Information on Bed Bugs
Bed Bugs used to be a common problem in the home before 1950 but with the aggressive
use of DDT, they were all but eradicated in developed countries. DDT was banned because
it was found to be toxic to the environment. Bed Bugs have recently made headlines with
infestations in hotels, motels, family homes, institutions, schools and hospitals.
Entomologists and pest control specialists state a few factors that may be leading to
their resurgence. These factors are an increase of travel both national and
international, decrease in pesticide use and a resistance to pesticides by the bugs.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) all consider Bed Bugs a public health
pest. However, unlike most other public health pests, Bed Bugs are not known to spread
What are Bed Bugs?
Bed Bugs are small, flat, oval-shaped, non-flying insects that feed on human or
animal blood. Adults are reddish-brown in color and about the size of an apple seed.
Bed Bugs may be mistaken for ticks or small cockroaches.
The Life Cycle of Bed Bugs:
An adult female bed bug can lay about five eggs a day, and more than 200 in a lifetime.
Eggs are white and about 1mm long. The eggs hatch in about 4-12 days into the first of five
stages before reaching an adult. Each stage requires a blood meal to molt into the next
stage. Adults live 6-12 months and can survive for months without feeding.
Where are Bed Bugs found?
Bed Bugs can live in any area of the home but prefer areas around where people sleep.
They are excellent hiders and live in any cracks or crevices of mattresses, box springs,
bed frames and headboards. They can also reside in picture frames, electrical outlets and
switch plates, loose wallpaper or baseboards and other pieces of furniture in the house.
Areas where Bed Bugs like to hide are shown in the image below:
How are Bed Bugs Spread?
Bed Bugs don't usually stay on their host after they feed. They usually hide in luggage,
furniture, clothes, etc and are transported by people on their items as they travel. They
also spread by crawling from one dwelling to another in hotels, apartments, dorms, etc.
What are the Signs of Bed Bugs?
Bed Bugs prefer to move at night and are great at hiding in tight spaces. They tend
to crawl out at night when the home is occupied to feed while you are sleeping. The
easiest way to identify a bed bug presence is to look for the following signs:
- live bugs in the seams of mattress or box spring
- exoskeletons from molting
- rust-colored spots on sheets, mattresses and adjoining areas around the bed. These spots are excreted by the bugs after a meal.
- a sweet, musty odor
The two images below show live Bed Bugs in a mattress seam, and excrement spots
on the mattress seams.
Bugs in Mattress Seam
Excrement Spots on the Mattress Seam
Excrement spots on wall behind an electrical outlet faceplate
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Bed Bug Bites?
Bites from a bed bug affect people differently and can be hard to distinguish from
other insect bites. Some bites appear as small bite marks similar to a mosquito or flea,
some people do not show any signs and others may have blisters. As they bite, they
inject an anesthetic and an anticoagulant that may help prevent a person from feeling the
bites. In general the bites are usually:
- Red, often with a red spot in the middle
- Arranged in a row or in a cluster
- Located on face, neck, arms or hands (exposed skin at night)
The two photos below show examples of bite marks:
Some people have no reaction at all to the bites, while others can have an allergic
reaction including blisters or hives. If the bite marks are scratched, the areas can
become infected. The CDC states that typically no treatment is needed for the bites
but a steroid cream or an antihistamine can be used. If blisters are seen or
infection is suspected then it is best to contact a medical professional.
How do I treat and remove Bed Bugs from my home?
Getting rid of Bed Bugs is not an easy process. Treatment can require a multi-targeted
approach to eliminate all life stages of the bed bug, with eggs being the most challenging to kill. For severe infestations, it is strongly recommended to contact a professional pest control company with experience in Bed Bugs elimination. When treating a room or area of the house, keep people and pets out of the area until complete.
Reduce clutter and eliminate their habitats. A good cleaning is the first
step in eliminating the bugs. Discard all excess magazines, papers, newspapers,
etc. that might be hiding places for the bugs. In some cases, heavily
infested items will need to be disposed of.
