Bed bugs are blood feeding insects that feed on humans, usually during night hours when people are sleeping. Since we do not often observe bed bugs biting, it is easy to mistake the itchy, swollen areas on the skin for other insect bites. While the bites can become infected from scratching, bed bugs are not known to transmit any diseases; however, they are still a nuisance and serious pest problem.
Despite their name, bed bugs can infest areas other than beds. They tend to locate in cracks and crevices, such as behinds baseboards, wall outlets, and wallpaper; between bed joints, slats, and dresser drawers; and along mattress seams and in linens and clothes. Most bed bug infestations occur in the home, along with hotels, dormitories, and cruise ships.
Bed bugs easily transfer from one site to another through infested belongings like clothes, suitcases, second-hand furniture, beds, and bedding.
Adult bed bugs can survive 6-7 months without feeding, and have been known to live in abandoned houses for 1 year. This, combined with the fact that females lay 2-5 eggs a day (and 200-500 eggs in her lifetime), means that bed bug infestations will not go away without proper treatment.
Bed bugs are difficult to detect because of their elusive behavior, but here are some key things to look for:
The bugs themselves, as well as light-brown, molted skins.
Itchy welts (can be mistaken for flea or insect bites).
Small spots of blood on sheets and mattress covers.
Dark spotting and staining with a sweetish foul odor around sites where they are located.
There are several ways to get rid of bed bugs, though combining methods usually gives the best result. Since the bugs often hide in small cracks, treatment can be difficult, making it worth hiring a pest control specialist. Even if you hire a professional to inspect and treat your home, there are important steps for you to take as well.
Physically remove as many bed bugs as possible:
Vacuum all carpets and visible bed bugs on furniture. Seal the vacuum bag in a ziploc and throw away. Steam clean carpets to kill eggs and bugs that have been missed.
Place bed posts in glass dishes. Bed bugs cannot climb smooth surfaces and this will prevent further infestation in the mattress, as long as the bed or bedding doesn’t touch the walls or floor.
Wash all bedding and clothes with soap and borax additive, dry at a high temperature. Dry clean pillows and drapery.
Reduce clutter, and empty out contents of drawers in preparation for treatment.
Sometimes treatment will require the use of insecticides. Dusts are preferred over sprays for bed bug treatments because dusts transfer from surfaces easier, are lighter, and penetrate further than sprays. Insecticides are used and classified according to four categories: Mattress, Crack, and Crevice; Indoor Surface; Indoor Space; and Fumigation.
Methods for non-chemical treatment involve physical removal and heat. In addition to the removal guidelines outlined above, mattresses, pillows, and box springs can be put in bed bug proof encasements. Make sure the labels say “bite proof” as well as “escape proof.”
Bed bugs begin to die at temperatures above 113ºF, so using high temperature when laundering or steaming infested items is another way for non-chemical control. Pest control companies also offer heat treatment for bed bugs. Methods can involve using polystyrene board insulation around items to be treated and heating these boxes to the appropriate temperatures with space heaters, or using commercial heaters to heat the entire room and its contents.
Bed bugs are not often removed with one treatment, and continued inspections and treatment follow ups are key for eliminating an infestation.
Awareness of bed bugs and their habits is the most important way to avoid infestations. When traveling or exchanging belongings, know what to look for to assure bed bugs are not present.
Be wary of second hand beds, bedding, and furniture, and examine closely before bringing them into the home.
Examine sheets, bed, and headboard in hotels and travel accommodations.
Inspect your luggage when you return from a trip. Leave belongings in a hot car for 24 hours and run clothing through the dryer.
Visit the Florida Bed Bug Workgroup website to view articles, videos, and links about bed bugs and their prevention and treatment.
Adapted and excerpted from:
- Koehler, R.M. Pereira, et al, Bed Bugs and Blood-Sucking Conenose (ENY-227), Entomology and Nematology Department (rev. 11/2008).
- Potter, “Your Guide to Bed Bugs: Understanding and Control” (pdf), Pest Control Technology (08/2004).
- UF Website