How do I know I have bed bugs?
Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, wingless, flat insects that are 1-7 mm in length, about the size of a tick. Initially, they are clear and as they get older they become darker in color. Bed bugs feed on the blood of people and animals and are most active at night. Therefore, when looking for evidence of a bed bug infestation it is best to concentrate on areas in and around the bed or sleeping areas. However, as bed bug populations increase they may migrate to adjacent areas or to nearby rooms through small holes in the wall. Bed bugs usually stay within 8 feet of where people sleep, however, they can travel over 100 feet in a night. Bed bugs have also been known to feed on mammals (cats, dogs, birds, etc). Thus if you have a dog that sleeps on a couch at night the bed bugs could potentially be feeding on the dog at night and inhabiting the couch. Signs of a bed bug infestation include:
- reddish or brownish fecal spots on bed linens, mattresses, and adjacent walls and baseboards
- a musty, sweetish odor
- small, itchy, red welts on the skin
If you suspect the presence of bed bugs, a licensed pest control operator should be notified so your home can be inspected, the insects can be identified, and an extermination plan formed.
What is the life cycle of a bed bug?
Female bed bugs will lay about 3-5 eggs per day but can lay up to 12, producing as many as 500 in their lifetime. Typical sites for egg laying include crevices and folds in mattresses, in the joints of bed frames, behind wallpaper, and along baseboards. Eggs hatch in six to 10 days and nymphs develop into adults in approximately a month and a half. However, nymphs require a blood meal prior to each molt to reach full adulthood. An adult bed bug typically lives about nine months and can survive cold temperatures and periods of starvation for up to a year, thus bed bugs may already be present in apparently ‘vacant’ and ‘clean’ apartments or other housing situations.
What will a bite look like?
When a bed bug feeds on the blood of a person or animal, saliva is injected into the bite wound, which contains proteins that often cause some form of an allergic response from the host. The severity of this allergic reaction varies greatly, and some people may not realize they have been bitten at all. However, most people experience some level of inflammation, swelling, reddening, and itchiness at the bite site. There is nothing unique about the bed bug bite, which is why the detected presence of the bugs themselves is needed for diagnosis of a bed bug infestation.
Where do bed bugs come from – are they a sign of dirty conditions?
Bed bug infestations are not directly related to sanitation levels. However, excess amounts of clutter in and around beds and sleeping areas will offer bed bugs numerous places to hide near potential blood meals. Bed bugs can enter the cleanest of homes by way of luggage or clothing during travel. They can also be found on used furniture, which is why it is a good idea to thoroughly inspect (and dismantle if possible) any piece of used furniture prior to bringing it into your home. Bed bugs can migrate to adjacent rooms through cracks, holes, and outlets in walls; infestations in multi-home buildings, such as apartment buildings, are most common.
Where do bed bugs like to hide?
Bed bugs like to hide in very discreet, dark, small spaces. Since they feed at night, they are generally found in and around the bed or sleeping areas near human bodies in which to feed upon. Areas to look for bed bugs include:
- beds (including the seams and crevices of the mattress and box springs)
- blankets and clothing under the bed
- bedding dust ruffles
- carpets and baseboards
- creases of curtains
- inside drawers
- behind picture frames and loosened wallpaper
- cracks and outlets in walls
- alarm clocks, telephones, smoke detectors, and other electronic devices
- piles of clothing
- books, magazines, newspapers, files
In addition to using a flashlight to locate bed bugs, carefully aiming a hot hair dryer into crevices and suspect areas will help force bed bugs out.
How do you get rid of bed bugs?
- Getting rid of a bed bug infestation involves a combination of cleaning, room-modification, and insecticide administration by a knowledgeable, licensed pest control operator. The cost of effectively eliminating bed bugs may be significantly more than controlling other pests because bed bug control usually requires multiple visits by a licensed pest control operator and diligence on the part of those who are experiencing the infestation. Insecticide treatments must be applied more than once as per chemical label instructions to kill bugs that have hatched from eggs (which are not killed by insecticides) and adult bugs that may have been missed during previous treatments. General recommendations for addressing a bed bug infestation include:
- Contact a licensed pest control operator who is experienced and knowledgeable in the inspection, identification, and extermination process of bed bugs. Using insecticides on your own can be dangerous, ineffective, and may even spread the infestation. If you cannot afford a licensed pest control service, and you choose to use pesticides, read the label and follow the instructions very carefully. Ensure that the label reads that it is effective against the treatment of bed bugs.
