What are Bedbugs?
They are small insects that feed on human blood. These insects have been around for centuries, and they are so well-adapted to feeding on human that most people may not be aware when they are being bitten. They generally feed when people are sitting calmly or sleeping, and they particularly enjoy feeding at night. Adults can survive for more than a year without feeding, which is one adaptation that has ensured survival.
During the middle of the 20th century, they were in decline in America. Perhaps this was because people were knowledgeable about their existence and frequently used pest control methods to control them. However, in the past few decades, people’s worries diminished because their rare presence in homes. In the past few years, the United States has seen a dramatic increase in the number of reports.
Today, many people are still ignorant about them. Some people believe they are immune to the problem as long as they keep a clean house. That is not true. People also generally believe they are a problem only for the lower-class. That is not true either. Any home or dwelling can become infested, regardless of how clean or tidy it is, and so that is why people should educate themselves.
What do Bedbugs look like?
Bedbugs are small, only about 1/4 of an inch in length. Their color is usually reddish-brown, though they are sometimes a much lighter straw color. Bedbugs are sometimes referred to as Mahogany Flats, probably because they are flat and oval-shaped. They are similar in size to an apple seed or a lady bug. Baby bugs are significantly smaller than adults, and they measure smaller than 6 mm. They are six-legged creatures, and the upper part of their bodies contains gold-colored hair. Bedbugs have visible antennae and cone-like eyes.
The male bedbugs have a sharp flap on the back of their bodies, while the female of the species has a body that ends in a rounded or curved segment. The upper body of both the male and female bedbugs are often described as being wrinkly like crinkled paper. They emit a musty, sweet odor from glands located on their thorax.
The term given to an immature bedbug is “nymph.” Nymphs are small, and they shed their skins regularly before they reach adulthood. These immature bugs must eat a meal before they shed, and they shed about five times before they become mature insects.
They are not flying insects, though they are somewhat mobile. They tend to be found around places where people recline or sleep, and they generally don’t venture too far away from such areas.
What should I know about bedbug’s habitat and feeding habits?
Bedbugs generally live in small groups as opposed to nests or hives. The bugs lay eggs, and the eggs hatch into incredibly small nymphs, only about 1/16th of an inch long. The nymphs go through molten stages and grow into adult size in about 5 weeks.
The bugs mostly feed on the blood of humans, but they have been known to drink the blood of other animals, such as bats, guinea pigs, chicken, cats, dogs, certain birds and rodents. They can survive as much as a year without food, though spending such a long time without feeding is not typical. However, they are generally able to easily wait up to seven months without food. They can also survive for as long as a year and a half with no oxygen. Once fed, they turn dark red in color, and the bug will also appear bloated in the same way that fattened ticks become round after a feeding.
Bedbug Life Cycle
What should I know about bedbug’s life cycle?
Bedbugs reproduce quickly. Throughout her lifetime, the female of the species will lay approximately 500 eggs, which is an average of 3 to 4 eggs daily. The eggs are small, only about a mm in length, which means they are extremely difficult to detect with the naked eye. The eggs are sticky and white, and the female deposits the eggs into hidden locations, such as crevices and dark places. The eggs are laid in grouped clusters of anywhere from 1- to 50 in each group. They generally take between 6 and 17 days to hatch. Once hatched, a young bug, also called a nymph, is generally ready to feed immediately.
After shedding its skin about 5 times, the nymph is full-grown. Their lifespan is about 10 months, though many of them live longer than 1 year.
How Bedbugs Affect People
How do people come in contact with bedbugs?
Bedbugs crawl out to feed on human blood at night. They insert their long beaks into human skin and suck out the blood. A feeding may take a couple of minutes or as many as ten minutes. The bedbugs typically feed on ankles, face, hands, arms, neck, the lower half of the body, or place on the body where flesh is exposed. When the bedbug bites, it injects an anesthetic through its saliva. This anesthetic numbs the pain. Therefore, most often people do not know when they are being bitten. Once fed, the bug crawls back to its hiding place.
Days after being bitten, many people develop a welt or itchy bump on the skin later. Some people do not realize that this physical mark is from a bite, or some people assume they have been bitten by a mosquito or a flea.
Here are a few warning signs from bedbugs:
- Bloody stains on bedding
- Dark-colored stains on sheets (insect excrement)
- A sweet or musty smell in a room (emitted by the insects’ scent glands)
- Shed skins or fecal matter stains
Bedbug’s Recent Resurgence
How problematic is the issue of bedbugs?
