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  • Localized urticarial papules with pruritus.

  • Lesions in linear groups of three (“breakfast, lunch, and dinner”) are characteristic of bedbugs.

  • Furuncle-like lesions containing live arthropods.

  • Tender erythematous patches that migrate (“larva migrans”).


Some arthropods (eg, mosquitoes and biting flies) are readily detected as they bite. Many others are not because they are too small, because there is no immediate reaction, or because they bite during sleep. Reactions are allergic and may be delayed for hours to days. Patients are most apt to consult a clinician when the lesions are multiple and pruritus is intense.

Many persons react most severely to their earliest contacts with an arthropod, thus presenting with pruritic lesions when traveling, moving into new quarters, etc. Body lice, fleas, bedbugs, and mosquitoes should be considered. Bedbug exposure typically occurs in hotels and in housing with inadequate hygiene but also occurs in stable domiciles. Spiders are often incorrectly believed to be the source of bites, but they rarely attack humans. However, the brown recluse spider (Loxosceles laeta, L reclusa) may cause severe necrotic reactions and death due to intravascular hemolysis, and the black widow spider (Latrodectus mactans) may cause severe systemic symptoms and death. (See also Chapter 38.) The majority of patient-diagnosed, clinician-diagnosed, and even published cases of brown recluse spider bites (or loxoscelism) are incorrect, especially if made in areas where these spiders are not endemic. Many of these lesions are actually due to CA-MRSA.

In addition to arthropod bites, the most common lesions are venomous stings (wasps, hornets, bees, ants, scorpions) or bites (centipedes), furuncle-like lesions due to fly maggots or sand fleas in the skin, and a linear creeping eruption due to a migrating larva.


The diagnosis may be difficult when the patient has not noticed the initial attack but suffers a delayed reaction. Individual bites are often in clusters and tend to occur either on exposed parts (eg, midges and gnats) or under clothing, especially around the waist or at flexures (eg, small mites or insects in bedding or clothing). The reaction is often delayed for 1–24 hours or more. Pruritus is almost always present and may be all but intolerable once the patient starts to scratch. Secondary infection may follow scratching. Urticarial wheals are common. Papules may become vesicular. The diagnosis is aided by searching for exposure to arthropods and by considering the patient’s occupation and recent activities.

The principal arthropods are as follows:

  1. Fleas: Fleas are bloodsucking ectoparasites that feed on dogs, cats, humans, and other species. Flea saliva produces papular urticaria in sensitized individuals. To break the life cycle of the flea, one must treat the home and pets, using quick-kill insecticides, residual insecticides, and a growth regulator.

  2. Bedbugs: In crevices of ...

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