Bed bugs are increasingly becoming a problem within residences of all kinds, including homes, apartments, hotels, cruise ships, dormitories and shelters.
What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs are small wingless insects that feed solely upon the blood of warm-blooded animals. Bed bugs and their relatives have evolved as nest parasites. Certain kinds inhabit bird nests and bat roosts and await the return of their hosts; others have adapted well to living in the ‘nests’ (homes) of people.
Hatchling bed bugs are about the size of a poppy seed, and adults are about 1/4 of an inch in length. From above they are oval in shape but are flattened from top to bottom.
Their color ranges from nearly white (just after molting) or a light tan to a deep brown or burnt orange. The host’s blood may appear as a dark red or black mass within the bug’s body. Because they never develop wings, bed bugs cannot fly. When disturbed, bed bugs actively seek shelter in dark cracks and crevices.
Cast skins of bed bugs are sometimes discovered. Although such a finding confirms that bed bugs had been present previously, it does not confirm that any continue to infest the residence. Thus, inspect carefully for live crawling bed bugs.
Because many other kinds of small brown bugs may be discovered, it is critical to ensure that the bugs are correctly identified (more about this below).
Do bed bugs cause harm or spread germs
Bed bugs seek out people and animals, generally at night while these hosts are asleep, and painlessly sip a few drops of blood. While feeding, they inject a tiny amount of their saliva into the skin.
Repeated exposures to bed bug bites during a period of several weeks or more causes people to become sensitized to the saliva of these bugs; additional bites may then result in mild to intense allergic responses.
The skin lesion produced by the bite of a bed bug resembles those caused by many other kinds of blood-feeding insects, such as mosquitoes and fleas. The offending insect, therefore, can rarely be identified by the appearance of the bites.
A physician should be consulted to rule out other causes for the lesions and to offer treatment, as needed. The affected person should resist the urge to scratch the bites, as this may intensify the irritation and itching, and may lead to a secondary infection.
Physicians often treat patients with antihistamines and corticosteroids to reduce allergic reactions and inflammation. Despite what you may have heard or read elsewhere, bed bugs are not known to transmit any infectious agents.
Where do you find bed bugs?
Bed bugs and their relatives are found nearly worldwide. Bed bugs became relatively scarce during the latter part of the 20th century, but their populations have resurged in recent years, particularly throughout parts of North America, Europe, and Australia.
They are most abundant in rooms where people sleep, and they generally hide nearest the bed or other furniture used for sleeping. Bed bugs are most active in the middle of the night, but when hungry, they will venture out during the day to seek a host.
Their flattened bodies allow them to conceal themselves in cracks and crevices around the room and within the furniture.
Favored hiding sites include the bed frame, mattress and box spring. Clutter around the room offers additional sites for these bugs to hide and increases the difficulty in eliminating bed bugs once they have become established.
How do bed bugs invade a home?
Because bed bugs readily hide in small crevices, they may accompany (as stowaways) luggage, furniture, clothing, pillows, boxes, and other such objects when these are moved between apartments, homes and hotels. People who travel need to be extra careful.
Used furniture, particularly bed frames and mattresses, are at greatest risk of harboring bed bugs and their eggs. Thus, one should carefully scrutinize and consider the history of any used furniture, particularly ‘street’ items so plentiful at the beginning and end of each academic year (bed bugs are becoming a real problem in some college dorms and student housing).
Because they readily survive for many months without feeding, bed bugs may already be present in apparently ‘vacant’ and ‘clean’ apartments.
Bed bugs can wander between adjoining apartments and condo units through voids in walls and holes though which wires and pipes pass. Pest control personnel should be mindful of the presence of blood-feeding insects and mites that may be left behind after removing nests or roosts of birds and bats in and on the home.
How can you tell if the residence is infested?
Bed bugs usually infest only a small proportion of residences, but they should be suspected if residents complain of bites that occurred while sleeping. The bedroom and other sleeping areas should be carefully examined for bed bugs and signs of bed bug activity.
Folds and creases in the bed linens, and seams and tufts of mattresses and box springs, in particular, may harbor bed bugs or their eggs. They may also be found within pleats of curtains, beneath loose areas of wallpaper near the bed, in corners of desks and dressers, within spaces of wicker furniture, behind cove molding, and in the laundry or other items on the floor or around the room.
