Woke up with spider bites

July 13, 2011 — Spider bites aren’t as common as most people and most doctors think, according to a new analysis.

At the same time, researchers also say poor understanding of truly dangerous spider bites delays treatment when a person really has been bitten by a dangerous spider.

For example, the bite of the brown recluse spider can cause death of a sizeable area of skin (skin necrosis) resulting in a deep, scarring ulcer. Yet even in areas infested with brown recluse spiders, true bites are uncommon.

The analysis is published in the July 14 online issue of The Lancet.

“The treatment of patients with suspected spider bite is not straightforward because of overdiagnosis of skin necrosis as being attributable to spider bites while, at the same time, serious … are not being recognized and treatment is delayed,” write Geoffrey Isbister, MD, of the University of Newcastle, Australia, and Hui Wen Fan, PhD, of Butantan Institute, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Isbister and Fan note that there are more than 41,000 known species of spider, but that very few have bites harmful to humans.

The names of the two U.S. spiders with harmful bites are well known: the black widow and the brown recluse. The two spiders have different venoms:

  • The bite of the black widow may not be very painful at first. Pain onset usually is gradual and usually takes the form of back and belly pain that can last for hours or even days.
  • The bite of the brown recluse (and 12 other recluse spiders in North America) can be mild and just cause a mild, itchy bump. But in severe cases, the bite may be painless at first, but over the next two to eight hours develop a sharp, deep pain followed by a burning feeling. The area around the bite reddens and spreads into a deep ulcer that can be as wide as 16 inches across and can take six to eight weeks to heal.

What about other spiders?

“Many additional spiders … have been implicated,” wrote Mayo Clinic dermatologist David L. Swanson, MD, and University of California spider expert Richard S. Vetter, MS, in a 2006 report. “Unfortunately, most of the implicated spiders have been falsely elevated to a status of medical significance through circumstantial implication and repetitive citation in the medical literature.”

Contents

How to Know When a Spider Bites and What to Do About It

Identifying a Spider Bite: What Does One Look Like?

A lot of things. “There’s no one true spider bite,” Vetter says.

Spider Bites Can Look Very Different

Different types of spider bites may provoke different reactions in different people, he says. Even if you’re talking about just one type of spider — say, the brown recluse — its bite could cause a range of reactions: “everything from a little pimplelike bump to a rotting-flesh lesion,” he says.

At the same time, Vetter allows that different types of spider bites do produce distinct reactions. “I’ve had patients contact me saying, ‘This mark on my leg was either from a widow or a recluse,’ but that’s like saying you either got stabbed or trampled to death,” he says. His point: Black widow and brown recluse bites are so different that they could never be mistaken for one another.

But when it comes to common household spiders, hobo spiders, and other domestic varieties, a spider’s bite has some predictable characteristics.

How to Identify Which Spider Bit You

Broadly speaking, a spider’s bite tends to resemble a bee sting: a sharp prick of pain is followed by a red, inflamed skin lump that may hurt or itch but that goes away after a few days. (1) But when it comes to venomous spider bites, there are characteristic signs and symptoms.

Brown recluse bites sting, and they can resemble anything from small blisters to large, rotting-flesh sores, Vetter says. “Its bite causes the collapse of the capillary bed”— also known as skin necrosis (2) — “so people who are obese and have poor support of the capillary cells may have a more massive reaction,” he explains. Along with a wide variety of skin symptoms, brown recluse bites can cause chills, fever, nausea, and other flu-like symptoms common to infections. (3) The brown recluse’s bite is poisonous and can result in coma, kidney failure, or even death.

Because of the severe reaction a brown recluse bite can trigger, these spiders are likely blamed for more harm than they actually cause. The reality is that the brown recluse spider is limited in its geographic range: It’s found in the central and southern United States. (4) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that while venomous spiders are dangerous, they aren’t usually aggressive. (2)

Black widow bites can in some cases cause skin lesions, ranging from small red marks to angry, red, streaky skin patches that are inflamed or contain pus. “But most of the reaction will be on the inside,” Vetter says.

Black widow bites contain potentially deadly amounts of venom and tend to be painful right away. Although that pain starts around the bite site, within an hour, it often spreads to the chest or abdomen, depending on whether the bite occurred on the victim’s upper or lower body. Other symptoms can include everything from headaches, muscle weakness, and difficulty breathing, to seizures, numbness, and painful muscle cramps. (5)

Hobo spiders, wolf spiders, house spiders, and the bites of other domestic types do not contain venoms that are of medical importance to humans, Vetter says. They can bite, he adds. But the result is likely to be similar to a bee sting — meaning a sharp pain, followed by a swollen, red, painful lump at the bite site.


Sometimes you get a bug bite and you have no idea what on earth bit you. Could it be a mosquito? Was it a spider? Wait, a spider can bite? Yes, unfortunately spiders can bite you and they often strike when you least expect it (like when you’re sleeping).

A spider bite, or arachnidism, is defined as an injury resulting from the bite of a spider. All spiders have fangs and most also have venom that enables them to kill their prey. However, only a select group of spiders have fangs that can break through the skin of humans and inject venom that can possibly cause harm. Spiders that fall in this risky-to-humans category include black widow, wolf, brown recluse, hobo and camel spiders. (1)

It’s really helpful to know the symptoms of a spider bite because if you know spider bite symptoms, then you can choose the right course of treatment. Additionally, not all spiders are created equal. Depending on the type of spider that bites you, spider bite symptoms can range from very mild to outright poisonous. What does a spider bite look like? What are the symptoms of a brown recluse spider bite? I’m about to tell you all about specific spider bite symptoms to look for and also how to treat a spider bite at home using natural remedies

Types of Spider Bites

When it comes to spider bites, there are several options for the spider behind the bite. There are actually somewhere around 40,000 different species of spiders around the world! For an adult human in good health, only around a dozen of those thousands can cause major harm. (2)

In the United States, the black widow and the brown recluse spider are two of the top concerning spiders when it comes to spider bites. The good news is that serious medical complications and deaths from spider bites are not very common. Generally speaking, spiders don’t go around looking to bite humans. When a spider bites a human it is almost always in self defense. How so? Well, when a spider gets caught between an object or surface and your skin, then it feels trapped and is more likely to bite. For example, if a spider is in a boot you haven’t worn in a while and you put your foot into it, then the spider is now trapped between your foot and the boot’s interior. (3)

The spiders that can possibly pose a threat to you vary depending upon the state you live in. I recommend familiarizing yourself with the appearance of threatening spiders that you may possibly come in contact with at some point in your life. In the United States, some of the spiders to watch out for include the following: the black widow spider, the brown recluse spider, the red widow spider, the hobo spider, the mouse spider and the wolf spider. (4)

Spider Bite Symptoms

A lot of times, it’s hard to know what type of spider bit you because you may not notice the bite until hours after it actually happened. It can also be hard to tell a spider bite from other types of bug bites. So what does a spider bite look like? In general, a spider bite looks like most bug bites: a red and inflamed bump. Like other bug bites, a spider bite is also typically itchy and/or painful. The degree of intensity of spider bite symptoms depends on the spider type, the amount of venom injected and your body’s sensitivity to the venom.

