My friends assured me the bed bugs were under control, and with a few simple precautions I should not be bitten. I was not reassured, but decided to take the chance. I learned a lot about bed bugs during my visit.
After over 50 years without bed bugs, infestations are increasingly common in the U.S. Bed bugs have taken up residence in schools, shelters, houses, apartments, motels, health care facilities, buses, offices, movie theatres—basically any structure that people use.
The common bed bug, Crimex lectularis, is a one-quarter-inch-long brown insect with a flattened body. It feeds only on the blood of warm-blooded animals, preferably humans. These little bugs are very resilient; the young can survive for months and the adults for a year or more without feeding. Bed bugs can’t fly, but that doesn’t stop them from moving quickly over floors, walls, ceilings, and other surfaces. Females lay one or two eggs per day in secluded places, totaling hundreds of eggs in a lifetime.
During the day bed bugs hide in tiny crevices close to the places where people sleep. Mattresses, box springs, headboards, and bed frames are perfect hiding places for bed bugs. Infestations typically start near beds, but quickly spread throughout the room and to adjacent rooms.
A bed bug uses its elongated beak to pierce the skin and withdraw blood from a person. It takes about five to ten minutes for it to eat its fill, after which it drops and goes back into hiding. Bed bugs may bite any exposed part of the body. Some people have no reaction to the bite, while others develop itchy red welts and swelling either immediately or up to a week later. Bed bugs don’t transmit diseases to people, but they can definitely interfere with sleep and make life miserable.
Is it a Bed Bug?
Before you take steps to eliminate or control bed bugs, make sure you actually have bed bugs. If people wake up with bites you may suspect bed bugs, but other pests can bite in the night. Look in bedding, on curtains, behind loose wallpaper and molding, and in furniture for the live insects and for brown or reddish fecal spots. Compare the insects you find with pictures of bed bugs, or ask you local health department for help with identification.
Once you know for sure that you have bed bugs, you can make a plan to eliminate, or at least control, them. You may decide to use chemicals to control the infestation, but there’s a lot you can do without pesticides.
The next section is full of practical ways to deal with bed bugs.
Bye-Bye Bed Bugs
Following are suggestions to ridding your home of bed bugs. Many people have used these methods with success.
If you are frustrated by trying to rid your home of bed bugs or tired of living with the pests, you may be tempted to move and start over. Be aware, however, that unless you are extremely careful you are likely to bring the bed bugs with you. You will have to make sure all your belongings are free from bed bugs before you move them into your new home, or throw out what you can’t completely clean.
Remember, while they are annoying, irritating, and maybe embarrassing, bed bugs rarely pose any serious health risks. If you make a plan and follow through on the measures described above, you can get rid of them or at least keep them at a very manageable level.