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Something biting me

I'm a nature lover and we never swat a fly - but I am having a real problem in my house for the past month. My children, husband and self have been bit by what I believe is a bird mite. We've seen doctors and a dermatologist. We have ruled out scabies and bed bugs. We have put out strips to catch a sample and the only thing that came up was a collembola.

We went to our local ag extension with the only bug I could find that I put on a piece of tape and squashed - but he said it was a collembola also (I don't know how he can tell b/c I really didn't know how squashed I was making the little guy).

Anyway, we get bit in cycles over the past 6 weeks and it is clear that we take them with us because we'll be driving away from the house and still getting bites.

So, we treated ourselves for scabies and lice (even though 5 different docs said we didn't have that!) and moved to a hotel. I cleaned the house up and down, got rid of plants and washed everything in hot water with borax (clothes, etc.). swept, etc. - we moved back and were happy for about 5 days now and are getting bites again. We have never seen the bug! We have no idea what it is. Please help us. There are truly horrifying stories about bird mites out there and I fear the worst right now. Do they lay eggs on us? Do we need to use an exterminator and what would we do? We are quite desperate and unclear about whether our children should even be near other kids. This is a nightmare.

Before the whole thing started, I saw a very slow-moving weird guy in my bedroom that I now think (from my memory and pix since) an assissin bug. I let the guy live and took him outside at the time not thinking of the hell we would go through later.

We removed a bird feeder that was attached to the house and we also found a dead squirrel near the house that has since been removed. We live "in town" - but have a very wooded lot (most wooded lot around) with many critters (bunnies, chipmunks, groundhogs, etc.).
Can anyone help?

Its not a bug.
for two years my family has fought this same battle, and NOBODY offered any help...Doctors, Pest Control,X-tension office...NOONE.
We were very discouraged.... anyway... I had all of your symptoms,
It turned out to be pin worms. They go through a stage where they come out of you for oxygen to molt. during that time not all make it back to your colon. Those left behind bite hard. on top of that we had a chigger problem. But we never saw them move. Their bites hurt bad. but actually none of us itched that much. I cant tell you what finally worked cause we used everything under the sun.
And for the record to these people who constantly call people crazy...I SAY BRING YOUR ASS OFF YOUR ARM CHAIR and test out their teeth!!! Ive learned that just because people use big words doesn't mean their smart! Insects can adapt,they are resilient and may not feel like following the rules from some college text book all the time. Ive been told thrips do not bite...but that's a lie. and chiggers will lay eggs on your skin, so will soft ticks... and I didn't read this in a book I experienced it myself. I apologize for this rant, but them damn bugs have driven me daffy!

Did you ever figure it out? Did you ever figure out what was biting you? I read the story, and I am quite curious to what the result was back in 2009. I believe you were getting bit by a number of things. you most likely had fleas/mosquitos in the yard, but your in-door bites sounded a lot like bed bugs. although they bite at night, you can end up not feeling the bites (intense itch) until much later in the day, like when you are out. a tell tale sign is 2-3 bites in a small area. mosquitoes will rarely do such a thing, but unfortunately the diameter of the bites does not tell you anything. some bb bites are small dots and they can be as large as quarters (though they are circular bites). mosquito bites tend to end up elongated along the surface with round bit irregular shapes.

I'm a lil concerned about what you mentioned about kissing bugs. we actually do have them in pennsylvania. i personally have never seen them in western pa, but i have seen them in philadelphia, the kind in PA have orange markings. i have no idea if they can transmit chagas disease.

They definitely cannot
please read through the comments on this page

When Searching For Info...
...did you look at the bugbite slideshow available at the medicinenet site? Some of the 'buggy' culprites referenced there towards the end are microscopic in size. Maybe the photos of some of the injury they cause will seem familiar...

Other than this, I got nuthin'. Good luck!

Coming to some conclusions
Maybe you guys who know a lot about bugs can help me test this theory. First off, thanks for the medicine slide show. We have bites that look like bed bug bites and we have bites that look like chigger bites. Again, I think bedbugs are not the problem only because they bite us all day and seem like they are "on us." Most bites are not at night.