General symptoms of spider bite: (5)

  • Redness
  • Inflammation
  • Itching
  • Mild pain

“House spider” is a generic term that describes a variety of spiders often found in human dwellings. House spider bite symptoms can vary depending upon the specific type of house spider behind the bite.

A black widow spider is plump and black with a red hourglass figure on the underside of its abdomen. Black widow spider bite symptoms can include: (6, 7)

  • Pain and burning at bite site that typically starts within an hour of being bitten.
  • Pain mainly located around the bite area, but it can spread into the chest, back or abdomen.
  • Abdominal cramping or rigidity so intense that it may be mistaken for appendicitis or a ruptured appendix.
  • Increased sweating and saliva production.
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Numbness
  • Restlessness

A brown recluse spider has six eyes and violin shape on its back. Brown recluse spider bite symptoms can include: (8, 9)

  • Pain and itching that increases within the first eight hours of being bitten.
  • A bite that looks similar to a bull’s-eye with a central blister that scabs and falls off, leaving a small ulcer
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Bites can heal on their own within one week.
  • Sometimes, the skin at the center of the bite can become dark blue/purple and turn into a deep open sore that enlarges as the surrounding skin dies. This ulcer usually stops growing within 10 days after the bite, but full healing can take months.
  • Death of a sizeable area of skin (skin necrosis) resulting in a deep, scarring ulcer.
  • Children may be at risk for an allergic reaction to the venom.

Wolf spiders are usually brown, gray, black or tan with dark markings. They have two eyes in front that are much bigger than their other six eyes. Wolf spider bite symptoms can include: (10)

  • A bite that tears the skin and causes pain, redness, and swelling.
  • Swollen lymph glands.
  • Healing can take up to 10 days.
  • In rare cases, the bite can cause tissue damage.

Spider Bite Risk Factors

Dangerous spider bites are not common in the United States; however, some things can increase your risk of being bitten by a spider. As I said earlier, your risk of specific kinds of spider bites depends upon the state that you live in. For example, black widow and brown recluse spiders both prefer warm climates and dark, dry places. Spiders don’t typically look to attack humans, but a major risk factor for any spider spite is disturbing the area in which they live.

If you live in the southwestern United States, then you are more likely to come in contact with a black widow spider. Some areas to watch out for include woodpiles, garages, sheds and unused gardening pots or other containers. Another spider that is dangerous to humans in the U.S. is the brown recluse spider, which is most prevalent in some areas of the South as well as the southern Midwest. Where are you most likely to find a brown recluse spider hiding? Likely possibilities include areas that don’t get a lot of traffic, like cupboards you don’t often use, behind dressers, in the clutter of attics or outdoors under rocks and inside tree stumps. (11)

Conventional Spider Bite Treatment

According to the Mayo Clinic, most spider bites don’t require medical intervention. Conventional recommendations for spider bite treatment typically start off with cleaning the spider bite and applying an antibiotic ointment. Next, apply a cold compress and elevate the bite site if it is on an arm or leg. Conventional wisdom will also recommend taking over-the-counter painkillers like NSAIDs and antihistamines (like Benadryl®) as needed and watching out for spider bite infection symptoms. If the spider bite becomes infected, then antibiotics will be recommended.

For a more serious spider bite, such as one from a black widow, that is causing life-threatening spider bite symptoms, your doctor may inject you with antivenom or give you the antivenom intravenously. Antivenom sometimes causes intense allergic reactions. (12)

6 Natural Spider Bite Treatments

How long does it take to recover from a spider bite? This depends on what type of spider bit you as well as your body’s specific reaction to the spider’s venom. However, the majority of spider bites tend to go away in about a week. (13) Treating a spider bite at home is usually sufficient. With mild and typical spider bite symptoms like some localized pain, itching and inflammation, these natural spider bite remedies are just the ticket to relief. Of course, if you know you have been bit by a poisonous spider, such as a brown recluse or black widow, then by all means head straight to your doctor. (14) If your spider bite is not serious, here are some great ideas for natural treatment at home.

1. Ice

For most spider bites, the first step is always to clean the bite with soap and warm water. Then immediately apply an ice pack to reduce swelling. You can do this on and off for 10 minutes at at time. Repeat icing several times a day, especially in the beginning. This is both a conventional and natural treatment of spider bite symptoms.

2. Baking Soda

A paste made of baking soda and water applied several times a day can really help with the itching of a spider bite.

3. Elevate

If possible, elevate the area of your body where you have a spider bite to help reduce swelling. So for example, if you have a spider bite on your leg or arm, then you should elevate the affected limb. (15)

4. Don’t Scratch

Avoid scratching the spider bite area. This helps to reduce the risk of infection. Plus, the more you scratch, the redder, more inflamed and more itchy the bite will become.

5. Lavender Essential Oil

Applying lavender essential oil to a spider bite can help soothe inflammation and speed up the healing process. Add a few drops of lavender oil to a carrier oil like coconut oil and dab it on the spider bite. The sooner you apply the lavender oil the better to reduce unwanted spider bite symptoms.

6. Witch Hazel

As a skin-healing astringent, witch hazel is the perfect topical liquid to apply directly to a spider bite as needed to reduce redness and irritation. (16)

Is It Really A Spider Bite?

If you think a poisonous spider bit you, then by all means seek medical care immediately. But I do want to point out some interesting research that demonstrates how spider bite symptoms are often not caused by a spider or even another bug at all. A study found that out of 182 patients in California who thought they were experiencing spider bite symptoms, only a mere 3.8 percent actually had been bitten by an actual spider.

So what was the cause of their “spider bite symptoms”? Over 85 percent of the patients were diagnosed with infections. One type of infection that has been known to be confused with a spider bite is a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection, more commonly known as MRSA. In addition to bacterial infections like MRSA, there are a few other things that people have been known to confuse with spider bites including bed bug bites, flea bites, poison ivy, and other allergic reactions. (17)

Perhaps even more disconcerting, there have been cases of Lyme disease, caused by tick bites, misinterpreted as brown recluse spider bites. (18) Neither is a condition anyone wants to have, but it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis. If you are unsure about a “spider bite,” be sure to have it carefully examined by your healthcare provider.

Precautions

Symptoms of a poisonous spider bite are definitely something to take very seriously. If you or a loved one experience worrying spider bite symptoms, then seek medical attention immediately. Serious spider bite reactions or death due to a spider bite are a rare occurrence, but occur most often in children, the very ill or elderly individuals. (19)

Prompt medical care is recommended if any of the follow are true: (20)

  • The person who was bitten has trouble breathing.
  • The person who was bitten has severe pain, abdominal cramping or a growing ulcer at the bite site.
  • If the bite area gets continually worse or spreads after applying basic first aid.
  • You are not sure if the bite was from a poisonous spider.

On rare occasions, a spider bite can cause an allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal. Dial 911 or get emergency medical help if you or someone you know is experiencing any of the following: (21)

  • Rapid swelling of the lips, tongue, throat or around the eyes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing or hoarseness
  • Severe itching, cramping, or numbness
  • Dizziness
  • A reddish rash or hives
  • Stomach cramps
  • Loss of consciousness

Keep an eye on a bite as it heals. Be on the lookout for spider bite infection symptoms such as increased pain, swelling or redness as well as fever, swollen glands or other flu-like symptoms.

