Bed bugs have made resurgence in the world in recent years. These nasty little bloodsuckers are disgusting and can be troublesome to anyone that comes in contact with them. In fact, this problem is considered a national epidemic. Even fine four-star hotels have found themselves facing infestations. In ancient times only the wealthiest families would find themselves to have them because these people had the warmest homes.
What are They?
This bug is a member of the Hemiptera family. The mouthpieces are made for piercing and sucking. There are at least 92 known species of them in the world today, including those based in tropical locations like Florida. This bug not only feasts on humans; it likes chickens and bats as well.
These bugs are parasites that don’t discriminate. They don’t care if you live in the most expensive house in the most expensive neighborhood in your town or in a cardboard box under a bridge. They are bloodsuckers. You are a human and you have blood therefore you are a candidate for this parasite’s next meal.
They are a bigger nuisance than mosquitoes or flies because they are more difficult to get rid of. If you have ever suffered through a flea infestation in your home, you know how difficult it is to get rid of them and how much work it entails. Getting rid of them is much more difficult.
How are They Different?
They cannot fly or hop. They simply crawl wherever they want to go. They crawl anywhere, including up walls and across ceilings. To get into different homes and hotels these nasty little parasites tend to hitchhike rides on your clothing, in your purse, or other pieces of luggage. Once in their new home they will crawl into your couch or sofa or the mattress on your bed. They can even make a home in that nice pile of blankets you have folded in your closet.
These little insect vampires do not live on or in humans. They simply feed off of us and then head back to their home to rest and digest our blood. These tiny pests feed about once a week and it takes only five to ten minutes of sucking your blood to fill them up. The female will lay five to ten eggs immediately after feasting.
How do They Spread?
These bugs multiply by what is called traumatic insemination. This means the male bug slices through the female’s abdomen and inserts his semen directly into her body cavity.
The fertilized female will then remove herself from the population to a safer location so she will not run the risk of being further injured. It is in this place that the female will lay her eggs.
What do They Look Like?
They are sort of round or oval and are flat. They have six legs and on their head they have two mouthpieces, which are used to pierce the skin and then suck blood similar to sucking through a straw. Their color ranges from straw colored to dark red or mahogany in color to even dark brown.
The six legs are well developed and allow these critters to climb up vertical surfaces such as a wall or window although they struggle when climbing glass. Their upper body is crinkly like paper and hairy.
They cannot fly but have what are considered “half-wings” They have front wings that are basically scales. They have two eyes with approximately 30 facets in each. A male bug is easy to distinguish from a female because the male has an abdomen that comes to a sharp point and females have a rounded abdomen.
The first thing to do if you suspect you have an infestation is to know what they look like. The adults are brown and sort of round shaped, flat and about a quarter of an inch in length. When they have had your blood for dinner they are a dark-red color and increase in size to about three eighths of an inch.
Usually when a person suspects an infestation it is because they wake up in the morning with a bite mark of some sort on their body. If it is just one mark, chances are you had a sleep encounter with a spider of some sort.
Many bite marks that are itchy could be signs of a stray mosquito in your bedroom. They can be difficult to find in the daytime so you may have to look around for a while.
Many small, red bite marks on your upper body can indicate you are the host of a bug brothel. If you tend to have several small bite marks on your legs and feet this can mean you have a flea infestation instead.
You may not always see them. They can hide under carpeting, between walls, under flooring and other dark places. Their favorite place to call home is soft, cushiony places that are dark. When a home first contracts them they may not be seen until the population grows.
How Difficult is it to Find Them?
It may be very difficult to find them at first. Don’t be fooled though. You can see them…eventually. As the population multiplies they are easier to find. These nasty little bloodsuckers don’t like coming out during the day, just like vampires.
As the infestation grows it is not only easier to see them during the day, they begin leaving their mark on everything. You may notice a dark line, particularly in the crevices of your mattress. If you have light-colored furniture you can also see the dark lines they leave behind during their travels.
If you think you have an infestation you can test your suspicions by sleeping on a white sheet. In the morning, check the sheet for little dots of blood. This is not any blood; it’s your blood. These parasites actually inject a secretion into your skin before feeding and this can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
Where to Look for Them
They like to hide in certain places. If you suspect you have an infestation but can’t see the nasty little suckers on your mattress, you should strip all of the sheets and covers from your mattress. Next, flip up your mattress and check the top of the box springs.
If you still don’t see anything, flip up the box spring to check the underside. They like to hang upside down on the bottom of box springs. Once you have removed the mattress and box springs are removed from the bed frame check the frame thoroughly especially in the corners.
Another place to look aside from the bed is your dresser drawers. If you do have an infestation they are likely in your clothing as well as your bedding. Pull out your drawers and look in the crevices of the drawer as well as the crevices inside the shell of the dresser.
No matter how infested your home is, they can be difficult to see. Remember, they are tiny creatures. When an infestation is bad enough you will be able to see clusters of them on top of your mattress.
Other Search Tips
Another way you can see them is to inspect your mattress and other furniture at night with a red light only.
