The mere thought of bugs crawling under the bed sheets for the purpose of feeding on human blood may sound like one of the latest scenes from a horror movie, but truth is, such bugs do exist and they are far from being the invention of a creative mind.
The old adage ”sleep tight and do not let the bed bugs bite” has become much more than a cute rhyme for children, indeed nowadays the number of infestations has considerably grown, causing these critters to appear more frequently than they used to.
What is Causing Bed Bug Explosions
Several decades ago, most of North America was virtually free of these parasites, up to a point where entomologists and pest control companies were starting to believe these pests were almost extinct. The dramatic resurgence of these parasites today appears to be mostly attributed to a variety of contributing factors.
One of these is the increased mass traveling of people from one country to another, allowing them to travel along using people’s belongings such as luggage and clothing as a means of transportation.
Another main contributing factor is the decreased use of pesticides due to environmental and safety restrictions. There is belief that the ban on DDT is to blame for the drastic comeback in their numbers. Not to mention the fact, that as other bugs, they have also developed resistance to some of the most wide-spread pesticides.
Known by the scientific name Cimex lectularius, they are small wingless oval-shaped parasitic bugs that exclusively feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals. They generally tend to feed on humans when other types of prey are unavailable.
Attracted mainly by the carbon dioxide emitted upon breathing, they pierce their victim’s skin and suck their blood for three to five minutes until they are fully engorged. They generally feed every five to ten days but they can amazingly survive for several months without any form of nourishment.
The general public’s perception is that these bugs are mainly found in homeless shelters, low-quality motels or dorm rooms. This proves to be false. Indeed, according to the Centers for Disease Control, their presence is not determined by the cleanliness of the living quarters.
The cosmopolitan bug indeed can be found just about anywhere attracted by the warmth of a sleeping body and its inevitable carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, they can be found even in the most immaculate five-star hotels or inside the most luxurious cabins of prestigious cruise ships.
These pesky parasites tend to hide during the day in secluded areas such as the seams of mattresses, crevices of box springs and bed frames, or within cracks found within furniture, walls or wallpaper. Generally, their favorite hiding spots are located within 8 feet from where people tend to sleep.
To make things even worse, these nocturnal critters can lead to a number of health effects such as skin rashes, allergic reactions, and asthma attacks, not to mention negative psychological effects such as stress, anxiety and insomnia derived from presuming or actually acknowledging the presence of these bugs.
Fortunately, a bite is not perceived by the victim, mainly due to this stealthy bug’s modus operandi. The bite indeed involves the injection of an anesthetic preventing the host from feeling its mouthparts penetrating the skin.
The victim will therefore, in most cases, not realize the existence of the bite until a slightly swollen, irritated area appears hours or several days later. This makes detecting their presence more challenging.
The bites indeed are unfortunately often confused with other insect bites. For this reason, their presence often goes undetected for some time. Upon suspecting these bloodsucking insects, further proof of their presence is necessary before taking steps in eradicating an infestation.
Signs Suggesting an Infestation
Bites are typically itchy and as mentioned earlier, often resemble bites of other bugs such as mosquitoes, chiggers, and spiders. They are typically found on exposed parts of the skin even though they may easily reach body parts covered by loose clothing.
More often than not, bites present in a line or in clusters of at least three bites. These are often referred to as ‘’breakfast, lunch and dinner’’ bites.
Confirming Their Presence
Possible visual signs of an infestation include: the presence of exoskeletons left behind after molting, the presence of actual bugs and their eggs in the seams of mattresses and sheets, rusty colored stains which ‘’bleed’’ when wet with water, and a sweet-musty odor often compared to ‘’rotten raspberries’’ noticed mostly in heavy infestations.
Often a pest control company must be hired to confirm their presence bugs. These professionals are equipped with proper equipment to properly identify these bugs and suggest the best course of action.
Once there is sufficient proof confirming the presence of an infestation, a good treatment plan must be initiated. The first step should include a thorough pre-treatment plan. This means preparing a living area for elimination. Pest control professionals often have specific pre-treatment guidelines to follow.
Furniture and appliances should be moved away from the walls. All clothing, small rugs, curtains, linen, stuffed animals and bedding should be laundered using the highest heat setting for washing and drying.
The baseboards should be carefully vacuumed using a HEPA equipped vacuum with a crevice attachment. Bugs and their eggs once collected must be disposed of carefully to prevent them from spreading. The vacuum bag should therefore be carefully placed in a sealed plastic bag placed immediately in an outdoors garbage can.
Kill the Clutter
But perhaps one of the most important steps in pre-treating is keeping the least amount of clutter around. This will significantly reduce the opportunity for bed bugs to find hiding spaces and will make treating the living areas a much easier process.
They may be small critters measuring about 1/5 inch long, but treatment against them can easily amount to thousands of dollars. It is not unusual for families to spend $5,000 and upwards in hopes of eradicating these pesky parasites once and for all. The following are some common treatment options employed for extinguishing an infestation problem.
As much as these bugs are adaptable and resistant, they have a hard time dealing with heat. It is estimated that most will succumb to temperatures between 111°F to 113°F degrees.
Today, pest control companies may eradicate infestations with the use of heat using portable heat chambers and fans. However, these treatments can easily become costly for the average homeowner averaging $800 to $2,000 to treat an apartment.
They are also susceptible to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures generally ranging from 32 to 48 degrees.
However, the use of cold temperatures is not really much reliable in treating infestations, the reason being that temperatures must be kept steadily down and for specific amounts of time. Any variations may contribute to not delivering reliable results.
Steam is capable of killing adults and their eggs, but it is important not to use this method if a pest control company has already applied dusts or pesticides since the use of steam will render them ineffective.
