Online Dermatologist > Scabies and Bedbug Bites: Spot the Difference!

Scabies and Bedbug Bites: Spot the Difference!

by | Mar 11, 2024 | Blog, Itchy, Rash

person woke up at night checking for bite marks

Key Takeaways


  • Distinguish by appearance: Scabies bites show as small, raised bumps with tracks; bedbug bites are red welts in clusters or lines.
  • Recognize symptoms: Scabies causes intense night itching and rash; bedbug bites result in itching, swelling, and redness.
  • Prevent spread: Scabies is from skin contact; bedbugs hitch on items. Clean and heat-treat belongings for both.
  • Seek early medical advice: For persistent symptoms, worsening conditions, or if unsure about the diagnosis, to prevent complications.

Scabies and bedbug bites are common dermatological conditions that can cause discomfort and distress. Distinguishing between these two conditions is crucial for effective treatment and management. Scabies is caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite, which burrows into the skin, leading to intense itching and a characteristic rash. On the other hand, bedbug bites result from the bites of blood-feeding bedbugs, causing red, itchy welts on the skin.

While scabies requires specific medications to kill the mites and their eggs, bedbug bites can be managed by addressing the infestation in the living environment. Prompt identification of these conditions is vital to prevent further spread and complications.

What Are Scabies and Bedbugs


Scabies Mites

  • Microscopic Parasites: Scabies is caused by tiny mites known as Sarcoptes scabiei.[1]
  • Burrowing Nature: These mites burrow into the top layer of the skin, causing intense itching and irritation.
  • Highly Contagious: Scabies is primarily spread through direct, prolonged skin-to-skin contact.



  • Small Insects: Bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, reddish-brown insects that feed on the blood of humans.[2]
  • Nighttime Feeders: They are nocturnal, typically feeding on their hosts while they sleep.
  • Resilient Hitchhikers: Bedbugs often infest furniture, bedding, and clothing, spreading easily as people move around.


Key Differences between Scabies and Bedbugs

Scabies mites cause a specific type of infestation characterized by burrowing into the skin, while bedbugs feed on blood and hide in various household locations.

  • Nature of Culprit: Scabies is caused by mites, while bedbug infestations are due to insects.
  • Transmission: Scabies spreads through direct skin contact, whereas bedbugs are usually transmitted through infested objects or spaces.
  • Size: Scabies mites are microscopic, whereas bedbugs are visible to the naked eye.


Comparison: Scabies vs. Bedbug Bites




Bedbug Bites


Caused by Sarcoptes scabiei mites burrowing into the skin.

Result from the bites of blood-feeding bedbugs.

Appearance of Bites

Small, raised bumps or blisters. Tracks or burrows on the skin.

Red, raised bumps or welts. Often in a cluster or linear pattern.

Common Symptoms

Severe itching that worsens at night. Rash with small red bumps or blisters. Sores from scratching.

Itching and irritation at the bite site. Swelling and redness around the bite marks.

Bite Locations

Between fingers, wrists, elbows, armpits, waist, buttocks, genitals.

On exposed skin areas during sleep: face, neck, arms, hands. Linear pattern or cluster on the skin.


Identifying and Controlling Scabies and Bedbug Outbreaks



How Infestations Occur:

  • Scabies mites are transmitted through close contact with an infected person or by sharing personal items, such as clothing or bedding.[3]
  • The mites can survive for up to 72 hours on inanimate objects, increasing the risk of transmission.


Signs of Infestation

Close-up view of scabies on the abdomen, showcasing an itchy rash with clustered lesions and distinctive burrow patterns caused by mites

Close-up view of scabies on the abdomen, showcasing an itchy rash with clustered lesions and distinctive burrow patterns caused by mites

  • Intense itching, especially at night.
  • Rash with small red bumps or blisters.
  • Sores caused by scratching.


Why Quick Identification Matters

  • Prompt identification allows for early treatment, reducing the spread of the infestation and preventing complications.
  • Effective management of scabies requires specific medications to kill the mites and their eggs, making accurate diagnosis crucial.



How Infestations Occur:

  • Bedbugs are blood-feeding insects that hide in cracks and crevices near sleeping areas, such as mattresses, box springs, and bed frames.
  • They feed on human blood while the person is asleep, causing itchy welts on the skin.


Signs of Infestation

cluster of red, itchy spots from bed bug bites located below the knee, highlighting the typical appearance of bed bug reactions on the skin

A cluster of red, itchy spots from bed bug bites located below the knee, highlighting the typical appearance of bed bug reactions on the skin

  • Red, itchy welts on the skin, often in a cluster or linear pattern.
  • Small, reddish-brown bugs or their exoskeletons on bedding, furniture, or walls.
  • Fecal spots on bedding or walls, which appear as small, dark spots.[4]


Why Quick Identification Matters

  • Early identification of bedbug infestations allows for targeted treatment and prevention of further spread.
  • Effective management of bedbugs requires addressing the infestation in the living environment, including proper cleaning and pest control measures.