Final Thoughts

Like bee stings and other bug attacks, spider bites are not pleasant. Thankfully, most spider bites are not serious and heal within a week using basic home remedies. Spider bite symptoms can really vary and if you don’t know what kind of spider bit you, then the symptoms may hopefully help clue you in to the type of spider behind your bite. However, sometimes spider bites may be confused with other bug bites or even infections. It’s important to always seek medical care promptly if you are unsure what you are dealing with or if you know a more dangerous spider bit you.

Read Next: Top 5 Natural Remedies for Poison Ivy Rash

MYSTERY BITES: Insect and Non-Insect Causes

ENTFACT-649 – MYSTERY BITES: Insect and Non-Insect Causes | Download PDF

by Michael F. Potter, Extension Entomologist
University of Kentucky College of Agriculture

Nearly everyone experiences what seem like bug bites from time to time. The irritation might be accompanied by welts, rash, itching, or perhaps the feeling that something is crawling over the skin. Even when no bugs are apparent, the annoyance can be enough to trigger a call to an exterminator. Unfortunately, pesticides might not be the answer. Unless the underlying cause is discovered, the discomfort will likely continue.

It is important to realize that there are many causes of bite-like reactions — some of which are related to pests, and others that are not. Pest management professionals can usually provide relief if insects or mites are the culprit. If no pests are found, the customer may need to see a dermatologist or other allied professional. The following information is intended to help those who believe they have a biting pest problem where the source of irritation has not been identified.

STARTING THE INVESTIGATION

The cause of perceived ‘bug-bites’ is often far from obvious. Investigations should be thoughtful and systematic, ruling out likely possibilities through the process of elimination. A good rule of thumb in such cases is that no pesticide should be applied unless biting pests or clear evidence of them are discovered or strongly suspected. A thorough investigation is more likely to yield a solution.

Treating without a known target pest can mislead the client into thinking that spraying will fix the problem, which it seldom does. Additional (unnecessary) treatments may be requested thereafter whenever someone complains of an itch.

To conduct a careful investigation, it is useful to interview the client before inspecting the premises. In commercial settings such as an office building, this may involve talking with management as well as affected employees. A questionnaire (see the bottom of this page for the questionnaire, or view this downloadable PDF version) can be helpful for gathering facts that may solve the mystery. One of the most important questions to ask is if anyone has actually seen or captured any bugs as the irritation is occurring. With a few notable exceptions (e.g., bed bugs, certain types of mites), most pests that bite humans are likely to be seen as the irritation is felt. It’s also important to consider the pattern of bites within the building – e.g. are several people affected or just a few? Where are incidents being reported? Is there an association between the onset of symptoms and certain maintenance activities, such as the installation of new carpet, or work on the heating and cooling system? Have there been birds, bats, rodents, or other animals that could possibly be harboring parasites? Such questions can yield important clues worthy of further investigation.

THE INSPECTION

Mystery bite investigations differ from most other pest inspections because the ‘culprit’ is unknown. The list of potential irritants is long and many fall outside the realm of pest control. Inspections should initially seek to determine if biting pests are involved. If they are not, customers may still want to know about other factors that may be causing the discomfort.

During the investigation, various specimens could require identification. Those that are small will require magnification to see clearly. Ideally, specimens should be placed in non-crushable containers instead of in envelopes or under tape. Another method of capture is to install several glue traps at locations where bites have been reported. Although such traps are not always reliable, they are another potential tool that could help determine if biting pests are present.

Fig. 2: Glue traps can help to reveal pests capable of causing irritation.

Persons complaining of invisible mites or insects crawling over their skin are sometimes advised to place strips of clear cellophane tape over the affected area while the sensations are occurring. Unfortunately, this seldom reveals the cause of a mystery bite problem. Neither does collecting samples from carpet and floors with a vacuum. Industrial hygienists may use suction devices for collecting fibers and air-borne contaminants, but vacuuming by householders seldom reveals biting pests and samples are tedious to sort through and process. The appearance of bites or welts on the body can also provide clues, although ‘bug bites’ are difficult to diagnose, even by physicians.

Fig. 3: ‘Bug bites’ are difficult to diagnose, even by physicians.

The most useful tactic for these cases is knowing where and what to look for. With mystery bites, the list of potential irritants is extensive.

SOURCES OF IRRITATION

Irritations of unknown origin may be from arthropods (insects or mites) or a multitude of other factors which have nothing to do with pests. Below are the more common sources worthy of consideration.

Obscure Biting Pests

In some mystery bite cases, insects or mites truly are the culprit. These are some that should be foremost in the minds of inspectors.

Bed bugs have become increasingly common and should always be considered a possibility in mystery bite investigations. People are usually bitten at night while they are sleeping. Initially the bite is painless and victims seldom know they are being bitten. The typical reaction is itchy red welts on exposed skin appearing within a day or so of the incident – although there can be a delayed reaction over a matter of days in some cases. Others have little or no reaction to the bites. Since bed bugs also remain well-hidden, victims often are bitten repeatedly yet never see an insect. Confirmation requires finding the bugs, shed skins or dark fecal spots of digested blood, which can be difficult especially in the early stages of infestation.

Fig. 4: Bed bugs should always be considered a possibility in mystery bite investigations.

Because bed bugs are cryptic and nocturnal, visual inspection alone sometimes fails to reveal their presence. Various devices are available to help detect their presence. Among the most popular detection methods are small plastic dishes (e.g. ClimbUp®), that wandering bed bugs crawl or fall into but cannot escape due to the slippery inner surface. Typically, the devices are placed under the legs of beds and seating, or close by.

Fig. 5: Dish-shaped traps can be placed under beds and sofas to help monitor for bed bugs.

When bed bug-like insects are found, it is important to consider whether bats, birds or other wild hosts are involved. Although similar in appearance to the kind of bed bug that prefers humans, bat bugs and bird bugs require different management procedures.

Fleas are another common source of insect bites within homes. Fleas are fast moving and jump when disturbed. However, because they are brownish and about 1/8″ long, they are usually noticed. Bites typically occur around the lower legs and ankles, producing a small, red, hardened, itchy welt. Fleas are most often associated with pets, although the presence of mice, rats, squirrels, skunks, possums or raccoons can also result in infestations. Animal hosts need to be present for extended periods for fleas to become established — a brief visit by a dog or cat, for example, is unlikely to cause problems. Infestations can be confirmed by examining pets, installing traps (e.g., myFleaTrap®), or walking the premises in white socks pulled high (which makes the presence of the pests more obvious).

Fig. 6: Fleas generally bite low on the leg, whereas bed bugs attack any exposed skin.

Lice are another possible source of itching and irritation. Infestations occur on the head and other hairy areas of the body. Lice are tiny, whitish-grey insects that are visible under close examination by the client or physician. Because they largely remain on the host, treatment of premises is not required nor is it recommended. The types of lice that bite humans are mainly acquired through close personal contact or sharing of hats or combs.

Fig. 7: Lice cause itching and irritation but are easy to diagnose.

