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Difference Between Bed Bugs and Scabies

What is Bed Bugs?

Definition of Bed Bugs:

Bed bugs are parasitic insects known as Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus that feed on human blood and cause much skin irritation. C. lectularius is found in temperate parts of the world while C. hemipterus is found in tropical areas.

Symptoms and transmission of Bed Bugs:

Symptoms include the appearance of red spots on the skin and raised pimple-like swellings and blisters. These bites are usually found where there is exposed skin and can occur from one day to 10 days after exposure. The spots and blisters may not be itchy at first but may become itchy later on. The bugs bite mainly at night and they suck your blood. People catch bed bugs from sleeping in places such as motels or hotels where there is a high turnover of people sleeping over, or from old and used furniture or clothes. The bed bugs can breed rapidly and will jump onto anyone nearby. Many people catch them when sleeping at a hotel or motel.

Causative agent and diagnosis:

The insects that cause the problem are Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus. These are both bugs which often hide in mattresses or crevices and feed on the skin most often at night. Diagnosis is by clinical examination of the patient. Signs of bedbug infestation can also be seen and may include seeing the bugs in a bed or noticing their blood or feces on sheets.

Treatment for Bed Bugs:

Treatment is aimed at the symptoms and includes the use of antihistamines and corticosteroid creams. It usually takes about 10 days to be rid of bed bug sores. If possible the infected linens should be washed and any carpets in the area, vacuumed. Bed bugs can be very difficult to eradicate and a pest control company may need to be called in. 

What is Scabies?

Definition of Scabies:

Scabies is a skin irritation that is caused by the mite known as Sarcoptes scabiei, which burrow into the skin and feed. The mites cause intense itching of the skin, especially at night. There are various forms of scabies including classic scabies, crusted (Norwegian) scabies, nodular scabies, and bulbous scabies.

Symptoms and transmission for Scabies:

The symptoms include intense skin itching, especially in the webbing between the fingers and areas where the elbows and legs flex. The face is usually not affected by scabies, except in infants when it is sometimes involved. The itching may also often typically be worse at night than during the day. A raised red area known as a papule can develop. The mite is easily transmitted by physical contact between people living in crowded conditions and also people who have a poor immune system. Scratching the sores can lead to bacterial infection in some cases where people have severe Norwegian scabies.

Causative agent and diagnosis:

Scabies is caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite, which is a mite that burrows into the layer of the skin known as the stratum corneum. The mite lives and breeds on the skin, laying eggs in burrows and feeding. Scabies can be diagnosed by means of a physical exam and by taking various skin scrapings from the burrows. Burrow scrapings are examined using a microscope to search for the presence of the mites, feces or eggs of the mites. 

Treatment for Scabies:

Treatment for scabies usually starts with the use of a topical cream, a scabicide that kills mites. Permethrin is the usual choice for application to the skin. Oral ivermectin is given next if the topical cream does not work, and it usually is needed in patients who have a worse form of scabies such as crusted scabies. Antihistamines and corticosteroids can be used to treat the intense itching. Antibiotics may be needed if secondary bacterial infection is evident. It may take as long as three weeks to completely be rid of scabies, since the mites burrow into the skin.


Difference between Bed Bugs and Scabies?

  1. Definition

Bed bugs are insects that cause a skin irritation, while scabies is a skin irritation that is caused by a mite.

  1. Causative agent

Bed bugs are caused by the bugs Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus. Scabies is caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei.

  1. Symptoms

Bed bugs cause red spots and discolored skin areas, and some itching on exposed areas of skin. Scabies causes intense itching and red papules on skin webbing and in skin creases.

  1. Diagnosis

Bed bugs are diagnosed by physical exam and also the presence of signs of infestation. Scabies are diagnosed by physical exam and microscopic examination of skin burrow scrapings.

  1. Risk factors

Risk factors for getting bed bugs include staying in motels and hotels and obtaining used furniture and clothes. Risk factors for scabies include living in crowded conditions and having a weakened immune system.

  1. Treatment

Bed bugs are treated with antihistamines and corticosteroids. Scabies is treated with oral ivermectin, topical permethrin, antihistamines, and possibly antibiotics.

Table comparing Bed Bugs and Scabies


Summary of  Bed Bugs Vs. Scabies

  • Bed bugs and scabies both cause skin irritations that can become very itchy.
  • They are both parasites, but bed bug infections are caused by insects while scabies is caused by mites.
  • Bed bugs more commonly bite exposed areas of skin, while scabies bites in skin creases and skin webbing.
  • Bed bugs can be caught from staying at motels and hotels.
  • Scabies is more likely if you are living in crowded conditions or have a weakened immune system.
  • Antihistamines can be used to treat the itching that occurs with both scabies and bed bugs. 

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References :

[0]Image credit: https://media.defense.gov/2010/Dec/16/2000298375/780/780/0/101216-F-1448W-001.JPG

[1]Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/micahmacallen/63359157

[2]Dinulos, James GH. “Scabies”.  Merckmanuals. Merck & Co., 2016, https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/parasitic-skin-infections/scabies

[3]The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Bedbugs”. Animal. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018, https://www.britannica.com/animal/bedbug

[4]Dinulos, James GH. “Bedbugs”.  Merckmanuals. Merck & Co., 2016, https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/parasitic-skin-infections/bedbugs

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