Preventing Recurrence of Scabies and Bedbug Bites


Preventing scabies recurrence


Personal Hygiene Practices:

  • Regular Handwashing: Thorough handwashing with soap and water reduces the risk of scabies transmission.
  • Avoiding Skin-to-Skin Contact: Minimize prolonged, direct contact with individuals known to have scabies.[7]


Environmental Measures:

  • Hot Water and High Heat: Wash all bedding, clothing, and personal items in hot water and dry using high heat to kill any remaining mites.
  • Thorough Cleaning: Regularly clean and vacuum living spaces to eliminate any lingering mites.


Isolation and Treatment:

  • Avoiding Shared Items: Refrain from sharing personal items, such as towels or clothing, until the infestation is fully treated.
  • Prompt Treatment: If scabies reoccurs, seek prompt treatment to prevent the spread to others.


Bedbug Reinfestation Prevention


Travel and Shared Spaces:

  • Inspection: Thoroughly inspect hotel rooms and luggage when traveling to prevent bringing bedbugs back home.
  • Avoid Used Furniture: Refrain from acquiring used furniture or bedding without careful inspection.[8]


Protective Measures:

  • Mattress and Furniture Covers: Use protective covers that encase mattresses and furniture to prevent bedbugs from hiding.
  • Sealing Cracks and Gaps: Seal any cracks or gaps in walls and furniture to reduce hiding places for bedbugs.


Professional Assistance:

  • Regular Inspections: Schedule periodic inspections by pest control professionals, especially in high-risk areas.
  • Prompt Action: If bedbugs are detected, seek professional extermination services promptly to avoid widespread infestation.


When to Seek Medical Advice



  1. Persistent Itching: If intense itching persists or worsens, despite over-the-counter treatments.
  2. Development of Rash: If a rash appears, especially with redness and pimple-like eruptions.
  3. Spread to Others: If scabies is suspected or confirmed in one family member, seek medical advice for others, even if asymptomatic.
  4. Secondary Infections: In case of signs of secondary bacterial infections, such as increased redness, swelling, or pus.
  5. Lack of Improvement: If there is no improvement or worsening of symptoms after completing the prescribed treatment.


Bedbug Bites

  1. Severe Allergic Reactions: Seek immediate medical attention if experiencing severe allergic reactions such as difficulty breathing, swelling, or anaphylaxis.
  2. Secondary Infections: If bites show signs of infection, such as increased redness, warmth, swelling, or the presence of pus.
  3. Worsening Symptoms: If symptoms worsen despite using over-the-counter treatments or home remedies.
  4. Systemic Symptoms: Any systemic symptoms like fever, chills, or nausea accompanying the bites.
  5. Persistent Bites: If new bites continue to appear or existing bites do not heal, indicating a potential ongoing infestation.

Importance of Early Treatment: Early intervention is crucial for both scabies and bedbug bites to prevent complications and further infestations.


Seeking medical advice promptly:

  • Ensures accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
  • Helps prevent the spread of the infestation to others.
  • Reduces the risk of secondary infections.
  • Minimizes the psychological impact of living with persistent symptoms.

If in doubt or if symptoms are severe, it is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and timely intervention.


FAQ: About Scabies and Bedbug Bites

Q: Can over-the-counter treatments effectively manage scabies and bedbug bites?
A: Over-the-counter options like permethrin cream for scabies and antihistamines for bedbug bites can provide relief; however, prescription medications may be necessary for severe cases.


Q: How important is early identification of scabies and bedbug infestations?
A: Early identification is crucial to prevent complications, reduce the spread of infestations, and ensure prompt treatment for effective eradication of scabies mites and bedbugs.

  1. Hicks MI, Elston DM. Scabies. Dermatologic Therapy. 2009;22(4):279-292. doi:
  2. Thomas I, Kihiczak GG, Schwartz RA. Bedbug bites: a review. International Journal of Dermatology. 2004;43(6):430-433. doi:
  3. World. Scabies. Published May 31, 2023. Accessed March 5, 2024.
  4. NHS Choices. Bedbugs. Published 2024. Accessed March 5, 2024.
  5. 5.CDC – Scabies – Treatment. Published 2024. Accessed March 5, 2024.
  6. Ennis AC, Pearson-Shaver AL. Bedbug Bites. Published July 31, 2023. Accessed March 5, 2024.
  7. FitzGerald D, Grainger RJ, Reid A. Interventions for preventing the spread of infestation in close contacts of people with scabies. The Cochrane library. 2014;2014(2). doi:
  8. Delaunay P. Human Travel and Traveling Bedbugs. Journal of Travel Medicine. 2012;19(6):373-379. doi:


Ask a Dermatologist

Anonymous, fast and secure!

Over 15,000+ Readers

Get fresh content from First Derm

Ask a Dermatologist Now

Anonymous, fast and secure!

1 (415) 234-4124
Get Checked