|Most householders of this generation
have never seen a bed bug. Until recently, they also were a rarity among pest control professionals. Bed bug
infestations were common in the United States before World War II. But with
improvements in hygiene, and especially the widespread use of DDT during the
1940s and '50s, the bugs all but vanished. The pests remained prevalent, though,
in other regions of the world including Asia, Africa, Central/South America and
Europe. In recent years, bed bugs have also made a comeback in the U.S. They are
increasingly being encountered in homes, apartments, hotels, motels,
dormitories, shelters and modes of transport. International travel and
immigration have undoubtedly contributed to the resurgence of bed bugs in this
country. Changes in modern pest control practice - and less effective bed bug
pesticides - are other factors suspected for the recurrence.
Description and Habits
Bed bugs are small, brownish, flattened insects that feed solely on the blood of
Humans and animals. The common bed bug, Cimex lectularius, is the species most
adapted to living with humans. It has done so since ancient times. Bed bugs are
mentioned, for example, in medieval European texts and in classical Greek
writings back to the time of Aristotle. Other bed bug species prefer to feed on
wild hosts, especially bats and birds.
Adult bed bugs are about 1/4 inch long and reddish brown, with oval,
flattened bodies. They are sometimes mistaken for ticks or cockroaches. The
immature nymphs resemble the adults, but are smaller and somewhat lighter in
color. Bed bugs do not fly, but can move quickly over floors, walls, ceilings
and other surfaces. Female bed bugs lay their eggs in secluded areas, depositing
up to five a day and 500 during a lifetime. The eggs are tiny, whitish, and hard
to see without magnification (individual eggs are about the size of a dust
spec). When first laid, the eggs are sticky, causing them to adhere to
substrates. Newly hatched nymphs are no bigger than a pinhead. As they grow,
they molt (shed their skin) five times before reaching maturity. A blood meal is
needed between each successive molt. Under favorable conditions (70 - 90° F),
the bugs can complete development in as little as a month, producing three or
more generations per year. Cool temperatures or limited access to a blood meal
extends the development time. Bed bugs are very resilient. Nymphs can survive months without
feeding and the adults for more than a year. Infestations therefore are unlikely
to diminish by leaving premises unoccupied. Although bed bugs prefers feeding on
humans, it will also bite other warm-blooded animals, including pets.
Bed bugs are active mainly at night. During the daytime, they prefer to hide
close to where people sleep. Their flattened bodies enable them to fit into bed
frames, and headboards. Bed bugs do not have nests like ants or bees, but do
tend to congregate in habitual hiding places. Characteristically these areas are
marked by dark spotting and staining, which is the dried excrement of the bugs.
Also present will be eggs and eggshells, molted skins of maturing nymphs, and
the bugs themselves. Another likely sign of bed bugs is rusty or reddish spots
of blood on bed sheets, mattresses, or walls. Heavy infestations may have a
musty or "buggy" smell, but the odor is seldom apparent and should not be relied
upon for detection.
Bed bugs prefer to hide close to where they feed. However if necessary, they
will crawl several feet to obtain a blood meal. Initial infestations tend to be
around beds, but the bugs eventually may become scattered throughout a room,
occupying any crevice or protected location. They also can spread to adjacent
rooms or apartments.
Bites and Concerns
Bed bugs usually bite people at night while they are sleeping. They feed by
piercing the skin with an elongated beak through which they withdraw blood.
Engorgement takes about three to 10 minutes, yet the person seldom knows they
are being bitten. Symptoms thereafter vary with the individual. Many people
develop an itchy red welt or localized swelling, which sometimes appears a day
or so after the bite. Others have little or no reaction. Unlike fleabites, which
occur mainly around the ankles, bed bugs feed on any bare skin exposed while
sleeping (face, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, etc.). The welts and itching are
often attributed to other causes such as mosquitoes. For these reasons,
infestations may go a long time unnoticed, and can become quite large before
being detected. The possibility of bed bugs increases if the affected individual
has been traveling, or had acquired used beds or furnishings before symptoms
started to appear. Bed bugs also are suspect if you wake up with itchy bites you
did not have when you went to sleep. Conversely, it is important to recognize
that not all bites or bite-like reactions are due to bed bugs. Confirmation
requires finding and identifying the bugs themselves, which often requires the
help of a professional.
A common concern with bed bugs is whether they transmit diseases.
Although bed bugs can harbor pathogens in their bodies, transmission to
humans is highly unlikely. For this reason, they are not considered a serious
disease threat. Their medical significance is mainly limited to the itching and
inflammation from their bites. Antihistamines and corticosteroids may be
prescribed to reduce allergic reactions, and antiseptic or antibiotic ointments
to prevent infection. Infestations also may cause anxiety, embarrassment, and
loss of sleep.