Anyway, after the grass was cut the other day, a trillion little jumping black things were everywhere all over the lawn. It has been damp, rainy and cool for a month - no sun. Could we just have a serious chigger problem and are we just walking through chigger world everyday and bringing eggs inside?

I went for a run yesterday and had 6 bites around my waist line while I was running (not at my house). They are swelling a bit but the same thing we've been getting for the last month.

Does the sun and dry heat usually control chigger populations and we just need a few days of hot sun here?

I'm kind of hoping that is the problem b/c then I can avoid having to treat the house with something. The sun is sure to come out some day....

The trick is to remember that your real bites are not from an infestation. There is no mite matching your symptoms that is capable of laying eggs on/in you or your house. The most likely cause of any “unwitnessed” itchy bite is a mosquito. The anesthetics in the mosquito saliva prevent you from feeling it. Many bites get noticed well after the mosquito is gone. If some random mite did find its way onto your skin and decided to take a taste, I’m sure that it was very disappointed. Mites are fairly specific in who they can eat. Even chiggers don’t stay long on people (although their bites can take a long time to resolve). If these were the cause of your lesions, they were probably gone by the time you really noticed them. And because they are small, fragile creatures, one scratch would have probably killed them all. I emphasize that there is no infestation because that seems to be a big difference in people who have transient illusions, and those that seem to have a more persistent problem.

Delusions and real bug bites
I just want to say that this has been very informative and I am quite happy to learn that my immune system and some primal part of my brain are playing tricks on me to make me freak out about an infestation that doesn't exist.

That is great news because I would much rather be crazy, vulnerable to suggestion, and imagining bugs than actually having real critters crawling on me any day. I do believe that those websites assisted me in feeling quite scared and as if I needed to take heroic measures to avoid a massive infestation. I didn't go so far as to concern myself with the lint morgellon's thing - but bird mites was a real possibility for me since the entomologist we were working with suggested that my bird feeder attached to the house should be taken down. Anyway, the long answer to a question of whether these websites can cause paranoia is a resounding YES>

Having said all of that, I still have a real critter who is causing real bug bites on my family outside of the house. I am not smart about bugs, but in PA where the temp has barely reached 60 yet and the sun has barely come out yet at all (although we have had a few odd 85 degree humid days), I'm thinking a mosquito is unlikely. They are usually around in August in the evening. I've never seen them this early.

My 9 year old came in from outside yesterday with 4 bites in a row on her arm and they swelled up like a mosquito. Just wondering if I am not remmebering summers well or if mosquito bites are normal this time of year in PA? After cutting the grass, we have millions of little black things jumping and swarming a foot off the ground - what are those?

Last question, would spraying the yard with soapy water (like I have done to my houseplants years ago when they got buggy) help my yard and reduce whatever is in there or does it only work on certain types of bugs?

In my experience, chigger bites are pretty distinctive, in that they weep an amber colored liquid that rapidly hardens into a crust. This persists for a few days after the bite. Also, chigger bites tend to occur around constricted areas of clothing (sock-tops, waistbands, bra straps, etc).

Hives can also have non-bite-related causes as Dr. Carlson discussed, (hives can be triggered by heat and sweat, for example) and can occur in patches around your waistband. I had hives as an undergraduate that occurred each night as I was starting to get tired, and they began in my sweaty areas (underarm, groin) and would end up covering my entire torso. They'd be gone each morning. In my case, it turned out that it was a bizarre side effect of mononucleosis. The more I learn about allergic responses, the less sense they make to me.

Well, some of these things do "ooze" as you say. I actually had "chiggers" once before when I lived in the woods and that is what I originally thought was happening - except that when I had chiggers (diagnosed by a doc) it went away and didn't keep biting for weeks!

I went to when this started and discovered that "borax" in laundry would help remove mites. So, I washed everything in hot borax water. I ruined many items of clothing btw -but then I came across something that said that borax can actually lead to small red bumpy skin reaction. So, now I'm wondering if part of my own "delusional parasitosis" is actually from using borax and having a reaction to it that looks "bite-like"? Ugh! Maddening to say the least when you don't know what is going on.

