About Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are widespread and have been found in houses, apartments, hotels, schools, hospitals, dormitories, and movie theaters. They use their straw-like mouth parts to suck blood from warm-blooded animals such as humans, bats, and birds. Adults are oval-shaped, flattened front to back, and wingless. At maturity, they are 4-5 mm long and 1.5-3 mm wide. They are light brown when hungry but after a feeding on blood, their abdomen looks bright red, red-brown, or blackish. Bed bugs may be mistaken for small cockroaches but unlike cockroaches, which scavenge human food, bed bugs feed only on blood. They remain hidden during the day and actively feed at night. Their bites are painless but the bite wounds can be extremely itchy for days later. If disturbed, alarmed, or crushed, they leave dark stains (fecal spots), often on sheets and bedding.
Bed bugs have three stages in their life cycle: egg, nymph, adult. Adult females lay eggs on rough dry surfaces near their hiding places, either singly or in small clusters. One to four weeks later, the nymphs hatch from the eggs and seek a host animal from which to feed. As nymphs eat and mature, they outgrow their skin, grow a new skin layer (exoskeleton) beneath it, and shed the old one, a process called molting. Following each molt, the nymph is a little larger. After the fifth growth-molt cycle, usually 4-6 weeks later, the bed bug reaches full size and is an adult. The process of changing body forms while maturing is called metamorphosis.
Bed Bug Bites
At night, bed bugs travel from their hiding places to feed on sleeping host animals. They insert their long needle-like mouthparts into the skin, inject saliva which digests blood cells, and drink up the digested blood. As the abdomen fills with blood, it turns bright red, dark red-brown, or blackish. After feeding, they retreat to their hiding places. They typically feed every 5 – 10 days but can live up to 8 months without feeding.
Unlike many insects that feed on human blood, bed bugs are not known to transmit (vector) any disease-causing bacteria or viruses (pathogens). Reactions to bed bug bites very among individuals. Many victims show no signs of bites. Others don’t realize they’ve been bitten until rash, redness, or swelling appears around the bite, sometimes with intense itching.
Bed bugs are active at night and are adept at hiding in dark places during the day. They most often hide in crevices and in spaces between mattresses and box springs, on bed frames and headboards, and between couch and chair cushions. They are less commonly found in dressers and nightstands, in and on luggage, in electrical outlets, and among clutter. Once they infest a room, they often travel to adjacent rooms.
Prevention and Control
Proper sanitation practices and diligence can help prevent bed bug infestation.
- Inspect for bed bugs wherever you sit or stay. Eggs are tiny white ovals, bed bugs are brownish, shed skins are yellowish, and fecal spots black.
- If you may have been exposed to bedbugs, wash and dry your clothes on high heat, then run them through the dryer again for at least 20 minutes. Dry clean items that cannot be machine-dried. Place shoes and other non-washable items into sealable plastic bags and place them in the freezer overnight to kill bed bugs that might be on or in them.
- Never bring used or discarded furniture or clothing into your home unless it has been carefully inspected for bed bugs. Wash and/or freeze clothing and other items as described above.
- If you find bed bugs at home, heat is the most thorough, efficient, chemical-free method to use. Either conduct a heat treatment yourself or use a professional pest control service and request that they use heat. Chemicals require repeated visits to the site. It is not necessary to use chemicals where you live. Heat is clean and efficient, and can kill 100% of bed bugs and their eggs in one visit when properly applied.
- Other heat treatment benefits include removal of odors from cooking, smoking, animals, urine, and bacteria.
- There are not many safe chemicals that will kill bed bugs instantly. Do not attempt to treat for bed bugs with bleach or rubbing alcohol. While bleach and rubbing alcohol can be deadly to many living organisms, the potential for collateral damage is too great. An attempt to kill bed bugs with bleach will often ruin furniture. Attempting to kill bed bugs with rubbing alcohol is a fire danger.
Heat is the only treatment that is 100% effective against all life stages in a single treatment. Because of this, heat is the best bed bug extermination method. Heat kills bed bugs naturally.