The Worst Bug Bites I Ever Had

A couple months ago I found two bug bites, behind each of my ankles. I don’t know what gave them to me, but given their location and the season I strongly suspect mosquito. They were the worst experience I’ve ever had.

I’m writing about this here because I couldn’t find any information on the internet on what was going on. My symptoms didn’t fit anything. Within a few days I noticed the following reactions from the bug bites:

  • The area around the bite became very itchy and inflamed. This covered my entire feet and ankles.
  • The pain was so bad, I could barely walk. It felt like the bottom part of my foot was separating from the top part.
  • I had joint pain all over my body. Specifically in my knees, elbows, and hands. The pain felt like a bruise, where it would hurt if I touched near the tendons or if I moved the muscles.
  • I also had red splotches that felt like bruising, these showed up on my feet and hands.
  • I never had any fever, nausea, or other reaction which would point this to being a virus from a mosquito.

The pain in my feet lasted for 3 weeks, of which I was able to walk very little. The inflammation lasted another week after the pain subsided. The bites themselves felt like hard, broad, lumps which persisted nearly unchanged for this entire time. Now I finally feel fully recovered, and have started running outside again. But what happened?!

I, of course, couldn’t find anything that would explain my reaction. I’ve had many mosquito bites before and while I typically have an itchy welt that lasts a week, it has never been this bad before. It kind of reminds me of the time I stepped on a wasp as a child, however this was much worse and lasted longer.

The joint pain was the most worrying. This would point to a virus, but none of the viruses that would cause that are common to my area, and I certainly haven’t traveled anywhere in a long time. Also, the joint pain started quickly, within 2-3 days of when I noticed the bites. I don’t think that’s long enough for a viral incubation. The lack of any fever I think also points to this being a severe reaction rather than a virus response. Cellulitis I suppose was possible, but I don’t think the symptoms fit that either. I never scratch bites and outside of initial bite, the skin was never punctured, and both feet were affected identically. Plus I think I can feel the difference between an inflammation response and a bacterial infection.

This was a mystery, that luckily resolved itself in 4 weeks. I didn’t see a doctor because of many reasons, but mainly if I couldn’t figure out what it was ahead of time, then I doubt a doctor could, and even if they did the response to bug bites is hydrocortisone and Advil. I wouldn’t bother with doctors for non-life threatening illnesses when the only solution is to keep doing the things I’ve already tried. Hydrocortisone and NSAIDS did almost nothing for my symptoms.

I did find some research that might point to a possible explanation. I found some scientific papers which showed a greater response to mosquito bites from some interaction with the Epstein–Barr virus. I had distinct symptoms of mononucleosis earlier this year. Unfortunately this research was related primarily to children, and included things like fever, which I didn’t have. But it makes the most sense to me.

I didn’t see what bit me, but it very likely was a mosquito. Complications due to a recent EBV infection could explain why my body’s response was so much higher this time. But this give me some questions. If I get another mosquito bite will I get the same response? I have been very careful since then. I have only gone outside in either long pants, or tall socks. But usually in a typical summer season I get a number of mosquito bites. Perhaps the longer I wait the less reaction I will have the next time. I suppose I will eventually find out.

This has been a medical mystery, that thankfully has resolved itself for the time being.