What Are Mystery Bugs? Can They Bite?

Bedbug bites

Joel Carillet / Getty Images

Although bedbugs do infest offices--and restaurants, movie theaters, and airplanes--as well as homes and hotels, such mystery bites, itches, and bumps are more often a case of environmental factors than actual bug bites. What does that mean?

"Mystery bugs" or "mystery bites" are very common. Pest control professionals are often called into businesses or homes because people are being "bitten" but they don't see any bugs. Patients tell their doctors that they must be allergic to the "bug" that is biting them. And entire offices or families will come down with symptoms even though no bugs can be found. Thus, because the true source can be a mystery to all involved, these "bugs" and "bites" are known as mystery bugs and bites.

Some bugs and insects do bite people, but symptoms similar to bug bites can be from other environmental or physical factors.

Environmental and Physical "Bites"

  • Dry air and static electricity: A lack of humidity in the air can cause the skin to become dry and itchy, and that dryness and irritation can be aggravated by static electricity. Try using a humidifier to get more moisture in the air.
  • Carpet or paper fibers: Fibers from synthetic carpeting or splinter-like fibers from paper can get on the skin and cause bite-like sores or itching. This is generally a temporary condition, but vacuuming more often may help.
  • Allergies: Whether it be an allergy to an animal, plant, pollen, or food, rashes, and itchy skin are common allergic symptoms. See your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
  • Soaps and detergents: If you recently switch laundry detergent or body soap, your body may react to an ingredient in the new product. Try switching to another brand, or better yet, back to your old one that didn't irritate.
  • Prescription drugs: Starting on a new medication, overusing a medication, or being on one longer than recommended can all cause physical reactions, which could be rashes, bumps or itches similar to what one would expect of a bug bite. See your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
  • Diseases/medical conditions: Many health-related factors can cause rash-like symptoms that are irritating or itching. Such problems should be diagnosed and/or treated by a medical doctor.
  • Stress: Similar to medical conditions, stress can cause a person to break out in a rash and lead to even more severe issues, such as delusory parasitosis--the perception that bugs, insects, or worms are crawling over or into one's skin and biting--you can feel them and sometimes, even see them! Although this psychiatric condition is not always caused by stress, it is one known cause. In any case, a doctor should be consulted should the condition persist.
  • Power of suggestion: Just like yawning, the very act of one person scratching an itch can cause others to feel itchy themselves. Even talking--or reading about itchy skin can give one the urge to scratch.

Biting Bugs

As noted previously, however, there are cases in which the bites truly are from bugs. Bugs that bite include: