Mystery Bug Bites

On Tuesday morning after returning from Italy, I took my kids to school and day care, and while dropping Dana off at Sweatt Winter noticed an itch under my sleeve on my right arm.  It was bad, and I even mentioned to Dana, “gee, I must have gotten a misquito bite.”    The itch got worse, and soon I noticed red welts on both arms.

My first thought was that I was breaking out in hives.   Perhaps as the cat starts heavy shedding (the first time – we got him towards the end of last summer) I was reacting.   By the end of the day it was very intense, red warm welts, itching.  I took a stiff drink to get myself able to fall asleep despite the itching.

My next thought was that it could be bed bugs.   I had taken the usual precautions, including washing everything and keeping things separate once we got home — I showered first thing after getting home.    I inspected everything I could, washed the bedding, inspected the bed to see if some were there.   I had been at Hotel Planet for five nights before coming home, and the bites appeared the day after I got back.   Surely some indication of bed bugs would have appeared earlier.

Wednesday it got intense.   They did look like bites, and my right shoulder and arm was almost all swollen with an itch that was a constant series of pin pricks on every part of arm.  The left arm was marginally better.   My legs and feet had some bites, but didn’t itch as much.   I had a few on my stomach and back.   My face and private areas were untouched.   I called my Doctor’s office to try to an appointment.   I have a physical scheduled for Monday next week, and they had no openings.   Disappointed I decided I’d hope that benedryl would work.

That night things got worse.   My son Ryan was very concerned and felt sorry for me.   He offered to itch them for me, but I said I was trying not to itch them.   Dana was inquisitive about how I got so many bites.  By that point I realized it was probably in total over 100 bites.    We put the kids to bed and at 10:30 I’d had enough.  I could hardly stand the itching and swelling, and decided to go to the ER (we have no urgent care off hours facilities here).    No way could I fall asleep. Natasha told me to take a book along, it can be a long wait — she had a three and a half hour ER ordeal not long ago.

I got there at 10:45 and when I showed my arm to the receptionist, an older woman, she gasped, “oh my!”    I stopped worrying that I was treating bug bites like an emergency.   The nurse took me right away, and noticed my blood pressure was high.  She joked “is it because of me — we call that the white shirt effect, you just looked at me and your blood pressure shot up!”   (To put it gently, no, it was not because of her).   She was exceedingly friendly and helpful though, asked a bunch of questions and said the doctor would be right in.  (The next morning I checked my blood pressure at Rite Aide and it was back to normal).

He was.  He examined the bites.   “I don’t think they are misquitos.  They don’t look like bed bugs, bed bugs are smaller and more blistery.   Do you have pets with fleas?”    We have an indoor cat, but he’s shown no signs of fleas.    “You’re certainly not dealing a hundred ticks attacking at once, there are too many to be spider bites, they don’t bite multiple times…”  He was generally puzzled.   After assuring me I didn’t have a flesh eating virus or other severe problem, he told me they were definitely bites.

He prescribed prednisone to cut down the itching and swelling and the nurse gave me the first dose.   Then the nurse left to discharge me, and while she was gone another woman came in to admit me.   I found out later that I actually had been discharged before my admission was made official.    I was home before 11:30.

The bites are still there, but the prednisone is working.  Slight itching, the swelling is mostly gone.  The bites are still visible and obvious.   I have not gotten any new ones.   I talked to Steve (my colleague who was also on the Italy trip) about the mystery bites.  I don’t think anything was in the house — no one else was affected, and Dana had come to bed and slept with us that night (Ryan had jumped in bed in the morning — it’s a King Size bed).   So we wondered about the flight.

I had read reports of bed bugs on flights, and I had the pillow on the side with the most bites, often near my arm.   Might the flight have had bed bugs that bit me?  If so, did my precautions after getting home prevent any from coming along?  Still, the doctor didn’t think they looked like bed bugs.   Fleas?   The bus was dark.   I was in the back, alone in a seat, tired from traveling all day.   The bus didn’t seem especially dirty, but the timing of the bites appearing early AM could be in line with the bus ride that ended at about 10:30 the night before.  Now that the swelling is down, the bites appear similar to flea bites you can see searching google image.

Hopefully these will go away and remain a mystery.   I prefer not to add any pictures to this post!

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  1. #1 by Stephen Kahn on June 4, 2011 - 04:04

    Any medical emergency without clear diagnosis and prognosis is scary.

    I hope you are over the worst and things will return to normal.

    A few years ago, I had a sore throat and thought it was just the start of a cold. When I had trouble swallowing the next morning, the advice nurse said, “Hospital–right away.”

    When I got to the hospital, they said, “We are not sure what you have but it’s something that usually strikes children. If it’s lower in the lungs; usually fatal; higher, probably they can treat it. Into the ICU for you.

    It was clear to me that they were throwing the kitchen sink at me, medically speaking, because they did not know what I had. It worked. After about three days, I recovered.

    After release, I saw the main doctor who treated me. He said, “OK, we ran tests; they told us nothing. What did you have, already?”

    Pretty scary when your doctor says, “I don’t know what you had and it almost killed you.”

    I am not sure how many people die of “The Unknown Condition,” but apparently the number is fairly large. Move over American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, etc. It’s time to start the American for Unknown Diseases Society.

    We both can be poster children.

  2. #2 by renaissanceguy on June 8, 2011 - 14:25

    I am sorry for your misery. Itching can drive you nearly insane.

    It is frustrating when doctors cannot diagnose a problem.

    Recently a college student that I know started having paralysis. They ran all the usual tests and found nothing. They suspected Guillain-Barre, which is very rare. They treated her for that, and she is happily getting better. They still did not give a firm diagnosis, but everyone is thankful that the treatment is working. It could have been fatal if the paralysis had spread to her lungs.

  3. #3 by Bed Bug Killer on June 17, 2011 - 10:42

    Even if bed bug bites are fairly harmless, an allergic reaction to the bites has been known to cause nausea, sickness and even shock on very rare occasions. For fast relief from the bites, you could run it under lukewarm running water for approximately a minute, which will minimize the inflammation and take your mind off it. For other treatment of the bites, you should take some antihistamine or visit your local pharmacy to obtain a suitable cream that will help reduce swelling and relieves the itching. Hopefully this helps! – Sarah

  4. #4 by Mary on June 24, 2017 - 20:43

    I went to Italy in Oct. 2016.I felt something biting my ankles in the Assissi area. It is now June almost July 2017.I still haven’t gotten rid of them… after 3 tubes of Premethrin. They have made their way all the way up to my scalp. I don’t know what they are. I would advise anyone going there to bring deet wipes as a preventative measure.

  1. Bite Worse

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