- Remove and wash all linens:
Clothes, bedding (all linens including sheets, mattress covers, pillows,
bedspreads, etc), long curtains, stuffed animals and personal belongings that can
be washed should be placed in a plastic garbage bag and sealed in the room. Empty
the contents of the bag into the washer and wash in hot water then dry on the
highest setting for at least 30 minutes to an hour. Temperatures need to reach
113F minimum. Once the linen is heat treated and clean, it is recommended to
place in a new plastic zip type bag to keep protected until all bugs have been
removed from dwelling.
For items that cannot be washed but small in size can be placed in a plastic bag
and left in the freezer at 0F for at least 4 days.
- Vacuum the area:
Vacuum the infested areas thoroughly including the mattress, box spring, furniture
(paying special attention to the backs of headboards) and all cracks/crevices around
the room. If the vacuum has a bag, enclose the bag tightly upon removal and dispose
of in the outside garbage. If the vacuum has a canister, empty into a tightly
sealed bag and dispose of in an outside container. Clean and disinfect the
canister. Steam is another effective treatment for Bed Bugs. A hand steamer can be
used on the mattress to kill eggs in seams and other hard to reach areas.
- Mattress Covers:
A mattress cover that is specifically designed to help with Bed Bugs can be used
on mattresses and box springs. This will trap and starve any bugs or eggs in the
mattress and prevent future bugs from using your mattress as a harborage area.
- Place a receptor under legs of bed:
Place an empty plastic container (Tupperware type) under the legs of the bed and
move it at least six inches away from the wall. Baby powder or diatomaceous earth can
be added to the container to kill any bugs that enter it. This will help you monitor
the infestation and the effectiveness of the treatment.
- Treat the room:
There are over 300 insecticide products registered with the EPA for use in treating
Bed Bugs. The EPA has a site that list these products for you to choose
which best meets your needs. Always follow the instructions on the labels and do
not use a chemical where it is not recommended for use. It may take several
treatments to completely kill all life stages of the bugs.
Diatomaceous earth (fossil dust) is a natural pesticide that can be used in the
treatment for Bed Bugs. Place a small amount of the dust around the bed and floor board.
A small brush can be used to apply the dust on the furniture. As the bugs crawl across
the dust it attaches to their body and kills them. Make sure to follow safety
recommendations on the product packaging and wear a mask when applying this product.
Sticky boards or traps can be placed around the bed or sleeping area to monitor
Professional pest management companies may be more effective in eliminating the
pest in a severe infestation or in reoccurring infestations. Some companies use heat
to treat the room which is very effective against all life stages of the bugs and
eggs. The advantage is that there are no chemicals and considered 100 percent effective.
How do I prevent Bed Bugs in my home?
The best way to prevent an infestation is to perform regular inspections for their
signs. Bed Bugs are excellent hitch hikers and excellent hiders! Upon checking into
a hotel room, inspect the room and beds for signs such as blood spots, live pest
and exoskeletons. Be cautious of used furniture, mattresses and clothing which
can harbor bugs or eggs. It is recommended not to pick up furniture on the
curbside-they are usually there for a reason. If you do bring in used items,
thoroughly inspect them for signs of Bed Bugs.
How do I avoid Bed Bugs when traveling?
When you check into a hotel, ask the staff at the front desk if any rooms have been
treated for Bed Bugs and avoid these areas. Upon entry to the room, inspect the room
and bed before unpacking personal items. Remember that Bed Bugs hide during the day,
so it is best to inspect for the signs of Bed Bugs. Use luggage racks in the room
instead of placing bags on the floor. In the morning, look for signs of dot like stains
on the mattress and sheets. This is a sign that Bed Bugs were present and excreted after
a blood meal. If you find any signs, inform the hotel staff immediately and request to
change rooms. Be cautious not to carry any bugs with you when you change rooms or leave
the hotel. Upon returning home, always inspect luggage and wash all clothes immediately.
Common myths about Bed Bugs
Myth: You cannot see a bed bug.
Truth: All stages of the bed bug are visible with the naked eye.
Myth: Bed Bugs are associated with filth.
Truth: Not always, however having excess clutter around the home
can provide harborage areas and make it difficult to clean.
Myth: Using a bug fogger will eliminate the bugs.
Truth: Bed Bugs hide during the day, foggers will not contact
the bugs in hiding and therefore are not considered effective.
References for the information found on this page and resources to find more
information can be obtained from:
North Carolina Department of Agriculture
Environmental Protection Agency
Center for Disease Control