In recent years, the United States has seen an increase. These bedbugs are a pest and they may cause itchy spots and discomfort. However, they are not believed to transmit infections or diseases.
What is responsible for the recent resurgence?
Some experts believe the higher incidence is caused by three important factors. One is that there has been an increase in travel, both foreign and domestic. Increased travel has allowed bugs to spread because the insects are often transported via luggage and clothing.
A lack of public awareness may have also contributed to the problem. Most people are ignorant about the ways they can be transported. Travelers do not know to check hotel rooms and luggage. People do not know how to check their homes for the existence of these pests either.
Up until the 1940s, they were fairly common in the United States. People were more conscience of their existence, and so, gradually, the presence began to decline due to pesticides used during the ‘40s and ‘50s. However, pesticides have recently been restricted in the past few decades due to concerns about threats to human health. This restriction in pesticide use has probably led to more cases.
A third reason for the rise in cases is due to evolution. These insects are now resistant to many pesticides. This resistance makes them more difficult to control.
Bedbug’s Common Locations
Some people believe that bedbugs are only found in developing nations, but that is not true. Bedbugs are found all around the world, in Africa, Europe, Asia, North America and South America. Another common misconception is that they are only found in cluttered and/or filthy houses and motels. That is not true either. Bedbugs have been found at exclusive resorts and well-respected hotels. In fact, common places where they’re found are as follows:
- Single-family homes
- Multi-family homes
- Apartment buildings and complexes
- Hotels, motels
- Dorm rooms
Bedbugs are most commonly found in and around beds and other areas people sleep. As mentioned above, they may infest dorm rooms, apartment complexes, shelters, motels, and even public transportation systems such as buses and trains. Some people believe that the bugs are limited to beds, but that is not true. Bedbugs can also live in couches, behind picture frames, in chair cushions, behind electric sockets and in baseboard crevices, basically anywhere around a home or dwelling.
The bedbugs generally hide during daylight hours and then come out at night to feed. However, they have been known to surface at any time of the day, especially if they are hungry. After feeding, they usually hide in places such as headboards, bed frames, mattresses and bed springs, underneath wallpaper and inside dressers.
Bedbugs do not generally travel far from people’s sleeping and lounging areas, but they have been known to move more than 100 feet at night when venturing out to feed. They are also notorious for burrowing and squeezing themselves into the smallest spaces.
Though the bedbugs can survive in clean environments, spaces that are cluttered or messy generally create a habitat in which they can easily find shelter. In terms of temperature, the bugs and their eggs can live in extremely hot and cold temperatures if they have time to adjust to such conditions. However, they do prefer to live in moderate temperatures of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the primary stages of infestation, bedbugs are generally found around a mattress because they come out at night and feed on human blood. However, as the infestation progresses, the bugs spread out and move into and under other surfaces. When searching, it is important to look inside and underneath every surface and crevice. Bedbugs like dark, secluded places. When looking for the bedbugs, it is important to know that the bugs typically hide in the following locations:
- Inside drawers
- In and under upholstered furniture, such as sofas, chairs and beds
- Under baseboards,
- On pajamas or other sleeping clothes
- Underneath wallpaper
- Under loose carpet and under rugs
- Along and inside all parts of a mattress
- Inside box springs
- Between curtain folds
- Inside phones, clocks and stereos
- Inside cracked plaster
- Around the casings of doors and windows
- Behind all wall decorations, including posters and paintings
Which cities and states in the United States are most heavily affected with bedbugs?
Bedbug infestations have been on the rise in the past several years. In fact, the United States has seen a 500% increase in the number of infestations in recent years. According to pest control companies, the problem is occurring across the nation. People are reporting issues on both coasts and in all of the states in between. The problem is not limited to a certain geographical area or region. However, New York City has seen a particularly large number of cases, perhaps due to the city’s large population.
How do I know if my home is at risk for bedbug infestation?
The bedbugs are being found in all types of housing and dwellings. Bedbugs are found in multi-family structures, single-family homes and apartments. Some hotels, motels and hospitals have also reported a problem. Anyone who spots what they think could be a bedbug should contact a pest control company for consultation.
How to Handle Bedbug Bites
What does a bedbug bite look like?
The bites don’t look any particular way. Some people may not have any visible bite marks. On the other end of that spectrum, other people may have large welts. Some people describe the bedbug bites as feeling and looking like a flea or mosquito bite.
What should I do if I’m bitten by bedbugs?
Most people are oblivious to being bitten, and this makes it difficult to detect their presence at all. Regardless of whether a person detects a bite, the bedbugs can drink as much as 6 times its weight. After a feeding, the bedbug will look visibly larger and swollen.
