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  • Writer's pictureNoel McCarthy

Bed Bugs v. Scabies - 5 Simple Ways to Tell Them Apart

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

No one wants to find that their home has become a haven for bed bugs, or any other pest for that matter. If you think you have an infestation of any kind, it’s important to act fast!

Before you start searching desperately for an exterminator to get rid of bed bugs, let's make sure that bed bugs are truly the culprit. They may not be. Bed bugs are often confused with scabies, a no-less-pesky pest.

Here are tips on how to tell scabies and bed bugs apart. Once you know who you're up against, you can start getting rid of the buggers!

bed bugs vs. scabies - what's the difference

How Do I Know If I Have Scabies?

At first, scabies bites can look very much like bed bug bites.

For the record, scabies is a skin infestation that’s caused by a mite known to science as Sarcoptes scabiei. They are tiny, virtually invisible, eight-legged mites that share the same lineage as spiders and ticks.

While bed bugs and scabies both feed on your blood, bed bugs do it from outside, while scabies actually get ̶ literally ̶ under your skin. Bed bugs suck your blood as they sit atop your skin, while scabies burrow under your dermis to feed and lay eggs below the skin's surface. (Pretty gross, we agree.) And while bed bugs are small, they are visible to the naked eye. Scabies on the other hand are microscopic in size, which means you can’t see them.

How to Identify Scabies vs. Bed Bug Bites

Even though bed bug bites resemble scabies bites, they are a bit different.

Here are 5 tips to help you differentiate scabies from bed bugs:

  1. Bed bug bites are raised, flat red welts, characteristically in rows of three.

  2. Scabies bites have a more rash-like in appearance.

  3. Scabies burrows look like grayish-white, raised lines. Scabies mites tunnel under the skin to lay eggs, which is what causes the itching.

  4. Scabies can quickly turn into reddened, swollen contusions ̶ or papules ̶ which can fester.

  5. Scabies can be located on the wrists, joint areas, finger webs and the back, although it can occur anywhere on the body.

In either case, you need to take action immediately and kill the scabies or bed bugs. Scabies mites are highly contagious, so if you have had prolonged contact with someone who is infected, there’s every likelihood that you, too, could become infected. If you suspect that you have been bitten by scabies, schedule a quick visit your doctor right away. Then, get straight to work on getting rid of the scabies from your home!

Get Rid of Scabies

Scabies Treatment

As we said, intense itching is usually the first sign of a scabies infection. As the medical profession likes to put it, this ‘presents’ as a red rash on the skin. Upon close examination, the rash appears as miniscule red bumps or bites.

scabies rash or scabies bites on a right hand

However, under extreme magnification one can clearly see the minute burrows that the scabies leaves beneath the skin. Scabies prefer to push into the warm, moist creases of skin, typically between the fingers and toes, in the armpits, and under nail beds, among other sensitive areas.

How to Get Rid of Scabies

If you think are you are infected with scabies, your doctor will be able verify that quickly. Fortunately, there are a number of medications ̶ including anti-inflammatory drugs ̶ that can be used to successfully treat the infection.

If you don’t seek medical help (which is not recommended) you could find that unsightly yellow crusting, scaling and skin lesions will occupy ever-larger areas of your body as the infestation progresses. And it will progress if not treated! Scabies has an incubation period of 2 to 6 weeks, and once it has taken hold it will lay two and three eggs inside your body every day.

Read more about how to get rid of scabies - for good.

Let’s Not Forget the Bed Bugs!

If you do, in fact, have bed bugs it should come as no surprise that their bites are your first warning that these pests have invaded your bedroom.

Research suggests, “Bed bugs are attracted to the odor of sleeping humans and soiled clothing may present a similarly attractive cue. "This research clearly showed that “soiled clothing is significantly more attractive than clean clothing to active bed bugs moving within a bedroom sized arena and [that] . . . elevation of CO2 to a level that simulates human occupancy in the same arena appears to initiate search behaviour [by bed bugs] rather than direct it.”

Bed bugs usually like to bite those areas of skin that are exposed during sleep, typically the shoulders, arms, legs, back and face. Bed bug bites also tend to be in a row.

bed bug bites in rows

How to Hunt Down Bed Bugs

And, as with scabies, so with bed bugs: Without treatment the problem will only get worse. If you don’t take steps to eradicate them the bites will continue to appear as the infestation grows. So, kill bed bugs immediately!

As we’ve said so many times in these pages, bed bugs are wily pests, and they can hide nearly anywhere: electrical sockets and laptop computers, the seams of chairs and couches, between cushions, and in the folds of curtains; in household appliances, kitchen utensils, bookcases, even pictures and wall hangings. 

Learn more about how to kill bed bugs.

Want a spray that can get rid of both bed bugs and scabies?

(Sterifab works on both!)

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