NEWPORT BEACH, CA (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS). – Bed bugs rise when night falls. Drawn by the carbon dioxide of sleeping humans, they gather to feast, leaving bites galore.

But other insects dine on people, too. Telling their bites apart is an important – and sometimes difficult – job for dermatologists who treat children. Fortunately, there are clinical signs to look for, a pediatric dermatologist told an audience of colleagues, including one that she herself helped introduce.

It’s called the “Eyelid Sign,” a clinical clue, Andrea Zaenglein, MD, said at Skin Diseases Education Foundation’s Women & Pediatric Dermatology Seminar.

Dr. Zaenglein, professor of dermatology and pediatric dermatology at Penn State University, Hershey, has often seen children with bites on their eyelids since they’re being bitten by bed bugs while they’re asleep. “You don’t get a lot of eyelid bites with other things,” she said. “Think about bed bugs whenever you see eyelid bites.”

She and a colleague reported on the “Eyelid Sign” in a study published in 2014, describing papules on the upper eyelid or eyelids associated with erythema and edema in six patients ( Pediatr Dermatol. 2014 May-Jun;31[3]:353-5 ).

During her presentation, Dr. Zaenglein offered more tips on detecting bed bugs:

• Keep in mind that they’re probably not going to be sitting there under the pillow, waiting for your patients to find them. “They like to hide in nooks and crannies,” she said. “They don’t really stay in your bed.” Common hiding places include mattresses, floorboards, and wallpaper.

• Bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed. Stains and dark spots on bed sheets and mattresses can be signs of crushed bed bugs and bed bug excrement.

• They’re more common in urban areas, but “bed bugs are a problem in probably all of our communities,” Dr. Zaenglein noted.

• Some children can develop a reaction to bed bugs and other insects known as papular urticaria. “I have to explain to parents that this is a hypersensitivity response that’s abnormal,” Dr. Zaenglein said.

She noted that papular urticaria tends to be worse in summer and rarely involves the face. Treatments include antihistamines, strong topical steroids, and prevention of insect bites.

As for bed bug bites in general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends antiseptic creams or lotions and antihistamine use.

How can bed bugs be killed off for good? The CDC suggests insecticide spraying to eliminate bed bugs, and states that “the best way to prevent bed bugs is regular inspection for the signs of an infestation.”

During the presentation, Dr. Zaenglein also spoke about scabies, focusing on the unique traits of the condition in babies.

“They always present with a lot of rash,” she said. “They won’t have a few papules on their hands and feet like older kids.” The rash will be “dirty-looking,” she continued, and more asymmetric than symmetric. Also, “you’ll almost always get a lot of mites burden if you scrape a baby,” she said. “It’s much harder to find a mite in older kids and young adults.”

Affected babies may be referred from an emergency department or primary care doctor with an incorrect diagnosis of eczema, she said, adding that scabies is extremely contagious. “If a baby has scabies,” she said, “you inevitably have to get your prescription pad. Treat all the household members.”

Babies may be itchy, but itchiness is much more common in older kids and young adults, keeping them up at night, she said. “College students come home over the break with a couple of papules on the belly, and they say it’s driving them crazy. They say it’s crazy, crazy itchy. If you hear that, think scabies.”

Another scabies clue in older kids: hand involvement. “Always look at the wrist, between the fingers. You get these generalized eruptions there.”

Scabies bites can be treated with a topical corticosteroid and, in children aged 2 months and older, permethrin 5% cream. Dr. Zaenglein said there’s concern about a leukemia risk associated with permethrin, but that applies to industrial use and overuse. Ivermectin is an alternative for stubborn and institutional cases.

As for prevention, she said pesticide sprays and fogs are generally discouraged. She advises families to wash recently used clothing and bedding in hot water. Clothing and bedding, including pillows, can also be stored in a closed plastic bag for up to a week.

“You could dry clean it all too,” she said, “but I’ll bet your dry cleaner won’t be too happy about it.”

Dr. Zaenglein disclosed serving as a consultant and researcher for Ranbaxy Laboratories Limited.

SDEF and this news organization are owned by the same parent company.


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