After a bite, people’s bodies respond to bedbug bites in different ways. Some may not have a reaction to the bite at all, whereas, others may exhibit a tiny bite mark on the skin. Still others will have large, itchy welts as a result of a bite. However, bite marks and welts often take a few days to show up on the skin. Many people mistake these bedbug bites for flea, tick or mosquito bites.
In rare cases, some people have experienced an allergic reaction to bedbug bites. Anyone who has an allergic reaction to them should certainly seek immediate medical help. If bitten, the bite should be washed carefully with soap and water. People who suffer from itching and irritation from bites should not scratch. Instead, they should use over-the-counter creams and antihistamines. These products can help minimize itching and irritation. Warm compresses held against the skin can also help ease irritation. If the wound shows any signs of infection, seek emergent healthcare treatment. Signs of infection may include tenderness or pain around the wound and discharge, especially if it is yellow, white or green in color.
If anything, one of the most common fears people have is whether or not their friends and neighbors will find out that they have a problem. Admitting that one’s home is infested with any type of bug is embarrassing, but admitting that the bug is a blood-sucking night-crawler is perhaps most embarrassing. Many people are ashamed to admit they have bedbugs because they are worried about being stigmatized as dirty or low-class.
Bedbugs may also cause people to have psychological worries. Some people feel itchy or ill at ease just from knowing that they have been spotted in a particular location. Pest control experts can help exterminate the physical problem, but people’s negative reactions may be more self-damaging than the actual bug. A person who has found bedbugs in their mattress may feel jittery, even after they’ve bought a new mattress and gone through extensive extermination procedures. Paranoia is also common among people who have had a problem. Even those who have never had bugs in their home are paranoid just from hearing horror stories.
Am I at risk of contracting an illness?
Though it is believed that bedbugs don’t transmit illnesses or diseases, people should not scratch bites because it can lead to a secondary infection or illness. Young children and those who have health issues are most at-risk for secondary infection because of their weakened immune system and their inability to stop scratching the bug bites.
Though most experts agree that bedbugs don’t transmit diseases, the bedbugs are known to carry and harbor about 30 different pathogens. Recently, some researchers in Vancouver, Canada, claimed that MRSA, also known as staphylococcus aureus, was found inside crushed bedbugs. Furthermore, the virus for Hepatitis B has also been found in bugs after they have feed on a host that carried the virus. It is believed that they virus can exist in the bugs for as long as 60 days after consuming the blood. However, further research must be conducted to determine if humans are at risk of contracting staph aureus and Hepatitis B from bug bites.
Though bedbugs are not considered a health hazard, they are a nuisance. Bedbugs can cause people to lose sleep due to itching and discomfort. Also, the knowledge that they do or have inhabited a certain area can make a person uncomfortable. The person may fear the bedbugs, and this may cause them to behave in a paranoid way. The mere thought or mention can repulse people.
Pest Control Treatment
What makes bedbugs so difficult to exterminate?
One reason they’re hard to control is that bedbugs are so elusive. These small creatures can even fit into crevices and spaces as small as the edge of a credit card. Bedbugs spread quickly throughout a living space. They may move rapidly from one hotel room to another. They may also spread throughout the rooms of a home or an apartment dwelling. In addition to spreading within rooms, bedbugs can also spread from one person to another via clothing, bags or luggage.
Another reason that bedbugs hard to exterminate is that they can survive for over a year without eating; this means that homeowners and even exterminators may sometimes think they have eliminated the problem, when in actuality the bedbugs have simply hidden themselves away.
A third reason that bedbugs are so resilient is that they can survive extreme temperatures, anywhere from near freezing to well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. All adult bedbugs die at 118 degrees Farhrenheit, and all bedbug eggs die at a tempature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
One obvious reason bedbugs are so resilient is that they reproduce in a simple, quick way. The male of the species simply stabs the female in the side to impregnate her. The female bedbug will often go off alone to avoid being stabbed to death. Once she has separated herself from the other bedbugs, she generally lays her eggs elsewhere, which hatch away from the previous location, thus allowing the bedbugs to spread out. However, the bedbugs generally do not spread too far from their host because they are unable to detect their food source if they are more than five feet away.
What can people do to control the problem of bedbugs?
Some people believe that sleeping with the lights on or spraying their body with insecticide can deter these critters; however, this is not true. Sleeping with lights on will not prevent bedbugs from coming out to feed. In fact, the bedbugs may even come out during daylight hours if they are hungry. Spraying the bed or your body with insecticides does not typically work because these sprays do not repel them.