Mites are tiny pests that occasionally bite and irritate people. Some feed on animals, others infest stored foods, and some dwell outdoors in vegetation. Contrary to popular belief, most mites that bite people in buildings are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. There also is no such thing as a ‘cable’, ‘computer’ or ‘paper’ mite — these terms are purely fictitious. Mite infestations in buildings can result from birds nesting in eaves, attics, etc., or from mice or rats. When a bird or rodent dies or leaves the nest, thousands of parasitic mites can migrate indoors and bite humans. Domestic fowl (chickens, parakeets, etc.), gerbils and hamsters also may harbor mites capable of biting people. Bird and rodent mites are tiny, but appear as dark slow-moving specks — they are about the size of a period. Mites cannot jump or fly.

Fig. 8: Mites infesting birds and other animals sometimes also bite people.

A few parasitic mites are too small to be seen with the naked eye. The human scabies mite burrows into the skin, causing intense itching accompanied by a rash. Skin between fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulder blades are areas most often affected. Transmission of scabies mites occurs only through close personal contact or sharing the same bed. Fortunately, scabies is a rather rare condition that is readily diagnosed by dermatologists and other competent physicians. No treatment of the premises is needed since these mites cannot survive off a human.

Various mites living indoors also infest stored food products such as grains, meats, cheese and dried fruit. Food and mold mites tend to infest items stored for long periods that have become moist or moldy. Tremendous numbers may develop in such places as pet food bags, non-refrigerated smoked meats, or caged animal litter. At times populations may disperse outward from breeding sites and annoy humans. Food and mold mites do not suck blood but can irritate the skin. They appear as tiny, pale-colored slow-moving specs on dark surfaces.

Fig. 9: Mites infesting a bag of pet food.

Other mites that can bite humans live outdoors in vegetation. Chiggers (the immature stage of the harvest mite) live in tall weeds and dense vegetation. They crawl onto people and often attach where clothing fits tightly, such as around ankles, waist or armpits. Chigger bites produce hard red welts that begin itching intensely within 24 hours. Consequently, people may not associate the irritation with being bitten outdoors the day before.

Fig. 10: Chigger bites produce hardened welts that itch intensely.

Another nearly microscopic biter, the straw itch mite, infests straw, grain or hay. Severe rash and itching results from handling infested materials in barns, stables, etc. Yet another type of itch mite inhabits the leaf galls of oak trees. In late summer or autumn, tremendous numbers of the mites can become airborne, landing on people. The bites are red, itchy, and painful, appearing on the face, neck, chest and arms. Fortunately, outbreaks of this mite are sporadic and have been reported mainly in the Midwest. Itch mites may be the culprit if the victim was outdoors near oak trees. Like chigger bites, the irritation may not be felt until the following day. Delayed reaction to bites is also common with ticks and mosquitoes, and from exposure to poison ivy/oak. Asking clients if they have spent time outdoors can help determine if such pests might be involved.

One additional mite worth mentioning is the house dust mite. Dust mites are common indoors where they feed on dander (bits of shed skin) from people and pets. Large numbers may persist in beds, couches and carpet, but are generally too small to be seen with the naked eye. People sometimes think dust mites are capable of causing itching and bite-like reactions but this is untrue. Their annoyance is limited to an ability to cause allergies, with symptoms such as stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, cough, watery eyes and asthma. Diagnostic kits for detecting house dust mites can be bought from pharmacies and allergy testing can be performed by a physician.

Thrips are tiny (1/16″) straw-colored insects that feed on plants. They have piercing mouthparts for sucking plant juices but can also bite humans. The bite feels like a pinprick. In late summer, huge numbers of these insects may become airborne, landing on people’s clothing and skin. Some also may be transported on air currents into factories, warehouses, etc. Although houseplants are seldom the source for these or other biting pests, they are still worth checking during inspections.

Sand flies, also called biting gnats, punkies or no-see-ums, breed in swamps, marshes and other moist areas outdoors. They are vicious biters yet so small (1/32″- 1/8″) that their presence often goes unnoticed. Fortunately, biting flies seldom breed indoors. Several other tiny flies which are harmless (e.g., fungus gnats) do occur indoors, however, and will need to be identified to alleviate client concerns.

Spiders are often thought to be responsible for bites of unknown origin. In truth, most spiders are harmless, timid creatures and bites are a rare event. When spider bites do occur, it usually is in response to being crushed or threatened; they do not ‘pounce’ on a person as they would a fly. As with other potential biters, it is extremely difficult to diagnose a spider bite from the lesion alone. Lacking an actual spider doing the biting, such diagnoses even by physicians should be regarded as little more than a guess.

Non-Pest Irritants

If the investigation reveals biting insects or mites, appropriate pest control measures can be taken. If no such pests are discovered, the person should be referred to a dermatologist, industrial hygienist, or other allied professional. Following are some of the more common (non-pest) irritants that these entities may consider.

Household Products. Everyday items found in homes and buildings can cause skin reactions similar to ‘bug’ bites’. Products most often implicated include soaps, detergents and cleansers, cosmetics, hair products, medications, paper/cardboard, printing inks (as from multiform carbonless paper), and certain types of clothing, especially those containing fire retardants. Sometimes the location of the rash or irritation suggests the cause. For instance, a rash on hands and arms of factory workers might be due to cleaning compounds or materials they are handling such as cardboard. If a connection can be made to one of these possible irritants, avoiding further exposure may solve the problem. A dermatologist can confirm that a particular product, rather than a pest, is responsible.

Environmental Factors. When multiple people experience itching and irritation in the absence of pests, the cause is often some irritant in the environment. Among the most common are tiny fragments of paper, fabric, or insulation. When these adhere to skin, they can produce symptoms ranging from a mild prickling or crawling sensation to intense itching accompanied by rash, welts or sores. If fibers or fragments are involved, the irritation usually occurs on exposed areas of the body — arms, legs, face, neck, etc. Such problems are rather common where large amounts of paper or cardboard are processed, like offices, filing rooms, and distribution centers. New or badly worn carpets, drapes, and upholstery also shed fibers that can irritate skin. Laundering clothes or blankets in a washer/dryer previously used to clean curtains can likewise cause irritation due to the shedding of fiberglass and other materials. Other possibilities include sound-deadening fibers from ceiling tiles, or insulation fibers emitted from heating and cooling systems. These are especially likely if there has been recent repair work on the ceiling or air-handling system.

Fig. 11: Cardboard, fabric and insulation fibers can cause irritation mistaken for insect bites.

Irritation can be worsened by static electricity, which increases the attraction of particulates to exposed skin. Low humidity, electronic equipment, and nylon in carpeting, upholstery, or women’s stockings all increase levels of static electricity and the potential for particle-induced irritation. Static electricity also causes body hair to move, giving the impression something is crawling over the skin.

If fibers or fragments are suspected, floors, furniture and work surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned. In offices, static-reducing measures can be implemented, such as raising the humidity level of the air and installing static-resistant mats under chairs. Anti-static sprays can be used to treat seating areas. Dryness alone can also cause irritation, producing a condition known as ‘winter itch.’ As skin loses moisture, itching results — a particular problem during winter and in older people. Similar reactions may occur from changes in temperature that can make skin more sensitive. A skin moisturizer can be helpful in such situations, or consult with a dermatologist.

