Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More Mysterious Bites at Night - After Moving Into New House

We have started a new "'Bugs Help Line" to answer specific questions from our visitors. For instructions on how to submit your own questions about home and garden pests click here.

The question below represents a number of similar questions we've gotten recently about "bites" that mysteriously appear in the morning. In this case, the bites started shortly after moving into a newly built home. 

Question: What's Causing the Itchy "Bites" - After Moving Into New House?

Dear 'Bugs,
"We recently built a new home from the ground up. The process took a little over a year but we finally moved in this past October (2009). Not long after we moved (maybe a month?) I started to experience mysterious bites mostly along my thigh area down my leg to my ankle or foot (see photo). These were happening at some point in the night and every night because I am certain they were not there the previous day.  We immediately thought bed bugs since our mattress was stored in a garage during the build, wrapped in fabric but not plastic. We instantly got rid of the mattress, thoroughly cleaned the entire bedroom and home, then continued to sleep on an air mattress in a room at the other end of the house until our brand new foam mattress arrived a week later. I do have to note however that maybe twice during that week we were on the air mattress, I did awake in the morning with one or two bites as opposed to the 8 to 10 I would receive before.
 

Since we had our new mattress (about 3 weeks or so now) I have had no problems whatsoever...until just last night. I awoke, only to notice  about 8 or 9 bites when I was in the bathroom and happened to feel the side of my leg. That is what is shown in the picture. The bites don't start to itch until they are scratched and then they seem to inflame slightly. Shortly after the itching stops and only starts again if it is irritated by more scratching or something rubbing on them. My husband has not had any bites whatsoever since this ordeal began, and my son who is 2 and sleeps in the room across the hall has had not one bite either. I seem to be the only one affected. We do have a small dog but she is treated regularly with a 3 in one flea medicine and is bathed.

As I said before, this is a brand new home. I would think we are rather clean people. I vacuum under beds, dust sills, steam clean, you name it, I do this regularly (approx twice weekly). We shower pretty much everyday, and have never experienced anything like this before.

I am at my wits end and would love if I could be helped or even pointed in the right direction. I have spent hours on the internet and just seem to get myself more anxious with the possibilities I read about. Mites? Bed bugs? Chiggers? parasites? AHH!!

Your time is greatly appreciated in this matter. I thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope I get to hear back.

Thank you and Kindest Regards,
Itchy and Irritated

PS. Right now the temp is cold and it has not been hot since before we moved in. We also live in a farm county on about 30 acres. (So we are not surrounded by buildings and whatnot) Lots of wildlife, etc. Just trying to give you all possible attributes. Thanks again."


Answer:

Fortunately there are only a small number of things that could cause these marks and if you carefully investigate each one you should be able to figure it out and take remedial steps to solve the problem.

Let's think about possible insects or mites. Only bed bugs, biting flies, fleas, body lice, or biting mites could be the culprit. There are no "mysterious parasites" despite all the Internet rumors and myths.

Body lice are pretty easy to eliminate from the list if you regularly wash your clothes. A low level bed bug or flea infestation is possible but usually there's other evidence such as the presence of the "bugs" themselves, plus fleas don't typically bite along the legs like you describe. Biting flies (mosquitoes, black flies, biting midges) usually occur outside. Biting midges and mosquitoes sometimes come indoors, however. Of the biting mites, chiggers occur outside in brushy areas and the bites are extremely irritating and itchy in most people, and don't usually show up at night. Bird mites are a possibility but they tend to be confined to one particular room (you mentioned that the bites showed up in different parts of the house).

Here are some links:

body lice
bed bugs
fleas
chiggers
bird mites

Of all these possibilities, I'd say that a low level bed bug or flea infestation is the most likely. However, it is also possible that these marks are not bites at all but rather some type of dermatitis caused by a chemical or allergen.

One of the key things in your description was that you moved into a new house shortly before this all started. New construction produces many chemical residues that people can react to such as glue, paint, insulation, and so forth. My initial guess is that you are in fact reacting to one of these chemical residues rather than some type of bug bite.

The only way to be completely sure is to investigate each of the possible insect or mite culprits but if you can't definitely find one of them I'd suspect there's some chemical in the house that you are reacting to.

Use this page for background information about all the possible "bugs" to start your investigation. You may also want to take a look at a book like "My House Is Killing Me!: The Home Guide for Families with Allergies and Asthma" by Jeffrey May (I have no connection to this book).

I hope this is useful, good luck.