There are several things people can do to help control the problem. For starters, everyone who purchases second-hand furniture should be sure to check for infestation, particularly in beds and sofas or other furniture items on which a person may sleep, recline or lounge. Bedbugs may hide in upholstered furniture, between the cracks in wicker furniture, and in the cracks and crevices of just about any type of furniture.
When staying in a hotel, check in and around the bed for signs of bedbugs, like their skins and their eggs. Look in the mattress seams, around and behind the headboard, along the box spring and in all other dark places and crevices. Be sure to check behind any cracks in wallpaper as well. Do not unpack travel bags until you have completed a thorough inspection. Do not put suitcases or bags on the floor in your hotel room. Once you have returned home from your trip, be sure to check your bags thoroughly for any signs that you have transported bugs in your luggage. You should also wash and clean your belongings carefully and immediately.
It is also important to observe good housekeeping habits at home. Eliminating clutter can reduce the number of places to hide. Vacuuming floors and cleaning furniture can also be helpful. However, the public should also be aware that keeping a clean household does not guarantee that they won’t become an issue. These pests can live in the very cleanest and tidiest of houses and hotels. Bugs need only two things—a warm temperature in which to hide, and human or animal blood to feed on.
The most effective bedbug control is heat, extreme heat will eliminate all pests in all stages of life, from eggs to adults. The heat method is used without any chemicals. This bedbug heat eradication system is done by placing heaters and sensors into the rooms by being remotely monitored.
The system will blow heat into the rooms at 135 degrees faranheit for several hours. This insures that the heat reaches all cracks, crevices and hard-to-reach places.
The bedbug heat eradication system is the most effective, safest, fastest, eco-friendly method for exterminating all insects in all stages of life. The heat system generally takes one treatment for most infestations. The resident only has to remove heat sensitive items such as pets, candles, aerosol cans, and medicines. The exterminator will give you a checklist of items to remove. All items must be inspected by exterminator before its removed to reduce the chance of re-infestations. The resident does not have to throw away items such as mattresses, furniture, clothes, or items that are infested as they would with most other methods.
Most other extermination methods will include some type of chemical treatment. Pesticide treatment—particularly if done inside a home—can pose a health hazard to humans. So it is important to follow product labels. Do not use chemicals or other products on mattresses, clothing or bed linens unless the product advises that it is safe to do so. Many insecticides can be effective, but they must be placed directly onto the body of the bugs. Because working with chemicals can be dangerous, it is always best to have these treatments handled by a professional with the proper training and certification.
In fact, recent health reports have illustrated the danger of bug control chemicals to human health. The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which tracks injuries in eight different U.S. states, revealed that more than 400 people were injured and/or became ill after using bug bombs in their homes in 2008. These “bombs” are foggers set off inside a home to exterminate bugs. While most of these injuries were of low severity, a few were serious in severity. These cases illustrate the fact that pest control, especially with the use of chemicals, can be harmful. All product labels should be followed carefully. If you are uncertain about how to use a particular product or you have any questions, you should contact the National Pesticide Info Center at 1(800) 858-7378. You may speak to someone at this number between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. seven days per week.
As indicated above, before beginning an over-the-counter treatment or any treatment plan, it is best to consult with a professional pest control center. A professional can verify if they are causing the problem at hand, they can also determine the best elimination strategy. This strategy could be simple and short or it could be lengthier and more extensive depending on the severity of the problem. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) can provide additional information concerning treatment.
What is the U.S. government doing to alleviate the problem of bedbugs?
Recently, newspapers and other media have reported bedbug problems in many American cities. New York City is probably the city with the most-televised reports; however, they are a problem nationwide, and any household can be infested.
Due to bedbug’s resurgence, the U.S. government has taken several measures to help alleviate the problem. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the government agency that is perhaps most involved with educating people about the bedbugs and helping to control them. According to a 2010 Newsweek article, the EPA hosted a conference in 2009 for the specific purpose of discussing possible solutions to the issue. During the conference, which was aptly called the “Bed Bug Summit,” EPA officials addressed the following issues:
- Research plans and methods
- The role of government in addressing the problem
- Consumer education
- Responsibilities of property managers in pest control treatment
- Proper training for pest control professionals
Attendees of the conference included public health officers, expert pest control specialists and U.S. government agents. These experts and agents set several goals and agendas during the meeting. Since 2009, many of the recommendations made at the conference have been put into effect. According to the EPA, extensive research is being conducted by the Department of Ag. The government has even created something called the Bed Bug Interagency Task Force, which consists of several government agencies working together to understand and alleviate the problem. Representative from several government agencies belong to the task force, including:
- Dept. of Health and Human Services
- Dept. of Housing and Urban Development
The EPA has also made information from the bedbug summit available to the general public. To read more about topics and solutions discussed at the summit, visit the EPA website at www.epa.gov.