How Infestations Originate
It often seems that bed bugs arise from nowhere. The bugs are efficient
hitchhikers and are usually transported in on luggage, clothing, beds,
furniture, etc. Outbreaks can often be traced to travel, especially in
countries or cities where bed bugs are common. This is a particular
problem for hotels, motels, and apartments, where turnover of occupants is
constant. Bed bugs are small, cryptic and agile, escaping detection after
crawling into suitcases, boxes, and belongings. The eggs are almost impossible
to see when laid on most surfaces. Use of secondhand beds, couches, and
furniture is another way that the bugs are transported into previously
non-infested dwellings. Once bed bugs are introduced, they often spread room to
room throughout a building. Unlike cockroaches that feed on filth, the level of
cleanliness has little to do with most bed bug infestations. Pristine homes,
hotels, and apartments have plenty of hiding places and an abundance of
warm-blooded hosts. Thus, they are almost as vulnerable to infestation as are
places of squalor.
When bed bug-like insects are found, it's important to consider whether
bats, swallows, chimney swifts, pigeons, or other wild hosts are involved.
Although similar in appearance, bed bug species that normally feed on bats and
birds can be differentiated from those that prefer humans. Entomologists and
knowledgeable pest control firms can make this determination.
Bed bugs are challenging pests to control. They hide in many tiny places, so
inspections and treatments must be very thorough. In most cases, it will be
prudent to enlist the services of a professional pest control firm.
Experienced companies know where to look for bed bugs, and have an
assortment of management tools at their disposal. Owners and occupants will need
to assist the professional in important ways. Affording access for inspection
and treatment is essential, and excess clutter should be removed. In some cases,
infested mattresses and box springs will need to be discarded. Since bed bugs
can disperse throughout a building, it also may be necessary to inspect
adjoining rooms and apartments.
Bed bugs often congregate along seams of mattresses and box springs.
Blackish spots are excrement. Bed bugs can live in almost any crevice or
protected location. The most common place to find them is the bed. Bed bugs
often hide within seams, tufts, and crevices of the mattress, box spring, bed
frame and headboard.
A thorough inspection requires dismantling the bed and
standing the components on edge so that upper and lower surfaces can be
examined. Things to look for are the bugs themselves, and the light-brown,
molted skins of the nymphs. Dark spots of dried bed bug excrement are often
present along mattress seams or wherever the bugs have resided. Box springs
afford many places for bed bugs to hide, especially underneath where the fabric
is stapled to the wooden frame. Oftentimes the underlying dust cover must be
removed to gain access for inspection and possible treatment. Successful
treatment of mattresses and box springs is difficult, however, and infested
components may need to be discarded. Cracks and crevices of bed frames should be
examined, especially if the frame is wood. (Bed bugs have an affinity for wood
and fabric more so than metal or plastic). Headboards secured to walls should
also be removed and inspected. In hotels and motels, the area behind the
headboard is often the first place that the bugs become established. Bed bugs
also hide among items stored under beds. Many areas besides beds, however, can
harbor bed bugs.
Upholstered chairs and sofas should be checked carefully, including seams,
tufts, skirts, and crevices. Sofas can be major bed bug hotspots, especially
when used for sleeping. Nightstands and dressers should be emptied and examined
inside and out, then tipped over to inspect the woodwork underneath. Oftentimes,
the bugs will be hiding in cracks, corners, and recesses. Bed bugs often reside
Other common places to find bed bugs include: along and under the edge of
wall-to-wall carpeting (especially behind beds and furniture); cracks in wood
molding; ceiling-wall junctures; behind wall-mounts, picture frames, switch
plates and outlets; under loose wallpaper; amongst clothing stored in closets;
and inside clocks, phones, televisions and smoke detectors.
The challenge is to find and treat all places where bugs and eggs may be
present. Bed bugs tend to congregate in certain areas, but it is common to find
an individual or some eggs scattered here and there. Persistence and a bright
flashlight are requisites for success. Inspectors sometimes also inject a
pyrethrum-based, "flushing agent" into crevices to help reveal where bugs may be
hiding. A thorough treatment of a home, hotel, or apartment may take up to
Bed bugs were treated years ago by wholesale spraying of beds, floors,
walls, furniture, etc. with DDT. This practice is no longer permitted.
Thoroughness is still very important, but treatments today are generally
more targeted and judicious. Inspections and treatments must be very
thorough. It often takes hours to properly inspect and treat a bed bug
infestation, and follow-up visits are usually required.