As other methods, steam alone is not likely to work and therefore must be used as a supplement to other pest control methods. A professional may charge anywhere from $500 to 1,500 to steam a home.
There is several dust products used to kill these parasites. These products mainly work by breaking down the insect’s protective wax covering.
The most common dusts employed include boric acid, diatomaceous earth and fumed silica. They must be used in conjunction with other methods in order to deliver a more thorough and effective treatment plan.
Another option for killing them involves the use of traps. There are variety of traps on the market and do-it-yourself projects, but as other methods, these work by catching some bugs but will likely miss many others, ultimately making this treatment method futile, and over all, ineffective.
There are a plethora of pesticide products on the market to treat infestations. The Environmental Protection Agency has over 300 products registered using several classes of chemicals. Proper control can only be attained through a comprehensive treatment strategy.
They must be confronted from different angles: on one side, a strong insecticide should be used for knockdown, whereas, on the other side, a good long-term product such as an insect growth regulator should be used for eradicating the bugs completely.
Advantages of Insect Growth Regulators
The use of insect growth regulators (IGR’s) is fundamental as these products aim to inhibit their life cycle, controlling the population and therefore keeping their numbers down until they eventually stop reproducing and extinguish.
One of the main advantages of IGR’s is the fact that they work for long-term control which means less chances for repeated expensive callbacks and retreats. Another great advantage is that they have little toxicity to mammals since they mainly disrupt growth and development specific to insects. This makes them safe to use in households with dogs and cats.
At a closer look, insect growth regulators work by limiting the bug’s egg production, preventing nymphs from maturing and becoming adults, and reducing their ability to reproduce. They are often erroneously nicknamed as ‘’birth control systems for bugs’’ but in reality, they work by preventing the bugs from reaching adulthood so they cannot reproduce.
Disadvantages of Not Using a Regulator
Failure to use an insect growth regulator when addressing bugs may lead to several problems. The use of a pesticide alone may effectively kill the bugs on contact, but it has short residual activity, meaning it will only act for brief periods of time. Also, it is very difficult to target most when using pesticides since they tend to hide during the day in the smallest crevices.
Insect growth regulators on the other hand, will have an extended residual activity, affecting nymphs when exposed to the dried up residues. IGR’s also specifically target various aspects of the life cycle.
IGR’s will not kill on contact, but rather will kill them slowly over extended periods of time. They therefore must be used in conjunction with pesticides that kill these pests on contact. Used in synchrony, insecticides and insect growth regulators may be a winning strategy.
How to Use Insect Growth Regulators and Average Costs
There is only one specific Insect Growth Regulator labeled for use for these parasites: a product known as Hydroprene. Hydroprene does not kill them directly but it prevents them from maturing and reproducing.
Hydropene (Gentrol) is available in two formulations, one is a liquid form that can be used alone or may be mixed in a tank along with another type of liquid insecticide, and the other form is an aerosol ready-to-use formulation. The costs involved in applying such products will vary depending on the size of the home, the extent of the infestation and whether they are applied by homeowners or through a pest control company.
The liquid form requires 1 ounce of hydropene to be mixed with 1 gallon of water in a container. The best way is to partially fill the container with water, then the concentrated product should be added, mixed, and then finally the remaining water should be added. The finished product should then be mixed well before use. The diluted product must be used within 48 hours.
If mixed with an adulticide (a pesticide formulated to kill adult pests), the adulticide in question must be registered for such use and label instructions must be followed carefully. If unsure, it is best to leave this for the professional exterminators.
Delivering the Growth Regulator
Once mixed, the insect growth regulator can be delivered with the use of hand-pressurized sprayers or power-operated sprayers at the rate of 1 gallon per 1,500 sq ft of surface area.
The product should be applied uniformly to walls, floors, ceilings, under beds, behind night stands but linens and mattresses should not be treated. Once an area has been sprayed, residents should stay away for at least 30 minutes until the product dries. Heavy infestations will require retreatment after 14 days.
Generally, products like Gentrol may cost anywhere between $15 to $80 depending on the size of the product and the square footage of the area to treat. Obviously, having insect growth preparations applied by pest control companies will significantly add to the costs.
Most licensed pest control operators offer this method of parasite control, however, more and more companies nowadays makes them available to the public. Do-it-themselves aficionados therefore can now take the matter in their own hands and exterminate their home using the same products the pros have access to.
Special Precautions When Using Insect Growth Regulators
The incorrect use of pesticides may lead to potential problems. All pesticides are potentially harmful to humans and pets and it is against federal law to use them in a way other than how the label directs. Users must always follow directions carefully in order to protect themselves, people and animals surrounding them and the environment.
When applying insect growth regulators it is important to avoid inhaling the mist and avoid contact with eyes, skin or clothing. Hands should be washed with soap after handling.
If using the product in areas near kitchens or where food is prepared it is important to cover and protect such surfaces and utensils from exposure. Users must avoid smoking when applying the product. Insect growth regulators should be stored safely away from children and pets and in a cool area away from heat or open flames.
A comprehensive treatment plan must include post-treatment instructions to prevent any rebound infestations. It is not unusual to hear cases where they have returned after treatment. It is therefore imperative to follow important guidelines to prevent reinfestations.
They may still be seen alive for up to two weeks following treatment with insect growth regulators. Retreatment after 14 days is recommended, especially for heavy or recurring insect infestations. Failure to follow such guidelines may lead to recurring infestations that become more difficult to manage.
Beware of the Bug
Opportunists, stealthy, resistant, and highly adaptable are a few adjectives that portray these parasites well. As seen, outsmarting such bugs capable of hiding in the smallest nooks and crannies of home and capable of surviving even up to a year without food is really easier said than done.
The best strategy is to use a combination of methods along with proper management to control and eliminate them once and for all.