Tiny Bed Bugs Creating Gigantic Infestations: How Can You Protect Your Family?
By Catherine Morgan on September 23, 2010
BlogHer Original Post
Bed bugs aren't just coming to a bed or hotel near you, these sneaky buggers are getting everywhere. From the most exclusive hotel rooms, to the item you just bought on eBay. And because these things are masters at the art of concealing themselves in darkness, there is virtually no place they can't get to. Even something that appears to be clean and sanitized can be harboring bed bugs in the tiniest crevice. They can travel by bus, train, plane, or automobile. They can hitch a ride on our clothes, luggage, shoes, or handbag. They can be sitting with you at the movie theater, cruising with you on a ship, or even laying with you in a hospital bed.
Contrary to what you may believe, bed bugs do not discriminate between the rich and the poor, or the neat and the messy -- We are all equally vulnerable to these infestations. What is even more scary is that these bugs are becoming more and more immune to the chemicals used to kill them. The only good thing we know about bed bugs is they don't seem to carry any diseases. But that doesn't change the fact that they are disgusting, unwanted, blood-sucking parasites that attack when we are at our most vulnerable, asleep.
Warning: If you're already a little sicked-out by this post, you may want to skip this video.
There are two useful early warning signs of a bedbug problem: bites and blood spots. Unfortunately, while itchy bug bites may draw attention to the problem, they aren't the best indicator. To begin with, between 30% and 50% of people aren't allergic to bedbug bites, and they often remain blissfully unaware that they've even been bitten. Of the remaining 50% to 70%, most will only show small welts that are indistinguishable from mosquito bites. In fact, the main difference between mosquito and bedbug bites is that the little redcoats often leave a line of two or three bites -- a formation that some experts refer to as "breakfast, lunch and dinner."
An even better indication that the critters have arrived is brown or black spots on bedding. Bedbugs often defecate while eating, leaving behind smears of partially digested blood. Later, when they return to their lairs, they excrete even more, depositing telltale collections of dark spots. If either dark spots or the three-bite formation show up, chances are good that bedbugs are nearby.
A Joint Statement on Bed Bug Control in the United States from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) was issued in August. Although the exact cause of the resurgence is not known, according to the CDC:
"Experts suspect the resurgence is associated with increased resistance of bed bugs to available pesticides, greater international and domestic travel, lack of knowledge regarding control of bed bugs due to their prolonged absence, and the continuing decline or elimination of effective vector/pest control programs at state and local public health agencies."
Recently, I spoke to someone in the extermination business to get a better sense of the bed bug problem. Here are a few surprising things he told me ...
- Bed bugs are not so tiny that we couldn't see them (they are actually about 1/4 inch long), we just don't see them because they are that good at staying hidden.
- When we are in our deepest REM sleep and in the dark of night, the bed bugs know exactly were to find us by sensing the CO2 we exhale.
- Bed bugs don't just live in the bed sheets or mattress, they can also live in the wood bed frames, the headboards, or even the bedside furniture. They can also live behind pictures, switch plates, baseboards, and any crack or crevice.
- Bed bugs like to feed about once a week on human blood, but they can go months (even up to a year) without feeding, and still live.
- Bed bugs are one of the only bugs that can survive the high altitudes of flying, so they can easily go from one piece of luggage to another, or be stowing away in your seat in first class (or coach).
- Because bed bugs have become so resistant to standard treatments, most qualified exterminators will treat infestations using three different types of insecticides over the course of a two-week treatment period.
- In the case of hotels, motels or businesses, much more than the affected area needs to be treated in order to prevent bed bugs from just moving from one room to another.
His recommendations to you and me ...
1. If you suspect you have bed bugs, have your home inspected by a qualified exterminator as soon as possible.
2. Be careful when you buy anything from a secondhand shop. Before bringing something home, make sure it is totally clean and free from any signs of bed bugs.
3. If you find signs of bed bugs in your sheets or clothes, don't wash them first. It's more effective to put the sheets and clothes in the dryer first (on the highest heat setting). After the dryer, then wash them in hot water and dry them again on the highest heat setting. And don't just put them back on the bed (seal them in plastic bags) -- most likely the bed, room, and furniture need to be treated by a professional exterminator.
4. Don't assume that if you are staying in a fancy hotel you are safe from bed bugs.
5. When traveling, check the room you are staying in before you unpack and settle in. Examine the bedsheets at the bottom of the mattress and look for black or brown dirt stains (basically the bug excrement). Then use a flashlight to examine the mattress, headboard, and furniture for bed bugs, and if you see any loose wallpaper check in those crevices too.
6. If you have been traveling and suspect your luggage may have come in contact with bed bugs, don't panic. One way to prevent bringing them into your home is to leave the luggage in your hot car until the next day. However, this only works during the summer or if you are living in a warm climate -- the temperature inside of your car would need to reach 130 degrees for this to be effective.
Here are some pictures of bed bugs and bed bug bites...
What are your thoughts on bed bugs? Have you had problems with bed bugs, or know of anyone who has? Are you worried about them? Let us know your thoughts in comments.
Contributing Editor Catherine Morgan
Also at Catherine-Morgan.com