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By James G. H. Dinulos, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Surgery (Dermatology Section); Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth; University of Connecticut

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Patient Education

Bedbug bites are usually painless but cause reactions, often pruritic, in susceptible patients.


Bedbug infestations have become more common in the developed world in recent years. The most common bedbugs affecting humans are Cimex lectularis (in temperate climates) and C. hemipterus (mainly in tropical climates). Bedbugs hide in cracks and crevices of mattresses, other structures (eg, bedframes, cushions, and walls; in developing nations, mud houses and thatched roofs). They move slowly and are attracted to people by warmth and carbon dioxide. Bedbugs bite exposed skin, usually at night. A feeding is completed in 5 to 10 min.

Symptoms and Signs

Lesions are generally on exposed skin. They develop sometime between the morning after and 10 days after being bitten. Lesions can be any of the following:

  • Puncta only

  • Purpuric macules

  • Erythematous macules, papules, or wheals, often pruritic, each with a central hemorrhagic punctum

  • Bullae

Lesions may form linear patterns or may be seen in groups. Older adults develop symptoms less often than do younger people. Lesions resolve after about 1 wk. Secondary infection can develop.

Patients may be anxious about the difficulty and expense of eradicating a bedbug infestation and about the social stigma that can result from infestation. They may isolate themselves to avoid spreading infestation.


  • Clinical evaluation

Diagnosis based on lesion appearance may be difficult because the appearance is usually nonspecific. However, most bedbug bites are larger and more edematous than other bites (eg, flea bites).

Identification of bedbugs can help confirm the diagnosis. Bedbugs have flat, oval, reddish-brown bodies. After a blood meal, the body is less flat and more reddish. Adult C. lectularis are about 5 to 7 mm in length, and C. hemipterus are slightly longer. Bedbug feces or blood may be evident on bed linens or behind wallpaper.


  • Symptomatic treatment

Bedbug bites are treated symptomatically (eg, with topical corticosteroids and/or systemic antihistamines) as needed.

Bedbugs should be eradicated using physical and usually chemical means. Physical means include vacuuming affected areas and laundering suspect articles, then drying them on the dryer's hottest setting. In addition, entire rooms should be treated professionally, when possible, by heating to temperatures ≥ 50° C (122° F) or with multiple insecticides.

Key Points

  • Consider bedbug bites particularly if initially asymptomatic lesions cluster linearly on exposed skin.

  • Search for evidence of infestation to help confirm the diagnosis.

  • Recommend professional assistance to help eradicate bedbugs.

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