However, I'm still getting real bites from a bug and it is likely that some are real from outside and some are from other things like my own reactions. My doc said that lots of folks are coming in for bug bites right now - I think the weather pattern here just was perfect for overpopulation of bugs. Lots of folks coming for ticks here in unusual numbers the doc said. I just found what looks like a sac spider in the house today too!

Mark is exactly right, a person with true delusions (by definition) will not really consider alternate interpretations. Two problems that have been implicated in the formation of delusions are 1) "source monitoring errors", in which a person’s own ideas are remembered as facts of equal legitimacy as an expert’s opinion and 2) "suggestions" which may be abnormally sustained by obsessions, sensations, and/or other people. It can be difficult to determine whether the problem is more related to source monitoring errors or suggestions, especially because there are so many websites, like the one you mention, that appear authoritative. On these types of websites, the treatments recommended are often dangerous, and there are companies that make a tremendous profit providing sham diagnostic and treatment services. People with these delusions are a very vulnerable group, and I hate seeing them taken advantage of in this way.

As best as I can tell, the websites are made by people who have delusions themselves. Most people with delusions do not have other, primary psychiatric problems. They are normal, bright people, although they often understandably develop depression and anxiety because of the delusion, and some will even hallucinate as their brains trick them into seeing things to support their fixed belief. I suspect that true hallucinations are rare, and that it remains a problem with misinterpreting normal things (e.g. lint) as something that is a parasite.

I do not know whether illusions of parasitosis becomes delusions of parasitosis, or whether there is something in the brain that pre-determines whether you will get one or the other after being exposed to the right situation. Even people with the delusions seem to wax and wane with regard to how much it disrupts their lives, but I wonder what the influence of a strong early suggestion (such as from one of those websites) does to the process. It sounds like it increased your concern about being infested. I wonder how many people would have had a transient problem with illusions, but discover those very frightening websites, and then spiral downward due to the suggestions available on the internet to sustain it.

Important distinction
Another topic I meant to post about and just remembered: "delusory" vs "illusory" parasitosis. Medical experts chime in if I am mistaken in any of this.

Both are very troubling, but delusory parasitosis represents a more severe psychiatric impairment, in that the delusion persists in the face of clear evidence that there is no real source of parasitism. Illusory parasitosis is usually a temporary phenomenon, and is typically triggered by a real experience with parasites, or at least real evidence that parasitism is plausible. For instance, if I hear mosquitoes buzzing in my bedroom, I simply can't get to sleep until I've scoured the room and shooed or squished all mosquitoes. If I try to ignore it, every little sensation - as Dr. Carlson described - like the touch of the sheets, prickling of sweat or breeze, convinces me that I am being attacked by mosquitoes. So in short, it is an illusory sensing of parasites that has some form of rational origin. I had a similar experience recently when camping, because I saw several small spiders in my tent as I was trying to go to sleep, and though I know not to fear them, I still felt like I was crawling with spiders as soon as I turned off the light. I went inside a building to sleep, and was totally fine.

Anyway, I thknk you are probably experiencing "illusory" parasitosis, because you seem to have had some undeniable parasite encounters, and you are clearly willing to rationally consider alternate explanations for your continued symptoms. Small consolation, I'm sure.

All Illusory parasitosis?
I, too, experience the feeling of things crawling on me if I have seen mosquitoes in the room or if I have been collecting particularly small/quick specimens such as ants near their colony, etc. But does it count as illusory parasitosis when the organism in question is not a parasite? (spiders, ants, blister beetles, etc)

To Diva, I think that your actions should depend on how much the bites are bothering you and your family. If you feel as though you simply can't stand it anymore, go ahead and get your house/yard treated. If it isn't so bad, just try to wait it out. Apply bug spray, perhaps?