Volatile indoor pollutants can also cause irritation. Although such compounds most often cause headaches or eye, nose, and throat discomfort, some may cause welts and rashes. Materials most often implicated include ammonia-based cleansers, formaldehyde emitted from materials such as plywood, carpet, and cardboard, tobacco smoke, and solvents and resins in paints and adhesives. Reactions often occur in industrial settings or buildings receiving new paint, wall or floor coverings. If indoor air pollutants are suspected, the client may want to contact an industrial hygienist to monitor for allergy-producing contaminants. Companies specializing in environmental health monitoring have online listings in most cities.

Medical Conditions. Health-related conditions also may cause symptoms mistaken for bug bites. Itching and irritation are common during pregnancy, especially during the last trimester. Similar symptoms are associated with diabetes, liver, kidney, and thyroid disorders, and herpes zoster (shingles). Food allergies and prescription or recreational drugs are other common causes of such symptoms. One’s overall emotional state, including stress at work or home, can also trigger skin irritation. Moreover, the response can be induced in other people simply by the ‘power of suggestion.’ When one person in a group experiences itching and irritation and talks about it, others often feel the urge to scratch as well.

Fig. 12: Methamphetamine and other psychostimulant drugs can cause symptoms that mimic insect bites.

Delusions of parasitosis is a more serious emotional disorder characterized by the conviction that living organisms are infesting one’s body. Delusory parasitosis patients have similar symptoms and patterns of behavior which tend to sound unusual. Patients typically report bugs or mites invading various areas of their body — often vanishing then reappearing, or perhaps changing colors while being observed. Specimens submitted for identification (often in great quantity) usually consist of bits of dead skin, hair, lint, and other debris. The individual’s skin may have become irritated from persistent scratching, bathing, and application of ointments and chemicals. Clothing and household items often are repeatedly washed or discarded. Sufferers commonly have visited one or more doctors with no definitive diagnosis or relief.

Fig. 13a: Delusions of parasitosis patients often submit numerous samples for identification.
Fig. 13b: Self-inflicted scratches and scarring may also be evident.

While these cases may seem bizarre, they are tragically real to the patient. Sufferers often are convinced that spraying insecticides will fix the problem — but treatment of the disorder lies outside the realm of pest control. Such cases should be referred to a dermatologist or mental health professional. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to convince affected individuals to seek professional help, except perhaps by involving another family member.

SUMMARY. There is no simple way to diagnose ‘mystery bite’ complaints. Oftentimes, the itching or irritation has nothing to do with insects or mites and cannot be solved by pest control. Approaching each case in a thoughtful, methodical manner will increase the chances of finding a solution. Such sensations are real to the client, and should be addressed with care and concern.

Revised 9/7/2018

CAUTION: Some pesticides mentioned in this publication may not be legal in your area of the country. If in doubt, please consult your local cooperative extension service or regulatory agency. Furthermore, ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW LABEL DIRECTIONS FOR THE PRODUCT YOU ARE USING.

Please note that content and photos in this publication are copyrighted material and may not be copied or downloaded without permission of the Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky.

MYSTERY BITE QUESTIONNAIRE

Symptoms of Spider Bites

A meta-analysis of 134 medical spider bite case studies identified 32 different symptoms resulting from a bite. The most common symptoms out of all the species were :

  • Skin reddening at the bite site (72% of cases)
  • Pain in the bitten body part (49%)
  • Swelling of the bite site (34%)
  • Discomfort (34%)

The spiders most toxic to humans cause more specific syndromes from bites.

1) Widow Spiders

There are over 40 recognized widow spider (Latrodectus spp.) species distributed throughout Africa, the Americas, Southeast Asia, and Australasia .

Widow spiders are small (3 to 10 mm body length) and dark grey or black, with a red or orange geometric pattern on the back that can resemble an hourglass. The female is darker, larger (up to 13 mm body length), and more venomous than the male .

Red-back spider (Latrodectus hasselti)

The venom of these species contains a toxin called α-latrotoxin. This protein binds to receptors on the brain cells and causes a massive release of messenger molecules such as :

  • Acetylcholine
  • Norepinephrine
  • Dopamine
  • Glutamate

The envenoming from widow spider bites is called latrodectism. The main symptoms may vary depending on the species, but include :

  • Pain, which is more often defined as local and radiating when caused by the Australian redback spider (L. hasselti). It normally affects the back, stomach, and chest when caused by species from the Americas, Africa, and Europe .
  • Excessive sweating in unusual patterns (localized to the bite area, below the knees in both legs, and local but only in one side of the body)

In a study on 68 people bitten by this spider, 1/3 developed non-specific, systemic symptoms including :

  • High blood tension
  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Prolonged erections
  • Patchy paralysis
  • Muscle spasm
  • Pins and needles

The average duration of the effects was 48 hours, with all cases resolved within a week .

No deaths caused by widow spider bites have been reported since the 1950s. In some cases, the pain persisted after several days or weeks regardless of treatment with antivenom .

In very rare cases, envenoming by widow spiders has caused rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which damaged muscles break down rapidly .

2) Comb-Footed Spiders

Comb-footed spiders (Steatoda spp.) belong to the same family as widow spiders (Theridiidae). They are distributed throughout Australia, South Africa, the Americas, and Europe .

Comb-footed spiders have a similar shape to widow spiders (and are sometimes mistaken for them), but their color is uniformly dark brown to black.

The male (4 to 10 mm body length) is almost as big as the female (6 to 10 mm body length) and equally capable of biting humans. Female bites are, however, more common .

False black widow (Steatoda grossa)

The clinical syndrome caused by comb-footed spider venom is called steatodism. A study of 23 bite cases demonstrated that its symptoms are similar to those of latrodectism, but milder and without local sweating. They included :

  • Radiating pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Discomfort
  • Tiredness

The effects normally disappeared within 6 hours .

Five bite cases by spiders from the genus Achaearanea (also belonging to the Theridiidae family) caused similar symptoms to those of the widow and comb-footed spiders. This suggests that the venoms of these three groups contain similar toxins .

3) Recluse Spiders

Most species of recluse spiders (Loxosceles spp.) are found in South America. Additionally, these spiders are in Europe, southern Africa, parts of Asia, the south of Australia, and the US (especially in the central South) .

The main clinically relevant species are L. laeta (distributed throughout most of the South American continent), L. intermedia (found in Brazil and Argentina), and L. gaucho (restricted to Brazil) .

These spiders are small (6 to 12 mm body length) and brown, with long legs (20 to 30 mm in length). Females are larger and more venomous than males .

Recluse spiders are nocturnal and prefer dry, dark places under rocks, wood, or tree barks. They often invade houses, where their flat body helps them hide in clothes, bed sheets, and cupboards .

Brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa)

Their venom contains phospholipase-D proteins and hyaluronidase as key components, triggering the following reactions that lead to skin necrosis :

  • Release of inflammatory molecules (cytokines and prostaglandins)
  • Breakdown of red blood cells
  • Platelet aggregation
  • Growth of the wound

After a painless bite, the symptoms of loxoscelism take 12 to 24 hours to start developing and include :

  • Redness, swelling, and pain at the bite site
  • Appearance of a piece of dead tissue (necrotic eschar) that lasts 2 to 3 weeks
  • Formation of an ulcer that takes weeks or months to heal after eschar detachment

Progression of skin necrosis caused by a recluse spider bite. Pictures were taken at days: 1 (A), 9 (B), 16 (C), and 25 (D) .

