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Bed Bugs

Q: During a recent business trip, I stayed in a swanky hotel and I seem to have had some sort of allergic reaction to something in the room. I've been home for a week now and what started as a rash on my stomach that looked like a line of small red welts has grown into a half-dozen ugly patches that itch like crazy! What's going on?

Dr. Donnica:
The nature of your rash suggests bed bugs, which tend to feast on human blood and bite in a line. These apple seed-sized critters have made a major comeback in recent years, especially in hotel rooms, and it sounds like they hitched a ride home in your luggage. Bed bugs usually bite the host around the waist while in bed, sleeping. Bites may also occur on exposed skin, such as arms and legs. After biting, they scurry into mattress tufts, bed frames, moldings, floor joints, picture frames and in any other crack or crevice they may find. The sole source of food is the blood meal that they take at night while the victim sleeps. When the victim wakes up, the only sign of bedbugs is the telltale bite and/or blood on the sheets.

Fortunately, bed bugs don't transmit disease, but succumbing to the urge to scratch does increase redness, inflammation and the risk of skin infections. To help speed healing, do whatever you can to resist the urge to scratch. Use calamine lotion or hydrocortisone creams to treat the itching. Wash the bites with antiseptic soap to reduce the risk of infection. Apply an icepack 2 to 3 times per day for 20 minutes to help relieve any swelling. If necessary, take OTC non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (e.g. Motrin, ibuprofen, Nuprin, etc.) to reduce pain or swelling. See your doctor if the bite develops an infection.

To prevent more bites from appearing, you'll need to rid your bedroom of the bugs. Vacuum your mattress, box spring and bedroom floor thoroughly, focusing on cracks and crevices in the floorboards. Launder all bed linens in hot water, and clear out any clutter under the bed or on adjacent nightstands that might serve as a hiding place. If you're still getting welts after these efforts, an exterminator can nix the pests for good. A residual insecticide or a non-residual pyrethrins product should be applied to the bed frame connecting points at both the headboard and footboard and wall moldings, as well as any other objects or hollow areas that offer shelter for bedbugs. You may also want to call the hotel you visited and alert them to the problem.

Created: 3/4/2006  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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