Sometimes, characteristic dark brown or reddish fecal spots of bed bugs are apparent on the bed linens, mattresses or walls near the bed. A peculiar coriander-like odor may be detected in some heavily infested residences. Adhesive-based traps used for sampling insects or rodents are not particularly effective for trapping bed bugs.
What should you do if you find bed bugs?
Because several different kinds of insects resemble bed bugs, specimens should be carefully compared with good reference images (such as those in this document) to confirm their identity. If any questions remain regarding the identity of your samples, then submit them to a competent entomologist for evaluation (see information below).
Once their identity is confirmed, a careful plan should be devised to eliminate the bed bugs in a manner that promotes success while limiting unnecessary costs and exposure to insecticides. Don’t discard furniture and don’t treat until and unless you have a plan.
What can you do to manage bed bugs?
Search for signs of bed bugs. Carefully inspect the bed frame, mattress, and other furniture for signs of bed bugs and their eggs. Although dead bed bugs, cast bug skins, and blood spots may indicate an infestation occurred previously; they do not confirm that an infestation is still active.
Search for live (crawling) bugs and ensure they are bed bugs before considering treating. To confirm the identity of the specimens, refer to our evaluation form
Reduce clutter to limit hiding places for bed bugs.
Thoroughly clean the infested rooms as well as others in the residence. Scrub infested surfaces with a stiff brush to dislodge eggs, and use a powerful vacuum to remove bed bugs from cracks and crevices. Dismantling bed frames will expose additional bug hiding sites. Remove drawers from desks and dressers and turn furniture over, if possible, to inspect and clean all hiding spots.
Cover the mattress, box springs and pillows with bed bug mattress and pillow covers. These covers have been designed specifically for bed bugs. Once they are installed, inspect the covers to ensure they are undamaged; if any holes or tears are found, seal these completely with permanent tape. Sick as it may sound, any bugs trapped within these sealed bags will eventually die.
To prevent bed bugs from crawling onto a bed, pull the bed frame away from the wall, tuck sheets and blankets so they won’t contact the floor, and place the frame legs into dishes or cups of mineral oil.
Caulk and seal all holes where pipes and wires penetrate walls and floor and fill cracks around baseboards and cove moldings to further reduce harborages.
If you own your home, we suggest you contact a licensed pest control company that is knowledgeable and experienced in managing bed bug infestations. Ask the pest control company for references, and ask at least a few of their customers about their experiences before you agree to any contract.
If you are a tenant, contact your property manager or landlord to discuss your respective obligations, and to agree on a plan to manage the infestation. Generally, landlords are legally required to contract with a licensed pest control operator.
Request written integrated pest management (IPM) plan from the pest control operator. This plan should detail the methods and insecticides to be used by the pest control operator, and describe the efforts expected by the building manager as well as by the tenants.
Because bed bugs and other pests may spread through cracks and holes in the walls, ceilings and floors, it is wise to inspect adjoining apartments on the same floor as well as those directly above and below.
What shouldn’t you do about bed bugs?
Don’t panic. Although bed bugs can be annoying, they can be battled safely.
Do not apply pesticides unless you fully understand what you are applying and the risks involved. You are legally liable if you misapply a pesticide, or apply it without a license to the property of another (including common spaces in apartment buildings).
Generally, landlords, owners and building managers cannot legally apply pesticides. They should, instead, hire a licensed pest control operator to confirm the infestation and to develop an integrated pest management plan.
Some infested furniture can be cleaned and treated by a heat process. Ask before tossing. Placing infested furniture (particularly mattresses) into common areas or on the street will simply help spread bed bugs to the homes of other people. People (especially college students) will drive by and pick it up if it looks good.
Infested furniture intended for disposal should be defaced to make it less attractive to other people. Officials in some municipalities affix to potentially infested furniture a label to warn of bed bugs.
To reduce opportunities of infested furniture re-entering their building, building managers should ensure that any disposed furniture is locked within a dumpster or immediately carted away to a landfill or waste facility.
Carefully read the label before applying any pesticide to kill bed bugs. Apply the product only if you fully understand the instructions, and if you have the appropriate training/certification and equipment.
Do NOT apply any insecticide or pesticide to mattresses or to surfaces that would be in direct contact with a person, unless the label instructions specifically state that the product can be applied in that manner. Some products can be harmful to people and pets. READ and UNDERSTAND the label.