Do not let this statement alarm you at all, but I would also keep in mind that certain bugs' injections can be dangerous if you continue to get enough of them. Bees are an obvious example, but one more in keeping with your situation would be the kissing bug. I highly doubt that this is your bug, but there was at least one incident that I know of where a man was getting many bites a night, and finally just collapsed and went into cardiac arrest.

Heather C.'s kissing bug topic
I am very concerned now about this kissing bug thing since we did see something that looked like an assisin bug a while back, we ALL had sort of a swollen eyelid/mild flu-like symtpoms in the height of this bug biting and so on.

Do kissing bugs and chagras disease happen in northern USA/Pennsylvania? I have three kids - I need to know if we are in danger of this.

Didn't mean to scare you
Like I said, and as Mark Fox has assured you, kissing bugs would be highly highly unlikely. I just wanted to make you aware of the buildup of certain bugs' envenomations.

Absolutely not
You are in no danger of any disease from assassin bugs in Pennsylvania. Chagas disease is only found in the extreme southern US and even then it is extremely - EXTREMELY - uncommon. It is a tropical disease, so the only case that might occur in Pennsylvania would be a person who had recently returned from the tropics.

Also, while spiders and mosquitoes are not considered parasites, that is just a semantic distinction. In those cases it would be illusory predation, I suppose. The illusory vs delusory distinction is identical in any case. If there is a plausible reason to believe you've been exposed to parasites, and your sensation of being parasitized goes away once you've ruled it out (by bathing, examining self for ticks, etc.), then it is illusory parasitosis.

Okay! Glad to hear I'm in no danger of chagas disease! Bugs can be quite a hazard and I'm learning so much!

So, I spent some time outside last night looking around for bugs and to my surprise, I found many mosquitos. What is not natural or right is that these usually are only hanging around in numbers like this in later summer - like July/August. Looking back, my 5 year old son had about 15 bites on his legs one day. It was a creepy and balmy 85 degrees and humid back in March! Could these critters just have more babies because of weirdo "global warming" days? Just a thought. I never had a mosquito bite before July in PA before....

That is actually possible.
Unusual weather patterns (unseasonable warmth, a lot of rain, etc) can cause mosquitoes to have population booms at odd times of year. There are also a lot more types of mosquito than most people are aware of, so that the ones biting in summer evenings are probably a different species from the ones biting on spring mornings. In fact, the ones biting your son's ankles could very likely be different from the ones biting your shoulders and back (just speculating here). Their behaviors and feeding patterns are often very specific. Many mosquito species don't feed on humans at all, but feed on birds or frogs instead.

The good news is that mosquito population explosions are typically a temporary problem, and one that can be managed with longer sleeves and some basic insect repellant. If you notice that mosquitoes are more abundant or aggressive at a certain time of day, you can try to avoid being outside during that time (twilight is often a big biting time in salt marsh mosquitoes, for example, so I try to head home from my research site before dusk).

Description of bites
It is unlikely that your bites are related to the one bug that you saw on your bedroom wall. In the absence of a suspect caught in the act of biting, it is sometimes possible to narrow down the possibilities based on a couple of characteristics of the bites themselves. These include the parts of the body involved, whether the bites initially itch or hurt, the time of day that most are first noticed, how long each lesion lasts, and the size, shape, and pattern of the lesions. As an example, bed bug bites are usually noticed in the morning, as itchy bumps that are arranged in a line on arms and legs and other areas not covered by clothing. The size of each individual lesion is highly variable, but circular, and tend to last for a long time. Feel free to post descriptions here, or if you prefer, send me an e-mail at If you have pictures of the bites that you wish to send, that also might be helpful.

This site doesn’t provide medical or “pest control” advice, but if we can provide an educated guess about the involvement of a particular group of arthropods, we might be able to steer you to other resources for that type of information.