Other places to look are dark areas such as behind wallpaper that has lifted, in curtains or drapes, in stoves and ovens or any other unused appliances throughout the house, behind switch plates for your switches and outlet covers and under the tack strips of carpeting. Basically, these insects can live anywhere in your home.
Because it is possible for them to have a host other than a human host, it is necessary to make sure you caulk and seal all openings or cracks and crevices to your home. You need to ensure no rodents enter your home carrying a hitchhiking bug.
Do They Leave Marks on the Mattress?
Yes. They leave their mark behind. The first, and most obvious sign, is their waste. As gross as it sounds, it’s one of the telltale signs of bed bugs. This waste consists of different things such as blood, fecal matter, skin shed, eggs and other dead bugs.
This type of waste will show up as dark spots on the mattress, especially in the crevices or on the box springs. The waste can also be found in other areas of the bedroom or house where these little nuisances like to live.
In early infestation, are found mostly along the seams of a mattress as well as the tufts. As time goes by and the population increases, they move out and on to bigger and better spaces. They prefer to gather on rough surfaces and harbor on wood or paper surfaces.
How Long Does it Take for Bites to Appear?
These bugs only need to feed once a week so they can be difficult to diagnose. In addition, each person reacts differently to the bites and still others have no response at all.
Most people will show signs of a bite in the morning after getting the bite. The initial bite presents as a red welt similar to a mosquito bite but smaller.
Other people are very allergic to the bites and will have a severe rash-like symptom. Still others may have a delayed reaction and not show welts for several days. It can even take up to ten days for some people to show bite marks.
For some unknown reason it is unlikely for people over the age of 65 to get bitten by one or have a reaction to their bites. A survey conducted found that 42% of people over the age of 65 either did not have any bites or did not have any reaction to the bites despite living in an infested area.
How Do the Bites Appear on the Skin?
The bites tend to appear in rows of three or four and are very itchy. There are a couple of theories on why the bites appear in rows.
First, there is a theory that they feed while you are sleeping and when you move or twitch and the bug will remove its mouthparts from your skin. When you stop moving the bug crawl a short distance and bites again; this can result in one bug leaving several bites in a row.
Another theory is that you lay on a crease in your sheets and there are several bugs in that crease. As you lay there the bugs bite at the same time which leaves a row of bite marks.
Just because you have several bites this does not dictate the number of bugs you have. The theories above just show ways in which you can have rows of bite marks.
Can I Get a Disease From a Bite?
There have been around 30 disease pathogens found in these bugs, but none of these diseases have ever been transmitted to a human from a bite. It is considered highly unlikely that they transmit diseases. The only medical worry is the itching and swelling caused by the bites.
Another report claims that they are capable of spreading blood infesting disease organisms that can affect the nervous system and digestive system. Children who live in an infested household tend to become listless and pale.
Some disease organisms found include anthrax, plague, typhus, tularemia, yellow fever and relapsing fever.
What are Common Reactions to the Bites?
The first, and most annoying, part of a bite is the intense itching. The actual bite itself looks like a small, red, raised welt most commonly found on the upper body although you can get a bite anywhere.
Some people may have no reaction whatsoever to a bite. Other people may have a delayed reaction and not have any signs or symptoms of a bite for several days. There are a few people who are extremely allergic to the bites and will have a severe reaction.
In cases of allergy, the bites can be extremely swollen and itchy. In this case, a person may need to visit his/her personal physician in order to get steroid cream or a steroid injection to decrease the allergic reaction.
Do They Leave a Scent or Odor in the Room?
In a heavily infested room you will notice a sweet, musty smell that is obnoxious. The smell is most often the strongest under the headboard and mattress. People have equated the smell to that of rotten raspberries mixed with moldy shoes. Yuck!
As it is possible to have these insects in other parts of your home, you can have this musty smell anywhere in your house where there is furniture or pictures on the walls. They like to follow their hosts, and they will follow you. Wherever you are, that’s where they will be.
This odor is caused by an oily secretion emitted by the bugs.
How Can I Keep Them Out When I Am Traveling?
There are some simple steps you can take to ensure you don’t take the chance of bringing them into your home when you return from a trip.
First, you should never set your suitcase or any clothing or shoes on the floor of the hotel room. Instead, keep them in the bath tub, on the toilet or on the clean counter top.
Before you lay your head down to rest for the night, be sure to pull the blankets and sheets down and check the mattress for any bug waste (remember the dark lines). If you want to be really thorough you should check in the dresser drawers and under the mattress and box springs.
Spots and stains on the mattress can indicate infestation but will not tell you if it is present or in the past.
If you are in your own vehicle, make sure you put your luggage in large plastic bags. When you get home, immediately take your suitcase and clothing to the washer and place your clothing directly in the washer. Wash your clothing in hot water and dry them on high heat for at least 30 minutes.
After removing your clothing from your suitcase you need to put the suitcase in the garage for a day or two in case you do have any residual hitchhikers. If you do not have a garage you need to keep your suitcase outside for a couple of days.
You should also remove the clothing you are wearing and wash and dry it with the clothing that was in your suitcase. This will ensure you have gotten rid of any unwanted guests before you get an infestation.
