Bed Bugs: What You Need To Know
Author: Andrew Watson
What Are Bed Bugs?
Bed Bugs (Cimex lectularius Linnaeus) are small insects that feed on blood cells, typically when their host is in a deep sleep. Almost eradicated in the 1950's, they have recently made a comeback in a major way, often being referred to as a modern-day pandemic. The cause of the exponential increase in the United States may be due to the banning of DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) in 1972, along with the prevalence of international travel. It is estimated that bed bugs are increasing by an average 50% each year and spreading faster than ever.
How Do They Spread?
Most commonly, bed bugs move around by hitching a ride on your clothing or suitcase. This includes transferring of an item such as a book or piece of furniture, from an infected household to an uninfected one. For example, you utilize the Uber or Lyft car service on vacation. This vehicle may have already taken 10 trips from various hotels to the airport that day. A bug can climb off of a suitcase and onto the carpet of the trunk, later climbing onto your stored bag and ending up on your bed when you get home to unpack. From there, they hide and wait to come out when you are sleeping to feed.
Where Do They Live?
Once infested, the bugs are going to camp out close to their food source, typically within 5 feet of where you sleep. The most common hiding place is along the seams of your mattress or box spring. Corners and cracks of your bed frame also make for cozy living quarters. Anything close to your bed can be a potential hiding spot for bed bugs including curtains, nightstands, clutter on the floor, under rugs, trim and molding, and even behind electrical outlets.
How Can I Identify Them?
While difficult to spot, all forms of bed bugs can be seen with the naked eye. Adult bugs are around the size of an apple seed, typically rust in color, and have oval-shaped bodies. It’s unlikely you will notice them unless you are looking in the areas referenced above. Recently hatched bed bugs are semi-transparent, light tan in color, and about the size of a poppy seed. Unhatched eggs look similar to a shiny small grain of rice. They tend to leave behind trails of black feces, small blood stains where they last fed, and remnants of exoskeletons that are shed as they grow.
Why Do They Feed on Humans?
They like the way you taste! When you breathe out, your expelled air is rich in carbon dioxide which attracts the bugs. They follow the scent and reach your warm-blooded body, a vast source of food for them. The bed bugs prefer humans over animals due to challenges navigating through their fur. It is important to note, if the only source of food is an animal, they will target pets as well. These bugs have been reported to live up to 18 months without eating, although they typically will want to feed once a week. Although, newly hatched bed bugs will need to feed right away or they will not survive.
Will They Harm Me?
Emotionally, Yes! Physically, they rarely cause more than itchy, mosquito-like bites. Victims of these bloodsuckers may notice a distinguished pattern of 3 or more bites in a row. Besides the skin irritations caused by the small bites, bed bugs are not known to transmit disease. In some rare instances, anaphylactic shock has occurred in small parts of the population due to an allergic reaction.
How Can I Get Rid of Them?
Complete extermination of bed bugs is not an easy task. Common pesticides will not kill bed bugs. Many people do not take the proper precautions and end up throwing out items that have been infested, only to have the problem reemerge. One slow way to kill the bed bugs is to dry them out, along with starving them from their food source. This can prevent newly hatched bugs from surviving. Bed bugs can be dried out by forcing them to travel through fine powders such as talcum powder or diatomaceous earth. These penetrate their exoskeleton, resulting in a slow death from the inside-out. Referenced powders can be sprinkled around the border of the room and sleeping quarters, acting as a permeable boundary that forces the bugs to travel through it in order to reach their food source. Placing traps under the feet of the bed will make it difficult for the bugs to reach you while you are sleeping. Sprinkling diatomaceous earth into the trap is a double whammy to rid your home of bed bugs at a faster rate. Of course, it is essential your bed is moved away from walls and the bedding does not come into contact with the floor. The only sure way of ridding your house of bed bugs is to seal it up and raise the temperature of the house and all of its contents to at least 118 degrees. This will effectively kill all bugs and any unhatched eggs. Assistance from a pest management professional is strongly suggested, as homeowners can make the problem worse by attempting to eliminate the bugs on their own.
Bed bugs are not a gift you want to receive nor pass on to your friends or family. They are not something you want sucking your blood, while you try to get your beauty sleep. Bed bugs are difficult and costly to get rid of and just plain gross! You might not even know you have them until you have a major problem on your hands. Next time you choose the discount hotel because “it's just for one night” or take your favorite blanket to the movie theater with the reclining seats, consider what could be hitching a ride home with you, waiting to make you its next meal.
Note: A home inspector will not be able to determine if a house has bed bugs nor is it within the scope a home inspection. This article is for informational purposes only. Any professional advice regarding bed bugs should be directed towards a Pest Management Professional.