Initially, the bites swelled up like a common outdoor bug bite (misquito - etc.). Now, however, they are more like a "sting" and there is usually only a small red pinprick that doesn't swell much at all and doesn't really bother me - some last a really long time (like the first one I ever had when outside walking is still here on my leg) - but some go away in a day or two. One sting was very painful, on the base of my head/back of neck and swelled to the size of a large marble. When it was particularly bad, I had up to 30 bites on my chest - small red dots mostly and a few of them "pimple-like." The thing that is troubling is not the bite but rather the sensation of them on me even though I cannot see them. I will have that sensation and then a sting and a day later a little red dot in the same area. Once the dot shows up, it doesn't bother me. They also were "felt" in my ears and nose and eyelids. I am using "vicks" to keep them away from my whole head and my kids' head and that seems to be working. I know this sounds sci fi - but it is really happening.

We had two pco guys come and inspect the house/mattresses, etc. and found not one single clue of bed bugs and we also installed about 6 pest catching strips they provided and they found nothing like a bed bug. The pest strips were sent to our university ag ext. and they only found a few collembola. Also, they bite us during the day, when we are in the house, when we are at a sporting event, when we are in the car, etc. They seem to be on us - not our bed.

Illusions of parasitosis
Many of the lesions that you are describing are not related to arthropods. Your immune system may be tricking you. There is an intense connection between the immune system and the brain that we do not fully understand, but when your immune system is concerned about something, it changes the way you perceive things. For example, if you have an infection and don’t rest, your immune system deliberately makes you feel miserable to force you to rest. It isn’t technically the infection that makes you feel run-down and exhausted- it is your immune system acting on your brain. When your immune system is worried about a parasite on your skin, it makes you itch- the only purpose of which is to make you scratch. Scratching is a very complex behavior if you think about it, and the fact that your immune system can make you do that behavior is amazing. If the immune system/brain is worried it can increase your perceptions of normal sensations to an alarming degree. At any moment everyone has some part of their body that feels a small amount of itch, pain, heat, cold, movement, and all of the other possible skin perceptions. Most of those signals are ignored because they aren’t important enough. Small tears in the skin can make itch, blocked sweat glands can cause a sting, and accumulated sweat can make a crawling sensation. Your subconscious mind is constantly interpreting all of these sensations. You can turn up those perceptions pretty easily so that you are “over-sensing” itch, pain, movement, or all of these. (If you over-perceive all of them at once, it is called formication, named after the sensation of an ant (Family Formicidae) crawling on the skin and biting and stinging you.)

I think that some of what you are experiencing is over-sensing. The sensations and small bumps are real, but part of small, normal problems that get dealt with all the time without you realizing it. The question remains, what caused your immune system to be so worried in the first place? One cause is an actual problem with parasites (e.g. mosquitoes) that has ended even though the worry persists. The worry is subconscious, and leads to over-perception of itch and other sensations, that leads to scratching or picking. I believe that people have a built-in subconscious worry about parasites that can be triggered easily. When I talk to people about head lice, most of the audience members start scratching their heads. It is as contagious as yawning. When one person in a family begins over-sensing, other family members and close friends usually start to do it too. Everyone is on the look-out for sensations that might be a bite. And once you start trying to feel them, it is easy to drive yourself crazy thinking that you’ve just felt something. You are always feeling something, but normally you don’t dwell on it long enough to remember. Now, your subconscious mind is so concerned that it suspects everything you feel is caused by a parasite.

This falls into the category of an illusion: the subconscious mind interprets a piece of information incorrectly. The itch or sting sensation is real enough, but it is a normal sensation that is over-perceived and then incorrectly interpreted as a parasite by the subconscious mind. Illusions are fun when you can walk away from them at a magic show, but for people that live with them, they can be difficult to deal with. Over time, some people cross over from having illusions that they can try to ignore to having delusions, where the mind’s interpretation becomes fixed. When specifically dealing with parasites, this is called “delusions of parasitosis.”