- Pesticides should never be sprayed on top of mattresses or sofas, although professional applicators may spray small amounts to the seams.
- If you are renting a property, contact your landlord or property manager to discuss a treatment plan.
- Launder all sheets, bedding, towels, and clothing that may have been in contact with the areas where bed bugs have been identified. It is a good idea to handle these materials carefully and put them in a bag as they are moved to the washing machine, as to avoid any accidental spread of the bugs. The high heat associated with drying is sufficient enough to kill the bed bugs; launder in hot water with detergent, followed by at least 20 minutes in a hot dryer. Once everything has been washed and dried, place the items away from known infestation sites and in a tightly closed bin or bag to prevent re-infestation.
- Vacuum your home, paying particular attention to the areas where an infestation has been identified. Use a vacuum attachment to reach corners and crevices. This should be done after an initial inspection and once a week thereafter for several months. After vacuuming, immediately place the vacuum cleaner bag or the contents of the canister in a plastic bag, seal it tightly, and throw the bag away in an outdoor container.
- If possible, carefully dispose of infested mattresses, box springs and other furniture. These items should be properly disposed of, as leaving them out on the street without properly treating them may allow the infestation to spread. Spray painting an X on the item will warn others.
- If mattresses cannot be disposed of, buy a waterproof zippered mattress cover. These covers often say ‘allergen rated’ or ‘for dust mites’. Scrub the mattress seams with a stiff brush to dislodge bed bugs and any eggs. Then enclose the mattress in the cover for at least one year. This will trap any remaining bed bugs inside the cover, killing them.
- Items such as pillows and blankets may also be placed in black plastic bags and placed in the hot sun for a few hours with a minimum temperature of 120°F.
- Search your homes for cracks and possible entry points in the walls and seal them with a high-quality, silicone-based sealant.
- Inspect anything that is mounted on the wall, no matter how high or low.
- Keep your home free of clutter.
Is it safe for me to return to work if I have a bed bug infestation in my home?
Although it is possible for bed bugs to be spread through clothing, it is very unlikely. Provided you have followed the suggested measures for eliminating an infestation, particularly the washing of clothing and bedding and keeping them in a secure place, it is safe for you to continue going to work. If you feel comfortable sharing your situation, it may be wise to alert your co-workers so they can be aware of their surroundings and watch for signs of bed bugs. Bed bug infestations often begin in multi-person dwellings, which could include office buildings.
Why are they so hard to kill?
Bed bugs are extremely small and can easily hide and burrow in tiny, narrow spaces, such as cracks in the wall, electrical outlets, and joints in furniture. Although they cannot fly, they crawl as fast as an ant and routinely travel from their hiding place to a blood meal in one night. Since they are active primarily at night, they are difficult to detect during the hours people are generally awake and alert. In addition, bed bugs may remain dormant for long periods of time if blood meals are not available or if temperatures drop. Bed bugs that remain inactive and in hiding for an extended period of time may not be initially killed by insecticides, as treatment is most effective when the insecticide directly contacts the bed bug. The majority of available insecticides are also ineffective against eggs, so repeated applications are generally required to kill the bugs that have hatched from the eggs and the adult bugs that may have been missed during previous treatments. Recent evidence also suggests they may be able to sense and avoid certain chemical agents, such as cleaning detergents.
Do bed bugs transmit disease?
There is currently no evidence indicating bed bugs are capable of transmitting pathogens causing infectious disease in humans. However, some individuals may have moderate to severe allergic reactions to proteins found in bed bug saliva, thereby increasing inflammation and itchiness of the bites. Excessive scratching of bite marks may also cause secondary infections.
Links to more bed bug info or related resources:
UK Department of Entomology
CDC and EPA Joint Statement