What are bed bugs? What do bed bugs look like?
Bed bugs are small, oval, non-flying insects that belong to the insect family Cimicidae, which includes three species that bite people. Adult bed bugs reach 5-7 mm in length, while nymphs (juveniles) are as small as 1.5 mm. Bed bugs have flat bodies, and may sometimes be mistaken for ticks or small cockroaches. Bed bugs feed by sucking blood from humans or animals. Adult bed bugs are reddish brown in color, appearing more reddish after feeding on a blood meal. Nymphs are clear in color and appear bright red after feeding. The wings of bed bugs are vestigial, so they cannot fly.
Where are bed bugs found?
Bed bugs were common in the U.S. before World War II and became rare after widespread use of the pesticide DDT began in the 1940s and 1950s. They remained prevalent in other areas of the world and, in recent years, have been increasingly observed again in the U.S. Increases in immigration and travel from the developing world, as well as restrictions on the use of stronger pesticides, may be factors that have led to the relatively recent increase in bed bug infestations. While bed bugs are often reported to be found when sanitation conditions are poor or when birds or mammals (particularly bats) are nesting on or near a home, bed bugs can also live and thrive in clean environments. Crowded living quarters also facilitate the spread of bed bugs.
Bed bugs can live in any area of the home, and can reside in tiny cracks in furniture as well as on textiles and upholstered furniture. They tend to be most common in areas where people sleep, and generally concentrate in beds, including mattresses, box springs, and bed frames. They do not infest the sleeping surfaces of beds as commonly as cracks and crevices associated with the bed frame and mattress. Other sites where bed bugs often reside include curtains, edges of carpet, corners inside dressers and other furniture, cracks in wallpaper (particularly near the bed), and inside the spaces of wicker furniture.
How are bed bugs spread?
Bed bugs live in any articles of furniture, clothing, or bedding, so they or their eggs may be present in used furniture or clothing. They spread by crawling, and may contaminate multiple rooms in a home or even multiple dwellings in apartment buildings. They may also be present in boxes, suitcases, or other goods that are moved from residence to residence or from a hotel to home. Bed bugs can live on clothing from infested homes, and may be spread by a person unknowingly wearing infested clothing.
What are the symptoms and signs of bed bug bites?
Bed bugs bite and suck blood from humans. Bed bugs are most active at night, and bite any exposed areas of skin while an individual is sleeping. The face, neck, hands, and arms are common sites for bed bug bites. The bite itself is painless and is not noticed. Small, flat, or raised bumps on the skin are the most common sign; redness, swelling, and itching commonly occur. If scratched, the bite areas can become infected. A peculiarity of bed bug bites is the tendency to find several bites lined up in a row. Infectious disease specialists refer to this as the "breakfast, lunch, and dinner" sign, signifying the sequential feeding that occurs from site to site.
Bed bug bites may go unnoticed or be mistaken for flea or mosquito bites or other types of rash or skin conditions, since they are difficult to distinguish from other bites. Bed bugs also have glands whose secretions may leave odors, and they also may leave dark fecal spots on bedsheets and around their hiding places (in crevices or protected areas around the bed or anywhere in the room).
Bed bugs have not been conclusively proven to carry infectious microbes. However, researchers have implicated bed bugs as possible vectors, and studies are ongoing to determine whether bed bugs may serve as disease carriers.
What is the treatment for bed bug bites?
Typically, no treatment is required for bed bug bites. If itching is severe, steroid creams or oral antihistamines may be used for symptom relief. Secondary bacterial infections that develop over heavily scratched areas may require the use of antibiotics.
How do I detect a bed bug infestation in my home?
You can look to see if you can identify the fecal stains, egg cases, and exuviae (shed skins) in crevices and cracks on or near beds. You should also look at other areas such as under wallpaper, behind picture frames, in couches and other furniture, in bedsprings and under mattresses, and even in articles of clothing. While fecal stains and skin casts suggest that bed bugs have been present, these do not confirm that the infestation is still active. Observing the bed bugs themselves is definitive confirmation that an area is infested. You may require professional assistance from a pest-control company in determining whether your home contains bed bugs.
How do I get rid of bed bugs in the home?
Getting rid of bed bugs is not an easy process, and most cases of bed bug infestation will require treatment by a pest-control expert. A variety of low-odor sprays, dusts, and aerosol insecticides can be used to eradicate bed bugs. These must be applied to all areas where the bugs are observed as well as spaces where they may crawl or hide. The pest-control company can help you determine if the mattress can be disinfected or must be discarded. Since beds cannot readily be treated with insecticides, it's often necessary to discard infested mattresses and beds.
The pest-control expert may recommend certain forms of deep-cleaning, such as scrubbing infested surfaces with a stiff brush to remove eggs; dismantling bed frames and furniture; filling cracks in floors, walls, and moldings; encasing mattresses within special bags; or using a powerful vacuum on cracks and crevices.
What about prevention of bed bug bites?
Avoidance of infested areas is the method for prevention of bed bug bites. Recognition of bed bug infestation and proper treatment of affected rooms (usually with the help of a pest-control specialist) is the best way to prevent bed bugs in the home. Those concerned about the potential for bed bugs bites in hotels should examine hotel beds and mattresses for signs of a bed bug infestation. Sealing your mattress in a bed bug prevention casing can be beneficial.
Bed Bugs At A Glance
Greenberg, L., and J. H. Klotz. "Pest Notes: Bed Bugs." Oakland: Univ. Calif. Nat. Agric. Res. Publ. 7454. Sept. 2002.
Harvard School of Public Health
Potter, Michael F. "Bed Bugs." University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. Aug. 2008.
Thomas, I., G.G. Kihiczak, and R.A. Schwartz. "Bedbug Bites: A Review." Int J Dermatol 43 (2004): 430.