Saturday, May 19, 2007

White (Wo)Man's Burden?

Sorry I haven't blogged in a while, finals and two days in the hospital will do that to ya...

But I've been itching to address a topic that has been on my mind for a while. It is my belief that white people (or people with fairer skin) have more severe reactions to bed bug bites than people with darker skin. Example?

M is very light-skinned, and almost all of her ancestors came from Europe, causing her to be occasionally mistaken for someone of Northern European descent, even though her mother is Sicilian and her father is Puerto Rican. We had a tiny re-emergence of bed bugs in the last two weeks, and her bites are more profound (redder, more protruding) than mine.

Also, remember the news reports of all those European tourists who stayed at those fancy Manhattan hotels and sued them because they were bitten by bed bugs? I remember seeing that report on Dateline NBC, and the footage of the tourists' white thighs, literally riddled with ugly red bites. I mean, they looked like they had a disease!

I've never had such a bad reaction to bed bug bites. Not as bad as M and defintely not as bad as those European tourists. Like almost all other persons of Puerto Rican heritage, I have black, white and Native American ancestors, which contribute to my light tan complexion. While I have suffered from bed bug bites, the physical reaction my skin gives to the bites have never been as bad as anything I've seen on M's body.

The other example is my neighbor, who is a dark-skinned Jamaican. He had an infestation in his apartment and complained of the constant itching, but the bite marks he's shown me on his arms are almost invisible.

I understand that a few examples do not equal legitimate research. But I wonder if there is a connection between one's level of melanin (skin pigment) in their body and how bad a reaction their skin gives to a bed bug bite. Could melanin cause a person to have an increased indifference or even an imunity to bed bug bites? I think it's a question worth researching.



nobugs said...


Interesting--I don't have any data about race, but that's partly because most of the sufferers I know are known to me on the internet so I have no idea of their race :-)

My hunch is that men are less likely to react to bites, or be allergic to bites (and possibly even less likely to be bitten) than women. Of the people who come on Bedbugger, women often say the men they live with aren't bitten. Men are more likely to say they aren't reacting to bites and their female partners/relatives are.

I wonder if that's consistent with your experiences too?

Anonymous said...

I would agree with Nobugs.

I am darker skinned than my boyfriend. I have visible bites but he doesn't.

I think he's being bitten but isn't reacting.

Anonymous said...

That's pretty freaky. I'm in complete accord: I'm black & white and my complexion is much akin to that of any medium toned Puerto Rican out there (almost all of my tenants think I'm PR at least). 5 years ago, my white boyfriend had a bedbug problem we didn't know about until after I'd seen 3 doctors and a dermatologist (they're doctors, too--didn't mean to demean their position), and even they didn't diagnose it--I did.

Anyway, I'm latte coloured and my boyfriend was casper milktoast white. For some reason, he didn't even get bitten by these little hell-sprites--just me. I didn't have so much redness as I had welts, but he didn't have anything at all. The pigment, therefore, at least in our case, plays no role whatsoever. In fact, it might have even made me more delicious, because he didn't seem to get bitten by them at all.