It’s an epidemic that has spread quickly throughout our country with no signs of slowing. Bed bugs have invaded our homes, school dormitories and hotels. There have even been reports of retailers in New York and New Jersey that have had to close their doors to tend to bed bug infestations. The number of infestations has grown drastically within the past five years and will continue to do so unless something is done.
What Is A Bed Bug?
Bed bugs are elusive and resilient creatures catching rides in purses, luggage, clothing, furniture and even electrical wiring and connecting pipes. They are indiscriminate; bed bugs will infest a home that is well kept and clean just as easily as one that is dirty and cluttered. Only ¼ inch long, bed bugs are small enough to hide in the tiniest of crevices of furniture walls and baseboards and have been known to live for over a year. They are nocturnal creatures which are flat and reddish brown in color that feed on blood. Bat bugs and bird bugs are similar in size and shape and could be mistaken for bed bugs. The main difference, however, is that bed bugs feed on human blood.
A newly hatched nymph is white to pale yellow in color until its first blood meal after which will become reddish brown in color. Each feeding session lasts between 5 and 13 minutes. From birth to adulthood, a bed bug will molt 5 times and a feeding is required before each molting phase can be completed. Once they’ve reached adulthood, females will lay up to 5 eggs per day continuously and take several blood meals over several weeks. An adult female will lay between 200 and 500 eggs in her lifetime. These eggs will hatch every 8 to 10 days, thus starting the cycle once again. Given this astronomical rate of reproduction, it would only take a couple of months to breed thousands of bed bugs in a once clean and bug free environment.
These pests are tough to eradicate; they are small creatures able to hide in remote, hard-to-reach places and — providing there is a steady blood source — will only emerge at night. If there is not a blood source present, adult bed bugs can survive for up to a year and nymphs for several months without feeding. While they primarily emerge and feed at night, they will show themselves during the day if it means getting a blood meal. If their main source of blood starts sleeping in another room, the bed bugs will follow. While bed bugs do feed on blood, they have not been known to transmit diseases. When a bed bug bites, it injects an anti-blood clotting chemical into the skin. Some people may actually be allergic to bed bugs. Itching will increase the more an individual is allergic to the bugs. Scratching the bites can result in an infection. If you do not get an infection, the bites are simply irritating. It may take a few weeks for the itching to subside and for the welts to disappear.
There are many signs that may indicate an infestation is present. The most obvious would be waking up with red itchy bites. Bed bugs typically feed, move to a new spot and feed again so it is quite common to see a pattern of three bites in a row. While this is a good indication of a problem, many people may be victims of bites but not exhibit any symptoms. A bed bug’s saliva features an anesthetic to numb the pain as it’s biting, so many victims are not even aware they have become a midnight snack; therefore, further inspection is always recommended. There may be dark spotting of mattresses, walls, baseboards and other hiding places as well as blood spotting on sheets. Visible sightings are possible as well since, though bed bugs are small, they are not microscopic. Additionally, casings from nymph molting stages may be left behind as well as egg casings from freshly laid eggs. In severe infestations there may be a sweet bug-like odor emanating from the affected room.
How To Find Bed Bugs and Eradicate Them
So now you know what bed bugs are, but do you know what they look like, where they hide, or how on earth you can get rid of them? How do you prevent your home from being invaded?
Typically, bed bugs will live in clusters together in areas with favorable conditions. The first step in determining if you have a problem would be to inspect the area thoroughly. This means looking particularly around box springs, mattresses, bed frames, furniture, desks, chairs and baseboards. Bed bugs are many times also found underneath the edges carpets, where ceilings and walls meet, behind light switch covers and outlets, in clothes, inside appliances, and behind carpet stays.
Though it is most common to find bed bugs in the bedroom, it is possible to find them in other places such as bathrooms, living rooms and laundry rooms. When inspecting furniture, be sure to pull out all drawers and thoroughly inspect all parts. You may want to take apart furniture to be certain the inspection has been thorough. Dark blood spots may be apparent on bed linens which would indicate a feeding. Sometimes, bed bugs excrete as they feed leaving a darker reddish brownish spot or smear on linens, mattresses or pillow cases. If at anytime during your inspection you find a bed bug you should immediately stop your inspection and move directly to control measures. Once disturbed, bed bugs will migrate from their hiding places to a new location.
If you do detect an infestation, there are several steps you would need to take. First, remove all bed linens and clothing that could be infested and place in an airtight plastic bag. Temperatures in excess of 113 degrees Farenheit will kill bed bugs therefore all items should be laundered in hot water and dried in a dryer for 30 to 40 minutes. Next, vacuum all flooring, baseboards, headboard, box springs, bedroom furniture, picture frames and any other places that bed bugs might be inclined to hide. Once done, dispose of the vacuum bag.