In addition to creating a task force, the government has also allocated additional resources, funding and manpower to help solve the problem. The EPA is working with both local and state agencies to understand the problem and talk about potential solutions.
Myths and Additional Questions about Bedbugs
I can’t see bedbugs without a microscope, can I?
Some people think bedbugs are too tiny to spot with their naked eyes. This is not true. Though the eggs and nymphs are tiny and hard to spot, adults are more than big enough to see with the naked eye.
Bedbugs are harmless. I should not worry about them, should I?
Most experts agree that bedbugs do not spread illnesses, but they can cause mental and emotional trouble. It may be hard to sleep knowing that little critters may crawl out to feed on your blood. It would also be embarrassing to have company staying at your house if you have an infestation. You do not want to be bitten, and you certainly do not want houseguests to complain of them or have any type of allergic reaction to the bugs.
I don’t sleep in a wooden bed. My bed is metal, so I don’t have to worry about bedbugs, do I?
Experts agree that wooden beds are more comfortable for bedbugs than metal ones. However, the bedbugs are capable of climbing up metal railings and headboards. They can also climb over glass as well. Even worse, having a metal bed may make it more difficult to notice an infestation because metal beds give the bedbugs less places around the bed to hide. Therefore, the bedbugs burrow into hiding spaces that are less obvious.
I do not have to call pest control to eliminate bedbugs. I can do it myself, right?
Wrong. You must contact a pest control company to completely eliminate bedbugs. However, there are many things you can do to help eliminate some of the bedbugs, such as all of the aforementioned tips. Home remedies normally do not eliminate these bedbugs, they may reduce the infestation but only a pest control company can completely eliminate the bedbugs in all stages of life. The most effective treatment the pest control company may perform is a Heat Eradication Treatment. In extreme infestations they may use the combination of heat and a chemical treatment. Call a pest control company as soon as you think you may have bedbugs. The longer you wait to get started on treatment the worse the infestation will become.
I threw my bed and mattress away. I’m rid of those bedbugs now, right?
Wrong. As mentioned above, bedbugs most commonly live in beds and mattresses, but you should check all around your bedroom. Bedbugs sometimes live several feet away from their host, so check bedside tables, all furniture, rugs, carpet and everything else in the bedroom as well. When and if you do dispose of a mattress, bed or other furniture, be sure to wrap it in plastic to prevent bedbugs from escaping and infesting other areas. You do not want to spread the bedbugs to other rooms. You do not want to spread bedbugs to your neighbors either. Another good idea is to destroy discarded items so that people will not mistake them as re-usable.
I do not travel much, so I don’t have to worry. Am I right?
Traveling and transporting the bedbugs home with you is definitely one of the most common ways to infest your home. However, it is important to realize that bedbugs can also be transmitted in various other ways. Guests in your home may bring the bedbugs in via their clothes or tote bags. You can also pick bedbugs up when riding public transportation, such as buses or trains. Actually, you can pick bedbugs up just about anywhere. Recently in New York City, a Nike store had to shut down one of its locations due to an infestation.
Sometimes bedbugs travel without a human carrier. If you live in an apartment, the bedbugs may crawl into your living space through walls that you share with neighbors. The insects can also move through vents and other small spaces. If there are reports of bugs in a multi-family housing space or apartment complex, it is important to let management and neighbors know about the problem. Everyone should get together, discuss where the bedbugs were last seen, talk about ways to prevent them from spreading, and inform everyone of what to do to look for signs of the bedbugs. Keeping quiet about the issue is one of the worst things you can do. Silence may make the problem worse.
It is too cold/hot where I live to worry about bedbugs. I can live worry-free, can’t I?
No, bedbugs have adapted to both hot and cold temperatures. In fact, bedbugs have been known to infest places as cold as Canada and Russia. Bedbugs have also been a problem in extremely warm places, such as Mexico and the Southern United States. People living in such climates should be just as careful about prevention as everyone else.
My partner has itchy bite marks, but I don’t. This means his bites are caused by mosquitoes or some other critter. It can’t be bedbugs, right?
It is important to remember that two people may react to bedbug bites in different ways. The person you sleep with may show signs of being bitten, while you may never show any symptoms at all, or vice versa.