In about 50% of the cases, systemic symptoms also occur within the first 48 hours. The most common ones are :

  • Fever
  • Discomfort
  • Headache
  • Rash
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

On rare occasions, normally involving L. laeta, the envenoming leads to more severe conditions like :

  • Anemia
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Shock
  • Rhabdomyolysis
  • Kidney failure
  • Multiple organ damage

4) Australian Funnel-Web Spiders

Australian funnel-web spiders (Atrax and Hadronyche spp.) are the most venomous spiders in the world. They are distributed throughout the east of Australia, with the most venomous species living between southern New Wales and southern Queensland .

Australian funnel-web spiders are medium to large (10 to 50 mm body length) spiders with prominent jaws and parallel fangs that live in logs, rocks, and leaf litter. They are nocturnal and very aggressive .

Sydney funnel-web spider (Atrax robustus)

Their venom contains δ-atracotoxins. These toxins target sodium channels on the surface of nerve cells and cause the excessive release and ultimate exhaustion of messenger molecules (such as hormones and neurotransmitters) .

Severe envenoming (sometimes referred to as atraxism) is rare, with only 5 to 10 cases per year (representing 10 to 75% of confirmed bites). It is considered an important medical condition because its effects are rapid and life-threatening. An effective antivenom is available .

When envenoming does not occur, there are still prevalent effects from the bite, including: :

  • Severe pain at the bite site that may last 30 to 60 minutes
  • Puncture marks
  • Bleeding

In some cases, the envenoming is only mild and causes the following systemic symptoms :

  • Numbness
  • Pins and needles
  • Muscle twitches

The most frequent symptoms of severe envenoming found in a study of 8 different cases were :

Severe envenoming is especially critical to children, who may die within 1 to 2 hours if left untreated .

In untreated adults, severe envenoming may result in a progressive, irreversible decrease of blood pressure, profound coma, continuous muscle spasm, and eventual death .

5) Mouse Spiders

Mouse spiders (Missulena spp.) are distributed throughout mainland Australia and often mistaken for funnel-web spiders due to their similar appearance .

Eastern mouse spider (Missulena bradleyi)

Their venom is similar to that of funnel web spiders and is treated with the same antivenom. Despite the similarities in venom, these spiders are significantly less dangerous to humans .

In a systematic review of 40 different confirmed bite cases, the effects were generally minor and included :

  • Pins and needles
  • Excessive sweating
  • Numbness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Severe envenoming similar to that caused by funnel-web spiders occurred in only one case. This affected a 19-month-old child who developed high blood pressure, muscle spasm, arched back, and unconsciousness. The child responded well to funnel-web spider antivenom .

6) South American Armed Spiders

This group includes 5 different species (Phoneutria spp.) distributed throughout South America and Costa Rica .

Armed spiders are large (30 to 50 mm body length), solitary, nocturnal spiders that construct no web and catch their prey by active hunting during long wanders. They are sometimes transported in banana boxes (and thus commonly referred to as ‘banana spiders’), and occasionally enter houses .

Their characteristic defensive behavior consists of raising 4 front legs, showing the fangs, bristling their leg spines, and rotating to continuously face the threat .

Brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria nigriventer) in a defensive position

Armed spiders, especially Phoneutria nigriventer, cause thousands of bites in Brazil every year, mainly during their mating season (March and April) .

Their venom contains a mixture of proteins called phoneutriatoxins that block ion channels on nerve cells, thus preventing both the transmission of nerve signals and the release of messenger molecules .

In an observational study on 422 people bitten by armed spiders, 90% had mild envenoming. The most common symptoms were :

  • Local, possibly radiating pain
  • Excessive sweating at the bite site
  • Redness at the bite site
  • Goosebumps

Systemic, less common effects included :

  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • High blood pressure
  • Salivation
  • Visual disturbances
  • Prolonged erections

Severe envenoming occurs in less than 1% of cases and mostly affects children. It causes frequent vomiting and can lead to complications like :

  • Fluid buildup in the lungs
  • Shock
  • Death (very rare)

Causes of Spider Bites

The target organisms of spiders are almost universally invertebrates. Human bites generally occur by accidental contact or when the spider is disturbed .

Most widow spider bites occur in and around dark, dry areas of the house when people put on clothing attire where a spider was hidden. The accidental compression of the spider between the fingers and external objects is another frequent cause of bite. In rural areas, widow spider bites are an occupational hazard of farm workers .

Recluse spiders are not aggressive and bites are rare, even in heavily infested houses. They generally occur by accident when the female spider is trapped between human flesh and an object .

Most bites by Australian funnel-web spiders occur when the highly venomous males (6-fold more than females) leave their burrows in search of females, which often brings them into houses .

South American armed spiders mostly bite when they feel threatened after being found in shoes, piles of sticks or rubbish, and construction material .

Risk Factors for Spider Bites

Children are more prone to severe envenoming by widow spiders and must be treated with antivenom up to 90 hours after the bite occurs .

In pregnant women, the symptoms can include :

  • Headache
  • Stomach pain
  • High blood pressure
  • High protein levels in urine

Treatment with antivenom is required in these cases.

A pregnant woman bitten by a widow spider had signs of premature labor (regular, strong contractions), but the symptoms were resolved with antivenom.

Widow spider bites can also induce heart muscle injuries in elderly people, and even caused the death of a person with heart muscle inflammation .

In an observational study on 267 people envenomed by recluse spiders, 17 developed kidney failure. All of the people who died (4) were children under 14 years old. In another study, 6 adolescents bitten by recluse spiders developed anemia .

Envenoming by both Australian funnel-web and mouse spiders is particularly life-threatening in children. Bites from funnel-web spiders are more dangerous on the torso than on the limbs, since pressure bandages cannot be applied .

Envenoming by armed spiders is especially dangerous to children and elderly patients .

Prevention of Spider Bites

The best prevention measure is to avoid contact with clinically relevant spiders .

The probability of human-spider encounters is higher during daytime outdoor activities in the spring and summer months. Bites may be prevented by wearing gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants tucked into socks, especially when gathering firewood and clearing brush .

Chemical control may provide additional protection against spider bites. Pyrethroid pesticides are toxic to recluse spiders and more effective than commercial repellents for loxoscelism prevention. They are used to spray spiders, clothes, and outdoor or indoor surfaces .

Indoor bites may be prevented by properly insulating homes, removing spider webs, and applying safe indoor insecticides .

It is important to note that flicking spiders with a finger is safer than crushing them against the skin, which by reflex causes the jaws to open with the fangs in biting position .

Genes Linked to Spider Bites

Neurexins are proteins on the surface of nerve cells that serve as receptors for the widow spider toxin and other substances. One variant (rs8019381) of the neurexin gene (NRXN3) is associated with decreased abundance of the protein. As a result, this genotype may reduce the effects of the toxin on nerve cells .

The other group of receptors for widow spider toxins are latrophilins. A couple of variants (rs1397548 and rs2305339) of one of the latrophilin genes (LPHN3) generate shorter proteins.

This may result in altered functions of the proteins, including a reduced or enhanced responsiveness to the toxin .

The toxins of funnel-web spiders bind to the site-3 receptor of sodium channels. Mutations in the amino acids identified as critical for toxin binding (Glu1613, Glu1616, and Lys1617) may prevent or reduce envenoming .

