Why Does Reading about Bedbugs Make You Itch?

Try not to think about bedbugs as you read this article about, well, bedbugs. The problem is that reading about anything that can make you itch might actually make you itch. Consider what happens when you see someone else yawning, laughing, or even vomiting. If you are empathetic enough, you will follow suit -- whether you want to or not.

People are hardwired to feel itchy if they see someone else scratch an itch, or even if they think about something itchy.
People are hardwired to feel itchy if they see someone else scratch an itch, or even if they think about something itchy.

The same is true with itching. Like those other actions, itching is a contagious human behavior and can be brought on just by thinking about something like bedbugs. And, of course, once you start itching, you start scratching, and once you start scratching, you keep itching. Like the bedbugs, the cycle can be a real pest.

On the plus side, scratching for basically no reason just proves you're human, according to Zhou-Feng Chen, the director of the Center for the Study of Itch at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. "Contagious behavior is hardwired because it's important," Chen said. "If everyone is doing something, it must be good."

Bedbug basics:

  • Bedbugs can withstand all kinds of environments and temperatures, from nearly freezing to 122 degrees F (50 degrees C).

  • Bedbugs typically feed on a host (like you) for up to 10 minutes, then go somewhere to hide for up to 10 days.

  • If you think you've seen a bedbug, you probably haven't: They are only about .04 inches long (1 mm) -- or about the size of a pinhead.


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Discussion Comments

anon1004239

Bedbugs are easily visible---plus, they're mobile. They move around. Bedbugs are a real life-changer. And not for the better. Please don't ask me how I know this. I just do. (sigh)

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