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Bed Bug Bites vs. Flea Bites in Infants: Know the Difference!

Infants spend a lot of time in their crib or on the floor. A small bump on their skin is most likely an insect bite. Learn how to distinguish between bites from bed bugs and bites from fleas.

Symptoms of bed bug bites vs. flea bites 

The first step in diagnosing a bite is knowing exactly what to look for. Both types of household pests cause itching, discomfort, and other symptoms. Bed bug bites can appear on the arms or legs, whereas flea bites are usually found on the legs.

Symptoms of bed bug bites

Since bed bugs inhabit mattresses, linens, and even bed frames, they have easy access to almost any part of babies’ bodies. Telltale signs of bed bugs include tiny spots of blood on the sheets. The presence of bed bugs creates symptoms such as:

  • Small bites on the arms, legs, or back
  • Wheals, or welts, forming lines across the skin
  • Purpura (a rash of purple spots)
  • Itching in the affected areas

Symptoms of flea bites

Fleas are extremely tiny pests with long legs that allow them to jump great distances. They generally come in through the fur on pets. Flea bite symptoms often include:

  • Swelling around the bite
  • Hives
  • Clusters of bumps
  • Rashes
  • Diarrhea and vomiting (caused by flea infections like cryptosporidium)

Though studies have revealed certain pathogens in bed bugs, there’s no direct evidence proving that they transmit diseases to humans. Fleas, on the other hand, can cause typhus and cat scratch disease. It’s a good idea to care for insect bites as soon as they appear. Just remember to consult a health care provider before starting any course of medical treatment.

Treatment for bed bug bites

The pain and itchiness of bed bug bites may encourage the child to scratch the affected areas. Prolonged scratching damages capillaries beneath the surface of their skin, producing redness and inflammation. With the approval of a health care provider, some of the following options may be useful to reduce irritation:

  • Anti-itch cream
  • Topical steroid creams
  • Antihistamines (only if the bite triggers an allergic reaction)
  • Prescribed antibiotics to clear up potential infections

Treatment for flea bites

Before treating a baby for flea bites, make sure to seek advice from a pediatrician. There are several over-the-counter remedies available for flea bites, including:

  • Calamine lotion
  • Cortisone
  • Oral or topical antihistamines for itching 
  • Skin sanitizer 

Prevention of bed bug bites vs. flea bites 

Bed bug and flea bites are an obvious nuisance that affect the health of babies, and the very best possible treatment is prevention. Let’s take a look at the ways to rid a home of these annoying parasites.

Eliminating bed bugs

Once bed bugs have gained a foothold in a house, it’s very difficult to remove the infestation. More often than not, the infestation will require the services of a professional exterminator. It’s also helpful to:

  • Wash bedding frequently and on high heat.
  • Caulk any cracks in the walls.
  • Cover as much of an infant’s skin as possible when sleeping.

​Eliminating fleas

Pets in the home are the likeliest source of fleas. Keep the situation under control by remembering to:

  • Thoroughly vacuum the house regularly.
  • Discard used vacuum bags where fleas and eggs continue to live.
  • Treat pets with veterinarian-prescribed anti-flea medications.
  • Frequently mow the lawn if pets are often outdoors.

Although these preventive measures might seem like a lot of work, a flea or bed bug infestation would be far more stressful in the long run.

Risk factors for bed bug bites vs. flea bites 

There are certain risk factors that make surroundings susceptible to bed bug and flea infestations, including:

  • Pets with shaggy coats that provide a perfect habitat for fleas
  • Obtaining secondhand furniture already harboring bed bugs
  • Poor hygiene, which creates an ideal environment for fleas
  • Visiting hospitals, where bed bugs are common, for postnatal checkups
  • Having friends and family over who might carry eggs or nymphs on their clothing
  • Piles of clutter around the house that attract bed bugs
  • Living in shared quarters where bed bugs spread quickly

By eliminating these risk factors, it’s easier to avoid bed bugs and fleas. While there are other possible causes of a baby’s skin irritation, such as a lactose intolerance, it’s important not to ignore an insect bite. Identify the signs and symptoms, then take action as needed.

“Bed Bug Bites.” Children's Hospital Colorado, www.childrenscolorado.org/conditions-and-advice/conditions-and-symptoms/symptoms/bed-bug-bite/.

Delaunay, Pascal, et al. “Bedbugs and Infectious Diseases.” Clinical Infectious Diseases : an Official Publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, Oxford University Press, 15 Jan. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3060893/.

Doggett, Stephen L., et al. “Bed Bugs: Clinical Relevance and Control Options.” Clinical Microbiology Reviews, American Society for Microbiology Journals, 1 Jan. 2012, cmr.asm.org/content/25/1/164.full#sec-3.

“Flea, Mite, or Chigger Bites in Children.” Stanford Children's Health - Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=flea-mite-or-chigger-bites-in-children-90-P01901.

“Fleaborne Diseases of the United States.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Aug. 2020, www.cdc.gov/fleas/diseases.html.

“Protecting Your Home from Bed Bugs.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 15 July 2020, www.epa.gov/bedbugs/protecting-your-home-bed-bugs.

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