One of the armed spider’s toxins blocks calcium channels on nerve cells by binding to their ω-conotoxin binding site. Mutations within this region may lead to altered sensitivity to the spider toxin .

Treatments for Spider Bites

If you suspect that you have been bitten by one of the spiders described in this article, speak with your doctor immediately so that he or she can diagnose and treat any conditions caused by the bite.

Local care including wound cleansing, ice pack application, painkillers, drugs that act against muscle spasm and stiffness (e.g., benzodiazepines), and tetanus shots, are recommended in most cases .

In people with suspected envenoming by Australian funnel-web spiders, a pressure bandage with immobilization must be applied until the patient is transferred to a hospital with antivenom .

Antivenoms are employed to treat envenoming syndromes, especially when they involve dangerous species (e.g., Australian funnel-web spiders) and/or high-risk patients (children, pregnant women, and elderly patients) .

1) Widow Spider Antivenom

The use of antivenom against the widow spider toxin varies in some countries depending on its availability, reported successful case studies, and perceived risk of adverse reactions. While it is extensively employed in Australia, the fear of allergic reactions restricts its use in the US .

In 4 studies on over 200 people, widow spider antivenom was regarded as generally safe since it causes mild to moderate allergic reactions in only 5% of patients (including 1 to 2% of anaphylaxis) and serum sickness in 10% .

However, its effectiveness remains controversial. A clinical trial on over 100 people failed to detect any benefits of antivenom over placebo in pain reduction .

In contrast, another trial on 31 people showed an increased efficiency of antivenom over placebo, especially when taken through the veins .

Additionally, a pilot trial on 24 people recorded a faster relieving effect of antivenom over placebo, which resulted in similar degrees of overall pain reduction by the end of both treatments .

The treatment of envenoming by comb-footed spiders is normally symptomatic with painkillers, but the injection of widow spider antivenom has successfully resolved the symptoms in some severe cases .

2) Recluse Spider Antivenom

Antivenom against recluse spider toxins is available in Brazil (where it is most extensively used), Argentina, Peru, and Mexico .

Its effectiveness in humans is still poorly studied since only non-placebo controlled trials that produced contradicting results have been carried out .

In 2 assays in rabbits, the antivenom reduced the skin and systemic symptoms caused by the toxins, but within different time frames, ranging from the first 4 to 48 hours .

In Brazil, antivenom injection is recommended within the first 72 hours in cases with extensive skin necrosis or systemic reactions. The treatment is normally combined with corticosteroids .

3) Australian Funnel-Web Spider Antivenom

Funnel-web spider antivenom is a rabbit-derived antibody against the venom of the Sydney funnel-web spider (Atrax robustus). It neutralizes the toxins of 10 different species from this group.

The effectiveness of this antivenom is supported by its use in 75 cases, in which the average hospital stay length was reduced and no deaths occurred .

Patients bitten by big black spiders in eastern Australia must always be treated as potentially envenomed patients. This is because less harmful species like mouse spiders or trapdoor spiders can be mistaken for funnel-web spiders. After 2 to 4 hours in observation, patients can be discharged if they do not show symptoms of envenoming .

The funnel-web spider antivenom also neutralizes the venom of mouse spiders and efficiently resolved the symptoms of severe envenoming in a 19-month-old child bitten by an eastern mouse spider .

4) South American Armed Spider Antivenom

Antivenom against armed spider toxins is reserved for moderate-to-severe envenoming. In a Brazilian observational study on over 400 people with confirmed bites, only 10 (2.3 %) were given the antivenom .

The antivenom, which is also used against recluse spiders bites and scorpion stings, resolves the envenoming symptoms within 24 hours .

Waking Up To Small Bug Bites?

Bed bugs

Let’s face it, bug bites are an inevitable part of life. If you’re warm-blooded, you’re going to get bitten by something. So, it is no wonder you’ve missed the first sign of a bed bug infestation.

Did you mistake those tiny little bites for spider bites? It’s okay. Many people do. Because they don’t realize that house spiders don’t typically bite humans. Spiders are a predatory insect that eats other insects. They don’t eat blood. Therefore, they aren’t interested in biting you. If you wake up with a big nasty, itchy welt, that may be a spider bite. You could have twitched while you were sleeping and freaked that little spider out while it was crawling over you. But if it was a spider, you’ll usually only find a single, isolated bite. Bed bugs bite multiple times through the night. Entomologists jokingly refer to bed bug bites as breakfast, lunch and supper. Those silly entomologists and their bed bug jokes. Silly.

You may have mistaken your bed bug bites as mosquito bites. This is also common. Mosquito bites and bed bug bites can sometimes look similar. Bed bug bites progress. They are small at first because bed bugs start feeding as babies. At this stage, you’ll know those bites aren’t from mosquitoes, but they will be tiny, and most of the time lack the signature rash that accompanies bed bug bites. Many people don’t have a reaction at first. It takes many doses of the anticoagulant bed bugs use to thin blood before larger rashes become evident.

Sometimes those little bites may be confused for gnat or black fly bites. But you can tell by the pattern of bites what type of bite you’re looking at. Bed bugs will often bite in a row. Flying insect bites will be more random.

So, what bites do you have? If you suspect they are bed bugs, there are a few things you can do to check for bed bugs in your home.

  • If your infestation has grown large enough, you’ll be able to find black fecal residue on the seams, corners and stitching of mattresses and upholstered furniture.

  • When bed bugs get large enough, you’ll be able to see blood stains on your pillow cases or bed sheets.

  • Large bed bugs will shed casings in your bed.

  • You may also see these little rust-colored bugs crawling around on your bed, especially if you set your alarm for two in the morning and do a surprise inspection.

  • The single best way to find out if you have bed bugs is to hire a professional. Look for a pest control company that has K-9 bed bug inspectors, like AmericanPest, which services Alexandria, Fairfax and the rest of Northern Virginia. Dogs are able to sniff out bed bugs at all stages of their development, even living bugs still inside their eggs sacks.

If you’re waking up to small bug bites, examine them closely, and be sure to make a check for bed bugs. The longer you allow bed bugs to feed on you while you sleep, the harder it will be to eradicate these bugs from your home.

Tags: K-9s | bed bug bites | bed bugs northern va |

Q: My wife and I are waking up with spider bites on our legs. My wife, who gets most of the bites, wants to spray for spiders around the house. Is this a good idea?

A: No, because it’s not spiders that are biting you.

Spiders are shy and seldom bite unless provoked, according to University of Minnesota extension entomologist Jeff Hahn. And if they do, few spiders are capable of breaking the skin.

What’s more likely to be biting you are bedbugs. Bedbugs are very small, flat, round, brown insects. They hide during the day in mattress or box spring seams, or in crevices in the furniture. At night, when the house settles down, they become active and feed on the blood of those they find in bed with them. Bedbug bites normally do not hurt at the time, but often swell and become itchy later, Hahn says.

So, you might ask, how did we, a clean, normal American couple, end up in bed with bugs?

Lots of ways.

• Have you traveled recently? Once rare and associated with seedy places, bedbugs are showing up in hotel rooms regardless of price. Although the pests were nearly eradicated in the United States in the 1950s, they’re now flourishing, some say, because of growing international travel and insecticide bans. Bedbugs are expert hitchhikers that stow away on clothing and luggage.

