Bed Bug Symptoms
Traditional medicine practitioners tend to agree: bed bugs do not cause illnesses like ticks, lice, mosquitoes, or fleas. Nor are bed bug infestations caused by lack of sanitation, crowding, or other poverty-induced conditions. In spite of that, the problem is growing, as bed bugs defeat our best efforts to eradicate them. In addition, bed bugs may be more dangerous than we have previously thought.
Bed bug-related illnesses
Recent research into bed bugs, for example, suggests that these small insects – 1 to 8 millimeters in length and the width of a credit card – may be unrecognized vectors for Chagas disease. This illness can advance from rashes and flu-like symptoms (swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, fatigue, and intestinal upsets), through liver and spleen involvement, and even affect the heart, as cardiac arrhythmias or myocarditis (i.e., swelling of the heart muscle).
More Common Symptoms
Most people will never get Chagas disease. Many, however, will be bitten by a bed bug. Some may even witness infestations of bed bugs, which can make humans miserable if not physically ill.
The primary evidence of bed bugs is bites. Bed bug bites appear as red, swollen areas with dark reddish centers, often running in a line (i.e., up the arm or leg) or grouped in a small area.
Bed bug bites can occur anywhere, but usually show up on skin exposed when sleeping. Bed bug bites don’t appear immediately. In fact, some bed bug bites may take two or three days to appear, depending on how well a person’s immune system handles the inflammatory agent in bed bug saliva.
Nor will most humans feel the bed bug bite when it happens. Another ingredient of that saliva is an anesthetic. More importantly, because mature bed bugs can live for days without feeding off human blood, it may take as long as three weeks to notice a pattern of insect bites that clearly identify a bed bug problem.
Even then, and unless a person scratches the bed bug bites and irritates them, bed bug bites may seem as insignificant as mosquito or flea bites. The difference is that mosquito bites are sporadic rather than lined up or grouped, and flea bites remain small and are typically found on legs or ankles, not arms, hands, and faces.
Finally, even though most people eventually begin to itch – sometimes fiercely – because of bed bug bites, a few lucky individuals may not notice anything at all. A few others may experience very dramatic symptoms, ranging from painful swelling and burning of individual bed bug bites to infected bites and even a full-blown allergic response to bed bug bites called anaphylactic shock.
Heavy infestations of bed bugs in households with children can lead to childhood anemia (iron deficiency) and other medical problems. Adults, on the other hand, may become sleep-deprived because of nocturnal bed-bug assaults, experience stress, and in rare instances even become depressed or suicidal.
Bed Bugs, When and Where
Bed bugs usually feed at night, so a person may not see them, but bed bugs leave a trail of evidence. One is a series of blood spots or stains – on your mattress, box spring, sheets or even pillowcases – where bed bugs have fed and moved off. Another is dark spots, or bed bug excrement, ranging from the size of the period at the end of this sentence to the size of the bullet points below.
Bed bugs are usually found in beds, but bed bugs can also be found in:
• Bed frames
• Bed skirts or dust ruffles, shams, decorative pillows, bolsters
• Perimeter of carpeting
• Under sofas, chairs and other upholstered or “soft” furniture, or in the crevices
• Drawer joints
• Electrical receptacles and appliances
• Wall paper and wall hangings (the underside)
• Wall and ceiling joints or moldings
Reference: Maud TS, Barbarin AM, Barbu CM, Levy KH, Edinger J, Levy MZ.: Spatial and temporal patterns in Cimex lectularius (Hemiptera: Cimicidae) reporting in Philadelphia, PA. Journal of Medical Entomology 51(1): 50-4, Jan 2014.