YOU WON’T GET HEPATITIS, MALARIA OR HIV FROM A BEDBUG, BUT THEIR BITES CAN BE ANNOYING: Leading Dermatologist Josh Fox Explains How to Recognize, Treat Bites in the Night
Roslyn, NY, March 2011 — “Sleep tight, don’t let the budbugs bite.” Isn’t that what we all want, whether we are snug in our beds at home or on the road in a hotel? Unfortunately, the incidence of bedbug infestations nationwide is growing, and along with the bugs, are their bites.
Joshua Fox, M.D., a leading dermatologist and medical director of Advanced Dermatology of New York and New Jersey, offers guidelines for recognizing and treating bedbug bites. “Bedbug bites mimic bites from other insects,” he says, “but fortunately their bites are nothing more than an uncomfortable nuisance. They should be treated and monitored all the same to avoid complications.”
According to a recent National Pest Management Association (NPMA) survey, conducted with the University of Kentucky, nearly all U.S.-based pest management companies (95 percent) said they have treated a bedbug infestation in the past year. That’s an increase of nearly 75 percent in the past decade. In fact, while NPMA member companies previously received only one or two bedbug calls a year, now they report one or two every week.
A bedbug is a small (about the size of a pencil eraser), flat, reddish-brown bug that feeds on human and animal blood. Bedbugs are active at night and bite any areas of exposed skin. If you suspect that bedbugs have invaded your home, your first step should be to focus on eradicating them: launder clothes on high heat or dry clean them, vacuum well and always hire a licensed exterminator, who is experienced with completely eliminating bed bugs. Sometimes using a plastic mattress cover over both the mattress and boxspring may help stop infestation if its origination is from that site.
However, all of your efforts to keep bed bugs out of your home may still result in bites. “The good news is that, while it is hard to control and eliminate bed bugs, these insects do not appear to transmit disease. You won’t get hepatitis B or C, malaria or HIV from a bed bug, but their bites can be annoying and if you scratch them, you may end up with an infection or scar that requires further treatment.”
A bedbug bite feels itchy and looks like little red bumps (similar to mosquito bites) which often occur in a line on the body. The bites often come in groups of three; breakfast, lunch and supper. “Most insect bites cause a stinging sensation along with itching and mild swelling that disappears within a day or two,” says Dr. Fox. “But if you experience soreness, redness, swelling and warmth beyond the immediate bug bite, or see pus, these are warning signs that a bug bite may be infected and you should see a doctor.
To reduce itching, Dr. Fox recommends the following:
- Wash the bites with soap and water and apply calamine lotion, a topical hydrocortisone cream (0.5 or 1 percent), Aveeno powder or a baking soda paste (3 teaspoons baking soda to 1 teaspoon water) to the bite several times a day until symptoms subside.
- Use a cold pack or baggie filled with ice to reduce swelling and itching.
- For stronger bug bite reactions, take an antihistamine containing diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Tylenol Severe Allergy), chlorpheniramine maleate (Chlor-Trimeton, Actifed) or loratadine (Claritin) to reduce the body’s response and itch.
- Products with camphor and menthol often alleviate the severe itching.
- If these simple measures don’t work, see a dermatologist.
“If you develop a rash or experience a fever, headache, joint pain, dizziness, fatigue, nausea or vomiting following a bug bite, you should see a doctor immediately,” says Dr. Fox. “Although rare, you can get a serious reaction to bug bites, which can result in swelling in your throat, significant hives and wheezing to arthritis and heart problems – all of which require immediate medical attention.”
About: Joshua L. Fox, M.D., F.A.A.D., earned his medical degree from the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York. He completed an internship at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, followed by a three-year dermatology residency at the New York University School of Medicine. A Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, Dr. Fox is a leading authority in the field of dermatology, with an expertise in skin cancer, acne, cosmetic surgery and laser procedures and is the author of many dermatologic publications. He is the founder and director of Advanced Dermatology, P.C. of New York and New Jersey and the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery and is on the panel of the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery. He is the director of a fellowship program in Laser & Cosmetic Surgery.. Dr. Fox is also the founder and President of New Age Skin Research Foundation, a national, non-profit [501 (C) (3)] health organization committed to improving the quality of life of those with skin conditions through research and education.