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As any 6-year-old with an insect collection can tell you: Bugs are cool. They're colorful, they're scrappy (mosquitoes have been around for 30 million years!), and they even star in movies. But also... bugs bite.
Bug bites itch like a mother, and if they happen, say, in your bed--well, that's just gross. Yet recent stats show that ticks and bedbugs have been ramping up their itty-bitty attacks. Luckily, it's easier than you think to KO the little creeps.
1. Cimex lectularius, aka
Telltale signs: A cluster or line of itchy, raised bites that seem to sprout overnight. Scope your bed frame, mattress, and box spring for live bugs--adults are the size of an apple seed, youngsters a sesame seed--or tiny red or brown stains on the sheets or mattress (it might be their poop).
What to do: There's no way, if you have them, not to let the bed bugs bite. Ice packs and a topical hydrocortisone cream like Cortaid can help relieve the itch. Wash clothes and bedding in hot water and tumble dry on high heat. If you catch them early, there's no need to toss your Serta: Just seal it, and your box spring, inside mattress encasements. The zippered covers are lined with sturdy polyurethane; since critters can't bite through and escape, they die. One to try: Protect-A-Bed ($46-$150, bedbugcentral.com). And call a licensed exterminator, who will inspect your home and treat infested areas with insecticides.
2. Eutrombicula, aka
Telltale signs: A rash of pimple-like hives around your waistband, armpits, or other skin folds. Chiggers like to nibble in moist, tight places, but they're too small to see without a magnifying glass. Bites usually appear after you've been hiking through tall grass or brush, or camping--though the itching may not start until hours later.
What to do: A cool compress and an OTC antihistamine like Claritin can help relieve the urge to scratch yourself silly. After hikes, wash and dry your clothes on high heat and take a hot shower to evict any chiggers that may still be attached.
3. Ixodes scapularis, aka
Telltale signs: If it's still harpooned to your skin (they can hang on for days), an eight-legged, tear-shaped bug. Deer ticks (which can carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease) are the size of a sesame seed but expand to a sunflower seed size after Hoovering your blood. Dog ticks (which can carry the bacteria that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever) are about the size of a match tip but can grow to grape size when they're engorged. Check tickencounter.org if you need help ID'ing the little guy.
What to do: To loosen the tick's grip, use a pair of pointy tweezers to grasp it where the mouth parts are embedded in the skin and pull it out with slow, steady pressure. Save the bug in a small jar filled with rubbing alcohol--if you develop a red bull's-eye rash or flulike symptoms (possible signs of Lyme), your doctor may want to see what bit you. If you are diagnosed with Lyme disease, antibiotics will be the first course of treatment.
4. Tenocephalides felis, aka
Telltale signs: Small red bumps on your ankles or legs (often in clusters of three or four), which could mean that these fast-moving fellas have jumped overboard from a furry housemate.
What to do: Use a flea comb to inspect your pet inch by inch. If you find fleas or their droppings (they look like dirt particles), vacuum all carpets and upholstery and wash the doggie or kitty beds and toys in hot water. No need for a flea bath; instead, use a topical treatment like Frontline, which will kill any bugs still populating your pet. Spread on hydrocortisone cream to treat your own bites.