Bites From Bed Bugs: How Do They Do It?

“Ewwww!” is a characteristic response after recognizing bites from bed bugs. Not everyone will have the common red itchy wealt following a bed bug bite, but most people who have an infestation or sleep in a bed with bed bugs for several nights in a row will eventually have bites visible to the eye.

How Do Bed Bugs Bite?

Technically, bed bugs do not bite. They use their proboscis, a hollow tubular sucking organ, to pierce their host. The proboscis is usually held underneath the body of the bed bug and directed backwards. When the bug is ready to feed, the proboscis is extended and stylets within the tube are thrust or pierced into the skin. As the bed bug pierces the skin, it secretes saliva. The proteins in the saliva of the bed bug causes the intense immune defense in the host body, similar to what the mosquito saliva does. The proteins and unique enzymes make the blood vessels of the host dilate for a better flow of blood, inhibiting clotting and preventing immediate pain. This absence of immediate pain differentiates the bed bugs from the mosquito, the latter of which is often squashed by the slap of the hand.

Bite Identification and Skin Response

The saliva of the bed bug can cause an immune response in the host. Often, reactions are minor. Red, itchy inflamed areas 5 to 20 mm in diameter are commonly mistaken for a mosquito or spider bite. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, bites from bed bugs are sometimes identified by their distribution: commonly in rows or the “breakfast, lunch, and dinner pattern.”

Some people have reactions several days following a bite. Hives with intense itching can be relieved by over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream; antihistamines are used for more severe cases. Some people have severe allergies to the bite or the saliva of the bed bug that cause blisters or papules. Not everyone will have a reaction to the saliva, but if you do experience a reaction, some form of treatment is necessary to relieve the pain or itchiness. Severe itching and scratching by the host often leads to an infection, and antibiotics should be prescribed by your physician if you do develop an infection. In most cases, the bites should heal after 7 to 14 days.

Monitor the bites closely on family members and children. Make sure young children do not vigorously scratch the bites. Once you are aware of what you are facing you can be better equipped to handle the infestation and subsequent bites. Explore Sniff K9’s and find options for handling bed bugs so you and your family can avoid the annoying bites.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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