• Have you purchased or been given any used furniture? It’s not common, but it happens, that used items harbor bedbugs.

• Have you just moved into this place? Once infested, bedbugs can be hard to eradicate from a home, because they seldom stay in bed. They spread to baseboards, upholstered furniture, curtains, etc. Just because the previous owners moved, it doesn’t mean the bedbugs went with them.

• Have you had any guests recently? Visitors can innocently deliver bedbugs to your home they picked up on their travels.

I may be wrong and it’s not bedbugs, after all, but fleas. Hahn describes fleas as dark-colored and the size of a pinhead. They are able to jump. You rarely feel a flea bite at first. But afterward, a red, itchy spot often appears at the site of the bite. Flea bites often occur in clusters on legs and ankles. You don’t need pets in your home to have a flea problem.

The first step is a correct diagnosis.

• Consult your doctor to make sure it’s not allergies, disease or contaminants that are causing your “bites.”

• Examine the room for pests. Check mattress seams, look under the corners of the box spring and use a small mirror, if necessary, to look at the headboard, etc. After a feeding, the normally tiny woodtick-like insect becomes purplish-red and more cigar-shaped. Fecal deposits (composed of digested blood) look like a scattering of pepper.

Fleas will appear as specks that jump.

• Have an expert identify any suspicious insects or spiders you find.

“It is also a good idea to put out sticky traps like roach traps to help capture insects that are present but difficult to detect,” Hahn said. “You may also consider hiring a professional pest control service to help you determine if any pests are there.”

• Don’t attempt control (especially spraying an insecticide) until you have verified that an insect problem exists.

Fixit by Karen Youso is an occasional feature. Send questions to [email protected] Sorry, no personal replies.

Are Those Really Bed Bug Bites?

  • Pest Management

Are you waking up in the morning lately with itchy red welts and wondering are these bed bug bites? If so, you are far from alone.

This time of year, after the rain has ended and the sunny, warm weather arrives, many of us wake up with random bites on various parts of our body and have no idea where they came from. The answer may be much more difficult, if not impossible, to accurately pinpoint.

Do I have bed bug bites?

The natural reaction since we wake up in bed and see bite marks or welts, is to assume we have bud bugs, especially with all the press they are getting in recent months. This may be a possibility, however, a quick inspection & evaluation of your recent movement, guests, furniture can eliminate bed bugs as a possibility.

Do I have a bed bug infestation problem?

Did the bites ‘suddenly appear’? If so, and you have been living/sleeping there every night for a long time, it is unlikely. A bed bug infestation that would result in multiple bites being suddenly visible, would takes weeks (or months) to get that large, and you would see bites quantities increasing as the population of the infestation rose.

Have you recently purchased or acquired used furniture? if you haven’t, then you are also not a likely candidate for bed bugs. Used furniture is a common vehicle for bed bug infestations to relocate from home to home.

Have you recently had guests staying with you who have been, or are currently, traveling? If not, you likely didn’t have anyone bringing in bed bugs from other locations along their travels. This is one of the main reasons bed bug activity has skyrocketed worldwide over the past 5 years.

Have YOU recently been traveling? Did you bring any unforeseen guests home with you? Its possible. Bed bugs don’t differentiate between rich or poor, 5 star or backpacker hostel. No traveling = unlikely to bring home a bed bug.

Learn how to do a bed bug inspection now

So if it isn’t bed bugs biting you, what is? Could literally be anything and nothing. Most reputable pest control companies have a no bugs, no treatment policy, since we have strict guidelines on pesticide application in Canada. Even the installation of glue monitoring traps may not give us the information we desire to know, however, its not a bad start. Most pest control companies will sell you glue monitor traps you can place around the area you feel you getting bitten. After a couple weeks, check the glue for any sign of insect and contact the company to help in the identification.

What kind of bugs bites are these?

Searching for the bed bug that is biting you can be difficult at time. Other possible culprits may include:

  • fleas (do you have pets or visited a person who does recently?) Flea bites are extremely itchy and will typically cause great discomfort. Often, you will find flea bites on your legs and feet, as they tend to target these areas. Flea bites appear as small red spots surrounded by a reddish halo. You may also experience hives, a rash, or swelling around the bite.
  • mites (did you have a bird nesting in the attic, mice in the crawlspace? They may be gone, but the mites aren’t ) Mites may be the culprit if you have a bird nesting in your attic, or mice in the crawlspace. Even once these critters move on, the mites they attracted may remain.
    Bites from mites often result in an itchy red rash in folds of skin, and may also appear between fingers, on the sides of your feet, or on the inside of your knees and elbows. It is also possible around the genitals. Avoid scratching as much as possible, as it may worsen symptoms.
  • mosquitoes (been outside in the shade or during dusk recently?) If you’ve been spending time outside near dusk, or just hanging out in the shade, you’ve probably had encounters with mosquitoes. Most people are already familiar with mosquito bites– a puffy white bump with a red spot in the middle, which may turn reddish and hard by the next day. But chances are, you are already more than familiar with what mosquito bites look like.
  • spiders (prefer cool, damp areas where other insects hide) Spider bites are often hard to see, and with many different types and sizes of spiders, identifying one of their bites may be difficult, especially since the enjoy living in cool, damp areas where other insects hide. If you see two tiny puncture holes right next to each other, you may be dealing with a spider bite. How serious it may be depends both on your reaction, and the type of spider.
    Sadly, the only person to ever benefit from a spider bite was Peter Parker.
  • chiggers (walking the dog or hiking near any long grass or fields?) Not as common as some other bites, you may find yourself getting a few if you’ve been walking or hiking in long grass or across fields. Chiggers like to target vulnerable areas like folds of skin and hair follicles. The result is a raised red bump that is very well-known for itching.
  • sand flies aka no-see-em’s (very popular outdoor pest on the wet west coast) These are a common problem on the wet west coast. Sand fly bites appear as a small, swollen, blotchy patch which is a vivid red. Some individuals may suffer an allergic reaction which results in severe itching and may also produce purple and red welts around a cluster of bites. For most people the bites take a day or two to heal, though for those with allergic reactions, several weeks may be required.
  • laundry soap change, allergies, cosmetic/hair product change (bodies react differently to varies environmental changes) There may also be other causes of red, itchy, irritated skin other than bug bites, such as a change in laundry soap or cosmetic products. One might develop an allergy, even if a given product has been used safely in the past. Irritation may occur, producing either itchiness, redness, or both.
  • paper pr cardboard (large quantities in any environment produce microscopic slivers feeling like bites) Another surprising source or irritation could be paper or cardboard, large quantities of which may produce microscopic slivers that feel like insect bites.

How do I figure out what is biting me in bed?

The best thing is to start the elimination process, and that can begin by calling a pest management professional.

They can assess come to your home, inspect for a number of biting insects and help guide you in the proper direction (if not provide you with a treatment for a found insect infestation).

Consultation with you doctor is another great step, although most are unable to positively identify one bug bite from another.

They can help you deal with the bites, however, while you sort out the mystery of bite. Beyond that, general home sanitation is always a great idea to keep up & screens on windows will prevent access for many flying insects also.

If you have any questions or comments call the experts at Vancouver pest control services. Contact Solutions Pest Control with all your bug and rodent questions. We would love to help!

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