If you were in your own vehicle when traveling you need to vacuum the seats and trunk of the car and then immediately throw the vacuum bag away. If you have a bag-less vacuum you should empty the container in the trash and then immediately take the trash bag out to the dumpster.
Getting Rid of Them
There are several things you can do to get rid of them rather than calling the exterminator.
Also vacuum your mattress and furniture at least once a week. This is a good practice because it will also remove dust mites and skin mites.
Stay in the Same Bed, Regardless of Infestation Status
If you move throughout the house, so will these bugs. They use the carbon dioxide you exhale as a sort of honing beacon to tell them where you have gone and how to get to you for their next meal. They have trouble sensing you if you are further than five feet away from them.
They may be small, but they are fast! They can move up to 30 feet in six minutes. Moving to different spots in the house will just make your infestation more widespread.
Get a Mattress Cover That is Approved for Treating
This mattress cover should completely encase both the mattress and the box springs and should zip tightly closed. For added protection you can cover the zipper area with duct tape or masking tape. Mattress covers are not a solution, but they will allow you to sleep without getting bites and will assist you in getting the problem under control.
Be Careful Who You Visit
Never decide just to stay at someone else’s house. You could potentially spread the bugs to your friends or family.
Get Rid of All Clutter
They love to live in dark places. The more clutter you have in your home the more likely you are to have great difficulty getting an infestation under control.
Consider a Professional Exterminator
They are going to charge you a small fortune to get rid of the infestation, but you will get a guarantee with a professional. There are several treatments you can purchase to get rid of the pests yourself but you may find that these products just make them go into hiding for a period of time and then come back out when the coast is clear.
If you do decide to use a professional exterminator, ask him/her if they have a bug sniffing dog. There are an increasing number of K-9s that can sniff out these little pests. Be aware that the cost of using a K-9 to sniff them out can be expensive, but has been shown to be 97% effective.
Today, these bugs are generally resistant to all types of pesticides so getting rid of them can be extremely challenging.
Extreme Cold Will Kill Them
If you are suffering from infestation in one room in your home you can close off that room and open the windows in the winter. The adults will die in a matter of hours while the eggs will take 30 to 50 days to die. During all stages of their lives they have the potential to live for five days in 14°F temperatures.
Heat Will Also Do the Trick
Temperatures of 97°F to 99°F will kill a large amount of infestations although certain thermal death occurs around 111°F to 113°F.
If you have a large infestation you can get the temperature in your home up to 140°F for an hour or 120°F for a couple of hours.
This will normally eliminate almost all infestations. Keep in mind you may have to do this once per week for a period of time in order to eradicate the infestation entirely.
Use a steam cleaner to clean your mattress paying extra attention to the creases and crevices in the mattress itself. You can put your mattress in a sauna at 170°F to kill the bugs.
Never Cover Your Mattress With Harsh Chemicals
Instead, use baby powder or other talcum powder. They have great difficulty surviving in fine powder.
Steps to Prevention
- Keep all wood piles and debris away from your house.
- Make sure to trim the weeds and other growth that are next to the foundation of your home.
- Keep garbage to a minimum to keep rodents away.
- Seal cracks and crevices in your siding and around windows to ensure no rodent can enter.
- Make sure your attic and crawl space is well lit and has air circulation while not being accessible to rodents.
- Vacuum your house daily.
- Wash your bed linens weekly.
- Dust at least once a week.
- Store mattresses in protected areas.
- Fumigate any mattress that has been in storage with carbon dioxide before using them.
- Cover all drawers and outlets as well as all mattresses with a light coating of baby powder or other talcum powder.
- Nymphs feed on their human host for about three minutes.
- Adults feed on their human hosts for 10 to 15 minutes.
- They easily survive six or more months between feedings.
- In cooler climates, they live over one year without feeding.
- They live over 18 months without oxygen.
- They feed on other hosts including household pets, birds, poultry, and bats.
- They travel more than 100 feet to get their next meal.
- A nymph matures to adulthood in four weeks.
- The life cycle of is three to 18 months, depending on the circumstances. For example, heat will shorten their life. In addition, a minimal amount of food will decrease their life span.
- One report showed a female lived for 565 days without food.
- A recent study was conducted in Vancouver, Canada where five bugs were smashed to see if they had diseases.Three of the five were found to be carrying the super bug MRSA, or methicillin resistant staph aureus. This is the bacterium that is resistant to almost all antibiotics.
The other two bugs had another type of bacteria known as VRE or vancomycin resistant Enterococcus faecium. This is another type of antibiotic resistant bacterium but it is less serious than MRSA.
- The center of an infestation is normally the sleeping area for human hosts.
- Once they find a host they normally do not travel far.
Armed with your new information you are better prepared to not only prevent them from entering your home, but you will be able to recognize even the earliest signs.
The most important step is to take action at the first sign of infestation. There are many things you can try to get rid of these pesky little critters as well as things you can do to prevent getting them. Keeping your home bed bug free means you won’t ever experience their bite.