If you find a specimen you may want to keep one in a ziplock bag to present to a pest control professional who can then confirm its identity. Applying diatomaceous earth (this is broken up shells of small creatures) powder to cracks and crevices in floor boards, base boards and other hard to reach areas is also helpful. The diatomaceous earth will slice open the exoskeleton of the bed bugs causing them to dehydrate and die. Sealing cracks and crevices on floors and base boards with caulking will prevent the creatures from hiding in those areas as well. Reducing floor clutter around the house is also instrumental in avoiding infestations. After all, the fewer places there are to hide, the less likely bed bugs will remain.
One good way to kill bed bugs is by using a vapor steam cleaner. The important thing to remember is that the temperature must be 113 degrees in order to kill bed bugs. There are several steamers available that will produce steam between 200 and 300 degrees. This is ideal, as you want a unit that will produce a high temperature and low moisture vapor. Many models have various tools like small nylon brushes and crevice tools that make cleaning an easy task. The nylon brush attachment would be useful in removing egg casings.
Once steam cleaning is complete, a second pass with a vacuum is advisable, as the cleaning process may have dislodged egg casings or dormant bugs. It is very important to treat all surfaces as possible infestation sights. If the corner of a credit card can fit into a space, chances are that bed bugs could be hiding there; better to be safe than sorry! You may want to consult with a pest control professional to ensure the infestation has been treated properly. See our full line of steam cleaners.
How To Prevent Bed Bugs From Coming Into Your Home
There are many simple things you can do to prevent an infestation in your home. First, if you travel, be aware of your surroundings. Individuals may log on to bedbugregistry.com and look up hotels or residences to see if there have been any reports of bed bug activity.
When staying in hotels, be sure to inspect your mattress and bed frame for signs of bed bug activity. Look for any egg casings, blood stains and bed bugs and report any findings to hotel management immediately. Always use luggage stands to avoid any contact with possibly affected areas. Upon returning home, inspect your luggage and any belongings to be sure that you have not brought any unexpected guests back with you.
Another great preventative measure is bed bug mattress covers. Enclose both your mattress and box spring with the encasings; this will prevent bed bugs from infiltrating your sleep space and also deprive any existing bugs of a meal, eventually resulting in its death. Take care when introducing new items into your home. Yard sales and such are a great place to find rare treasures; however you should remember that bed bugs are very capable in hiding in not only furniture, but also electronics such as televisions, fans, and other commonly used appliances.
If at all possible, avoid bringing used items into the home. Periodic inspections can help detect an infestation before it gets serious making things a lot easier to eradicate as they arise. Another great preventative tool is the bed bug interceptor. These are bowl like structures you place beneath the feet of bed frames and furniture to catch bed bugs. The interceptors consist of two wells, an inner circle and an outer circle. This makes it easy to determine if the bed bugs are leaving the structure or if they are coming from a different area. You will then be better able to determine the source of infestation. The bowl is treated with talc which forms a slick surface making it virtually impossible for the creepy crawlers to escape.
When buying clothing, you should wash all new items in warm water and dry them in a dryer for at least 20 minutes. Much of our clothing is shipped in from other countries where bed bugs are not only a commonality, but also not considered to be such a detrimental issue. As said before, all it takes is one or two bugs to cause a full infestation which can cause a lot of frustration when trying to remove them. Being aware of where your new clothing is coming from and taking these simple precautions could save you money, time and hard work in the long run.
So, yes, bed bugs are a serious problem in this country and others throughout the world. Yes, it can be a difficult battle to win. However, knowing the origins and habits of these parasites is indeed half the battle. Knowing where they come from and how they are spread will make detecting and removing them so much easier. Take preventative measures before a problem is detected and protect yourself from possible infestations:
Be aware of your surroundings when traveling and returning from any trips
Inspect luggage upon returning for any unwelcome guests
Use mattress and box spring encasements in every bedroom
Reduce general clutter around the house especially in vulnerable areas
Vacuum often and in hard to reach corners and crevices
Wash bed clothes regularly in hot water
Look for the early warning signs such as unexplained rashes or bites
As the bed bug population continues to rise, it is imperative to remain cognizant of these pests lurking in the shadows. Remember, all it takes is a couple of stray bed bugs to quickly colonize and infiltrate your residence. Take the recommended precautions and save yourself from the hard work and aggravation of removing these little vampires from your home.