Bed Bugs Bite
Posted: September 20, 2010
Bed Bug Biology
Knowing what to look for is the first step in controlling bed bugs. Generally, adult bed bugs are 1/4 to 3/8 inch long, brown in color, with a flat, oval-shaped body; while young bed bugs (also called nymphs) are smaller and lighter in color.
When not feeding, bed bugs hide in a variety of places. Around the bed, they can be found near the piping, seams and tags of the mattress and box spring, and in cracks on the bed frame and head board.
If the room is heavily infested, you may find bed bugs in the seams of chairs and couches, between cushions, in the folds of curtains, in drawer joints, in electrical receptacles and appliances, under loose wall paper and wall hangings—even in the head of a screw. Since bed bugs are only about the width of a credit card, they can squeeze into really small hiding spots. If a crack will hold a credit card, it could hide a bed bug.
Preventing Bed Bug Infestations
Bed bugs are very successful hitchhikers, moving from an infested site to furniture, bedding, baggage, boxes, and clothing. Although they typically feed on blood every five to ten days, bed bugs can be quite resilient; they are capable of surviving over a year without feeding.
A few simple precautions can help prevent bed bug infestation in your home:
- Check secondhand furniture, beds, and couches for any signs of bed bug infestation, as described below before bringing them home.
- Use a protective cover that encases mattresses and box springs which eliminates many hiding spots. The light color of the encasement makes bed bugs easier to see. Be sure to purchase a high quality encasement that will resist tearing and check the encasements regularly for holes.
- Reduce clutter in your home to reduce hiding places for bed bugs.
- In hotel rooms, use luggage racks to hold your luggage when packing or unpacking rather than setting your luggage on the bed or floor. Check the mattress and headboard before sleeping. Upon returning home, unpack directly into a washing machine and inspect your luggage carefully.
Identifying Bed Bug Infestations
Much of the time, a bed bug infestation is only suspected when bites appear on a person. Oftentimes, the bites are misidentified, thus allowing infestations to go unnoticed, which gives the bed bugs time to spread to other areas of the house. When cleaning, changing bedding, or staying away from home, look for such as:
- dark spots which are bed bug excrement and may bleed on the fabric like a marker would
- eggs and eggshells, which are tiny (about 1mm) and white
- skins that nymphs shed as they grow larger
- live bed bugs
- rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed.
Treating Bed Bug Infestations
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods like pesticides, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.
- Wash and dry bedding and clothing at high temperatures to kill bed bugs.
- Heat infested articles and/or areas through to at least 113 ºF (45 ºC) for 1 hour. The higher the temperature, the shorter the time needed to kill bed bugs at all life stages.
- Cold treatments (below 0 ºF (-19 ºC) for at least 4 days) can eliminate some infestations. Again, the cooler the temperature, the less time needed to kill bed bugs.
- Use mattress, box spring, and pillow encasements to trap bed bugs and help detect infestations.
Pesticides are one component of a comprehensive strategy for controlling bed bugs. Several classes of chemicals are registered for use against bed bugs. The chemicals within each class share a similar mode of action, or way in which the chemical affects the biological functions of a bed bug.
Hiring Pest Management Professionals
Getting a pest management professional (PMP) involved as soon as possible rather than taking time to try to treat the problem yourself is very effective at preventing further infestations. Each pest management company should have instructions for residents on how to prepare the unit for a treatment which will include laundering and cleaning. The PMP will inspect your residence, take apart furniture if necessary and use vacuums, heat and pesticides to treat the infestation.
Common Bed Bug Myths
Myth: You can’t see a bed bug.
Reality: You should be able to see adult bed bugs, nymphs and eggs with your naked eye.
Myth: Bed bugs live in dirty places.
Reality: Bed bugs are not attracted to dirt and grime; they are attracted to warmth, blood and carbon dioxide. However, clutter offers more hiding spots.
Myth: Bed bugs transmit diseases.
Reality: There are no cases that indicate bed bugs pass diseases from one host to another. Lab tests have shown that it is unlikely that the insect is capable of infecting its host.
Myth: Bed bugs won’t come out if the room is brightly lit.
Reality: While bed bugs prefer darkness, keeping the light on at night won’t deter these pests from biting you.
Myth: Pesticide applications alone will easily eliminate bed bug infestations.
Reality: Bed bug control can only be maintained through a comprehensive treatment strategy that incorporates a variety of techniques and vigilant monitoring. Proper use of pesticides may be one component of the strategy, but will not eliminate bed bugs alone. In addition, bed bugs populations in different geographic areas of the country have developed resistance to many pesticidal modes of action. If you’re dealing with a resistant population, some products and application methods may only serve to make the problem worse. It is a good idea to consult a qualified pest management professional (PMP) if you have bed bugs in your home.
Top Ten Bed Bugs Tips
- Make sure you really have bed bugs, not fleas or ticks or other insects.
- Don’t panic. Eliminating bed bugs is difficult, but it is not impossible. Don’t throw out all of your belongings; most of them can be treated and saved. Throwing out belongings is costly, may spread the infestation, and could be unnecessarily stressful.
- Think through your treatment options—Don’t immediately reach for the spray can. Be comprehensive in your approach. Integrated pest management Exit EPA disclaimer techniques may reduce bed bug populations and limit pesticide exposure to you and your family. If pesticide treatment is needed, it is best to bring in a professional. There is help available to learn about integrated treatment options. (2 pp, 63k, About PDF) Exit EPA disclaimer
- Reduce the number of hiding places—Clean up the clutter. A cluttered home provides more places for bed bugs to hide and makes locating and treating for them more difficult. If bed bugs are in your mattress, using a mattress/box spring encasements makes it more difficult them to get to you while you sleep. To be effective they must be left in place for a year. Be sure to buy a product that has been tested for bed bugs and is strong enough to last for the full year without tearing.
- Frequently wash and heat-dry your bed linens. Wash bed spreads, and clothing that touches the floor to reduce bed bug populations. Bed bugs and their eggs can hide in laundry containers/hampers so clean them when you do the laundry.
- Do-it-yourself freezing is not usually reliable for bed bug control. While freezing can effectively kill bed bugs, temperatures must remain extremely low for an extended period of time. Home freezers typically are not cold enough to kill bed bugs. Freezing temperatures outside may be used to kill bed bugs, but can take several days (at 0oF) to almost a week (at 20oF).
- High temperatures can kill bed bugs. Raising the indoor temperature with the thermostat or space heaters won’t do the job, though. Space heaters must always be used with care, as they have the potential to cause fires and serious burns. Specialized equipment and very high temperatures are required to successfully heat treat a structure. Black plastic bags in the sun might work to kill bed bugs in luggage or small items, provided the contents become hot enough (approximately 110oF for at least 3 hours).
- Don’t pass your bed bugs on to others. Bed bugs are excellent hitchhikers. If you throw out a piece of furniture that is harboring bed bugs, take steps to destroy the item so that no one else adopts it (along with the bugs!).
- Reduce populations to reduce bites. Thorough vacuuming reduces populations. Carefully vacuum rugs, floors, under beds, around bed legs, bed frames, and all cracks and crevices around the room. Thoroughly vacuum upholstered furniture. Change the bag after each use so the bed bugs can’t escape. Place the used bag in a tightly sealed plastic bag and in an outside garbage bin. will reduce the populations.
- Turn to the professionals, if needed. Hiring an experienced, responsible pest control professional can increase the likelihood and the speed of success in eliminating bed bugs from your home. If you hire an expert, ensure it is company with a reputable history and ask them to use an IPM approach.