As mentioned earlier, owners and occupants have important pre-treatment
responsibilities. Reducing clutter is a necessity. Belongings strewn about rooms
afford many places for bed bugs to hide, and impedes inspection and treatment.
Infested bedding and garments will need to be bagged and laundered (120°F
minimum), or discarded since these items cannot be treated with insecticides.
Items that cannot be laundered can sometimes be de-infested by heating for
several minutes in a clothes dryer. Other items can be wrapped in plastic and
placed in a hot, sunny location for at least a few days (the 120°F minimum
target temperature should be monitored in the centermost location with a
thermometer). Bedbugs also succumb to cold temperatures below 32° F, but the
chilling period must be maintained for at least two weeks. Attempts to rid an
entire home or apartment of bed bugs by raising or lowering the thermostat will
be entirely unsuccessful. Most housecleaning measures are of little benefit in
bed bug management.
Site-specific vacuuming, however, can help remove some of the bugs before
treatment with insecticides. Bed bugs (especially the eggs) can be difficult to
dislodge. Optimum results will be achieved by moving and scraping the end of the
suction wand along infested areas such as seams, tufts and edges of bedding, and
the perimeter edge of wall-to-wall carpets. Afterward, dispose of the vacuum
contents in a sealed trash bag. Steam cleaning of carpets maybe helpful for
killing bugs and eggs that vacuuming may have missed.
While the former measures are helpful, insecticides are important for bed bug
elimination. Pest control professionals treat using a variety of low-odor
sprays, dusts, and aerosols. (Baits designed to control ants and cockroaches are
ineffective). Application entails treating all areas where the bugs are
discovered, or tend to crawl or hide. Some bed bug species are parasites of bats
or birds, and may bite people if the wild hosts are no longer available. If bat
bugs or bird bugs are involved, roosting and nesting sites should also be
treated and the animals excluded from the building.
Do I Have to Throw Out the Bed?
Eliminating bed bugs from beds can be a challenge. If there are holes or
tears in the fabric, the bugs and eggs may be inside, as well as outside.
There also are restrictions on how beds can be treated with insecticides.
For these reasons, pest control firms often recommend that beds be
discarded, especially when heavily infested or in poor condition.
bed stays or goes, encasing both the mattress and boxspring is helpful if bugs
are still present. Zippered encasements -- available at bedding and allergy
supply stores -- deny bed bugs access to inner, hidden areas and entrap any bugs
already inside. Some pest control firms treat seams, tufts, and crevices of bed
components, but they will not spray the entire mattress surface, bed sheets,
blankets, or clothing.
Vacuuming (discussed previously) may further help to
remove bugs and eggs from mattresses and box springs that cannot be discarded.
Some pest control firms also treat beds with portable steam machines. The
technique can be useful, but affords no residual protection and does not kill
bugs or eggs hidden inside the box spring or mattress. Fumigation is another way
to de-infest beds and hard-to-treat items, but the procedure is not always
available. In extreme cases, entire buildings have been fumigated for bed bugs.
The procedure is costly though, and involves covering the building in a tarp and
injecting a lethal gas.
Discarded beds and couches might be infested and should be left alone.
The cryptic, mobile nature of bed bugs facilitates their dispersal.
Householders should be wary of acquiring used furnishings, especially beds and
couches. Curbside items should definitely be avoided, and secondhand items
should be examined closely before being brought into the home.
Concerned travelers may want to check their bed for telltale signs of the bugs
-- a common practice years ago. This would entail examining the bed sheets and
upper and lower seams of the mattress. Some professionals also suggest removal
and examination behind the headboard, a frequent hiding place for the bugs in
hotel rooms. If bed bugs are detected, travelers can request another room.
Concerned travelers may also want to elevate suitcases off the floor (e.g. on a
luggage stand). Inspecting or vacuuming luggage upon arriving home is less
useful since it is hard to detect bed bugs inside a suitcase.
Although incidence of bed bugs in the United States is increasing, they
remain rare in comparison to most other household pests. Familiarity can help to
avoid infestation, or at least prompt earlier intervention by a professional.
Haley Pest Control offers Pest Control and Bed Bug Control in Lawrence, KS and
in Topeka, Kansas, Baldwin, Eudora, Overland Park, Olathe, Lenexa, Leawood,
Shawnee Mission, Stanley, Ottawa, Kansas City, Basehor, Linwood, Tonganoxie,
Mclouth, and Perry-Lecompton. We offer Pest Management and Exterminator services
for the following counties: Douglas, Johnson, Jefferson, Franklin, Shawnee,
Wyandotte and Leavenworth, KS.