It is well known that some people show no reaction to bed bug bites. Others may develop redness in the area bitten, or itching without the welts, or the characteristic itchy red welts. The largest survey ever conducted about bed bug bites was recently published.

People known to be living in premises infested with bed bugs were surveyed in seven cities around the country. Thirty percent said they did not experience any bites. (Note: bed bugs bite everyone equally—it is just the reaction to the bites that varies among individuals.)

The study found that people who reported they were sensitive to mosquito bites were also more sensitive to bed bug bites. Arms and legs were the areas of the body that were bitten the most, but people also reported bites on their chest or back, neck, hands, feet, and face. Bed bugs have a difficult time biting through most clothing, so bites tend to occur on exposed skin.

Besides the bites, a number of people mentioned bed bugs causing sleeplessness, and others mentioned bed bugs causing them emotional distress, anxiety, and stress.

Bed bugs often are not discovered until their population has grown, which may mean that the problem has spread into neighboring rooms or apartments. There are many reasons why they are not detected sooner—when so many people (30%) show no reaction to their bites, this complicates early detection. Plus, even with sensitive people, the first bites often produce no reaction—it is only the subsequent bites that start producing reactions. Finally, reactions to bed bug bites seem to take longer than with other insect bites. For some reason the reaction to a bite sometimes is delayed for a week or so, and by that time most people have no idea where they were when bed bugs bit them.