Mosquito Bites vs. Bedbug Bites

Mosquito Bite or Bedbug Bite…How to Tell?

Child's legs covered in bug bites

Summertime bug bites are no picnic, but some insects—namely the bedbug—don’t care what time of year it is. Bedbug bites are often mistaken for bites made by other pests, like the mosquito. Both are vampire insects – feeding off human blood to survive. 

What Are Bedbugs?

Bedbugs are “hitchhikers,” stealthy little insects that can be as tiny as a grain of rice or grow as large as an apple seed and bite when people least expect it…when they are sleeping. The bugs are mostly nocturnal and typically hide in the seams of mattresses and box springs, alarm clocks, laundry baskets or electrical outlets. They feed on human blood for survival, just like the mosquito.

“If you have not been outdoors at all and you are waking up in the morning with bites, bumps or a rash, it’s time to consider the possibility of bedbugs,” says Andrew Smith, MD, a UC Health allergist and assistant professor of medicine in the University of Cincinnati’s College of Medicine.

How Common Are Bedbugs?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and pest control experts, bedbug infestations are currently a mainstream concern among the U.S. population. The concern has resurfaced after almost two decades of absence, due to many factors including the banning of pesticides like DDT, which once killed the bugs off, and increased global travel to areas where bedbugs are commonplace.

Identifying Bedbug Bites

“The individual bedbug bite looks much the same as a mosquito or flea bite with the only discerning identifier being that bedbugs tend to bite in a three bite, straight line, which is often referred to as ‘breakfast, lunch and dinner’,” says Smith.

The size of the bite, he says, can range from unnoticeable to tiny to a raised area swelling to the size of a CD, depending on the skin sensitivity of the person being bitten.

The reason for the range of skin reactions is because it’s not the puncture itself that causes the irritation; it’s the skin’s reaction to the blood thinner and pain killer that the bug injects in order to accomplish its mission: to sneakily suck blood as a food source.

The number and frequency of bites depends on the extent of the infestation, experts say, and bedbugs can go weeks without feeding; by which time they have multiplied and will again be looking for a food source.

Treating Bedbug Bites

“Reactions can vary quite a bit from person to person. Two people can be sleeping in the same bed, one gets red and itchy and the other has no evidence of being bitten,” Smith says, adding that medical attention can be necessary if an extreme allergic reaction occurs or if scratching leads to infection. However, the most common treatment for bites is an anti-inflammatory cream containing cortisone.

Treating bedbug bites and ridding your home of them is a dual process of medical attention and household inspection by a pest control company, but common sense should also prevail before panic: “If your child has been playing outside all day and you notice bites then it’s likely something different,” adds Smith.

If your child is experiencing an allergic reaction or severe skin irritation, we recommend contacting your pediatrician.

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Cincinnati Children’s News Team

About the Author:

The members of the news team at Cincinnati Children's are responsible for telling the stories of the medical center. Stories of the families we serve, research and clinical care, safe and healthy practices and happenings at the hospital. If it has to do with Cincinnati Children's, Danielle, Nick, Jim, Kate, Rachel, Terry and Shannon will keep you informed.

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Comments

  1. harry July 14, 12:00
    Sulfur ointment will kill them off as well. Ive had them before.
  2. eich8Peivie March 02, 23:28
    yes - agree to harry. Sulfur ointment really works but don't put too many it may irritate your skin. Put just a little, your eagerness to kill them and put many ointment will burn and leave marks to your skin which really happens to me.