Bug 'bites' haunt some people year-round

By April Reese
University of Georgia

In the summer, mosquitos, biting flies and fleas can visit your skin and leave behind itching bumps from their bites. Some people, though, are haunted year-round by biting bugs that aren't even there.

They suffer from something called delusory parasitosis, said Nancy Hinkle, an entomologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"We're finding it in all segments of the population -- all age groups, all socioeconomic levels," Hinkle said. "And the incidence seems to be very high."

Delusory parasitosis is a real condition first described in medical literature more than a century ago. Hinkle said the illness isn't uncommon at all.

Many medical causes

It can be caused by many other medical ailments -- heavy metal poisoning, exposure to toxins and diseases like AIDS, anemia, carcinoma, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, lupus, lymphoma and multiple sclerosis.

Nutritional deficiencies, allergies, drug reactions, menopause, niacin overdose, rheumatoid arthritis, stress and even vitamin overdoses are known to trigger it, she said.

Symptoms include the sensation of biting, stinging or itching on the skin. Hinkle said people will often feel something crawling inside their skin and will dig into the skin trying to find and dislodge whatever's causing it.

"Unfortunately, this can produce a lot of damage to the skin," she said.

Feels like ...

Chigger bites are close to what sufferers might feel. People who have been chigger-bitten can relate to the feeling that something's still in there. But delusory parasitosis sufferers feel something different, she said, as if that something under their skin is moving or crawling around.

People will treat the condition in a number of ways. "Some will spend inordinate amounts of time washing and cleaning their bodies and their homes, assuming the infestation is coming from off the body as well," Hinkle said.

"They will then treat their bodies with ... gasoline, kerosene, solvents, harsh cleaning compounds, even pesticides," she said, "which, of course, is very dangerous."

See a doctor

She advises anyone who believes they're suffering from the condition to see a doctor.

"Delusory parasitosis is a medical condition, and (sufferers) should seek medical attention," she said. "Visit your physician and explain the symptoms you're experiencing. Allow the doctor to diagnosis the condition and prescribe medication. Don't self-medicate."

To learn more about delusory parasitosis, visit www.ent. to read Hinkle's article in American Entomologist.

(April Reese is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)