How do you calm down this problem of over-sensing? Unfortunately, I don’t know. In the hopes that information helps, you should know that for what you are describing, only itchy bumps are likely to be caused by actual arthropods- everything else is likely over-sensing. The most common of itchy bumps is mosquitoes. For many species the bite is not perceived until after the mosquito has flown away. People worry about mites because they don’t want to be “infested.” Again, there is something deep in the subconscious that seems to be very wary of this kind of parasitosis. In fact, this seems to be the most common worry with people who have delusions of parasitosis, and because of this, they are often treated for common infestations such as scabies and lice. People with the delusions often try to dig out parasites from places that they feel a sensation using their fingernails. They may resort to increasingly toxic treatments trying to kill off the insects that they think must be causing the sensations. It’s a miserable disease, and the patients often feel abandoned because doctors and entomologists can’t figure out what is causing the problem.

Real mite bites and infestations are intensely itchy, and the patterns don’t match with what you have. Most people that do have lice or scabies don’t complain of being bitten or infested- and this is probably an adaptation of those few species that allows them to parasitize us. Very few species are capable of infesting people because in order to do so, they have to over-come our intense immune system that can manipulate the brain into actions that will remove them. This may be why bed bugs take a series of small meals (resulting in the line of itchy bumps); they may need to keep moving in order to escape the lethal scratching that we can do in our sleep. It is so much easier to be a mosquito that can fly in, quickly consume its fill of blood, and then fly away before the immune system knows that there is a problem to deal with.

As a parasitologist, I would be grateful to know if you figure out how to calm the over-sensing that comes after an unexplained series of bites that you and your family are dealing with. In my field, it is a fairly common problem.

I have also had this problem surface here, I usually get someone every year or so have almost the exact same symptoms but nothing identifiable. Would be interesting to get someone in the ssychology field to weigh in on this and how to alleviate the problem.

How to help
For primary “single, fixed delusions” (i.e. not caused by a primary problem with anxiety, depression, medications, or psychosis) antipsychotics seem to help the symptoms, although they may not get rid of them entirely. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get any type of patient to take antipsychotics. I do not know of any actual research on illusions of parasitosis, and if this is a precursor to delusions of parasitosis, it would be great to know the best way to work with people. The general guidelines are for PCOs not to spray unless they actually find something and for MDs not to treat unless they actually find something, for fear of cementing the thoughts. (I know that seems like common sense anyway, but it isn’t always what happens.) If you have any suggestions from your experiences, I’d love to hear them.

Like most
professional entomologists I have had far too many encounters with sufferers of delusory parasitosis. However, sometimes there are unusual but very real incidents of unusual "biting."

One I investigated some years ago involved several government employees who swore they were being bitten persistently in their office. It turned out that their window air conditioner was blowing alfalfa thrips into the office. Apparently, the thrips could not distinguish between alfalfa and bureaucrats. I can attest to the discomfort caused by thrips bites, especially in numbers. Also, I have been bitten -- painfully -- by a leafhopper.

Dear Mr. Carlson,
I was actually hoping that it was "in my head." I had the most terrifying dream about bugs actually! I screamed so loud and woke the whole house.

The websites of these people who sweep 14 times a day, pour borax on all their belongings, and use lint rollers all over the body made me feel sad and desperate. Sometimes reading that kind of stuff can make things worse.

I will report to you that after reading this, I still had some trouble sleeping and still felt the crawling - but I just didn't over-react (by scratching, getting up and taking a shower, etc.) and it actually started to subside (which is unusual!) and I actually slept more than usual lately.

I do think we had a real problem outside our house and we were likely bringing the problem in with us. We have such a wooded lot in the middle of town and as I said, we have lots of critters and it has rained for weeks and been very humid. So, bugs overpopulating near our house makes sense.

Your letter was very encouraging and made me feel a little ashamed that I am likely imaginging things - but you said it in a way that I could accept it as likely (plus it is also what my mother told me - and even though I'm 41 years old - she is still usually right about everything...).

Thanks for your honesty and time in helping me understand what may be happening. I'll clean out my flower beds, get my citronella candles out, and pray for sun to dry up some of my yard and curtail my overpopulation of whatever was biting us.

Thanks a ton.

Bed bugs?
How did you rule out bed bugs? By being bitten while away from home?

Bed bugs would not be eliminated by cleaning because they can live in the mattress.

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