons–including shaving, acne, re-opening of a wound, bloody noses, etc. Lesions that appear as a “bite marks” may be caused by (and can be confused with) rashes, scabies, or allergic reactions to medications or detergents.



The prevalence of scabies has increased in recent years. Scabies is a condition caused by a tiny and usually not directly visible parasite mite which burrows under the host’s skin, causing intense allergic itching. The itching of scabies often feels similar to the moderate or severe reaction to a mosquito bite. The symptoms are usually experienced as being worse at night, possibly because there are fewer distractions. Often the itch is also made worse by warmth, such as when bathing in warm water. Itching is a less common symptom among elderly sufferers of scabies.

In most hosts, the trails of the burrowing mites show as linear or S-shaped tracks in the skin, often accompanied by what appear as rows of small pimple-like mosquito, or insect bites. These signs are often found in crevices of the body, such as on the webs of fingers and toes, around the genital area, and under the breasts of women. Relatively thin-skinned areas of the body, such as the inner wrists and buttocks, are also preferentially infected. The mites avoid areas of skin with calluses, or thick hair. Thus, the face and scalp are rarely affected in adults. Infants infected with the parasites, however, may have blisters and pustules on their palms and soles of their feet. Infants also may have infection of the scalp.

The onset of symptoms typically appears two to six weeks after infestation for individuals never before exposed to scabies. For those who have been previously exposed, the symptoms can appear within several days after infestation. However, it is not unknown for symptoms to appear after several months or years.

Scabies is contagious. It can be spread by scratching an infected area, thereby picking up the mites under the fingernails, or through physical contact with a scabies-infected person for a prolonged period of time. Scabies is usually transmitted by direct skin-to-skin physical contact. It can also be spread through contact with other objects–such as clothing, bedding, furniture, or surfaces that a person infected with scabies might have come in contact wit– but that is not the most common way  of transmission. Scabies mites can survive without a human host for twenty-four to thirty-six hours. As with lice, scabies can be transmitted through sexual intercourse even if a condom is used, because it is transmitted from skin-to-skin at sites other than sex organs.

Dust mites

Dust_miteDust mites feed on flakes of shed human skin and flourish in the stable environment of dwellings. House dust mites are a common cause of asthma and allergic symptoms worldwide. The mite’s gut contains potent digestive enzymes that persist in their feces and are major inducers of allergic reactions such as wheezing. The mite’s exoskeleton can also contribute to allergic reactions.

The body of a house dust mite is just visible against a dark background in normal light. A typical house dust mite measures 0.4 millimeters in length and .25–.32 millimeters in width. Both male and female adult house dust mites are creamy blue and have a rectangular shape. House dust mites have eight legs (except for in the first stage of development, known as the first instar, which has only three pairs of legs).

The average life cycle for a male house dust mite is ten to nineteen days. A mated female house dust mite can last up to seventy days, laying sixty to one-hundred eggs in the last five weeks of her life. In a ten-week life span, a house dust mite will produce approximately 2,000 fecal particles and an even larger number of partially digested enzyme-covered dust particles.

The house dust mite survives in all climates, even at high altitude. House dust mites thrive in the indoor environment provided by homes, specifically in bedrooms and kitchens. Dust mites survive well in mattresses, carpets, furniture and bedding–numbering around 188 mites per gram of dust. Even in dry climates, house dust mites survive and reproduce easily in bedding (especially in pillows. They derive moisture from the humidity generated by human breathing, perspiration and saliva.

It is commonly believed that the accumulated detritus from dust mites can add significantly to the weight of mattresses and pillows. While it is true that the fecal matter of dust mites will increase over time, there is no scientific evidence for these claims.

Allergy and asthma sufferers are also often advised to avoid feather pillows due to the presumed increased presence of the house dust mite allergen.

Bird & Rodent mites

Bird and rodent mites are tiny creatures that occasionally become a problem in buildings. They have no antennae and their head and thorax are fused together into a single body mass. They have mouthparts that are fused together at the front of the body; these mouthparts give the appearance of a false head. Generally the presence of either species is symptomatic of an ongoing bird or rodent problem in the building. These creatures will bite humans in the absence of their preferred host animal, and on occasion become a serious problem indoors.