Catching a bed bug infestation while it is localized to a small area is imperative -- these pests will spread throughout an entire building and wreak havoc on your house, health and wallet. Bed bugs will feed on birds and mammals but appear to prefer human blood when presented with the choice. [start previewing here].
Bites on Your Body
A typical sign of bed bug infestation is a cluster of about three to five small bites that appear to form a zig-zag pattern on your skin and may not show up for days or even weeks (2). Biting usually lasts three to ten minutes and is achieved using a long beak for blood extraction. Although these bites rarely require medical attention or become infected, they can form unpleasantly itchy welts that may cause you to lose sleep (2). Due to the infinitesimal size of these creatures, bite marks are often confused with nibbles from other insects or spiders (2). Bites may also be mistaken for common skin conditions that produce itchy rashes. Familiarizing yourself with bite pattern and other signs of invasion is critical in saving you from major trouble (2).
Checking for Infestation
If you observe specks of what appear to be blood, rust or tar on upholstered furniture, mattresses, bedding or mattress pads, you may have the start of a bed bug problem. (1, 2). Bed bugs shed an outer shell in five of six stages in their life cycle, so watch for reddish-brown or yellow shells in couch seams, throughout your mattress and box spring and on any upholstered furniture (1, 2, 3, 4). Small blackish dots of excrement may be seen in similar areas. Females lay white, seed-sized eggs in any secluded cracks they can find (2). Once your home or office is heavily infested, it is time to check electrical outlets, appliances, curtains, loose wall paper, framed pictures and between drawer and wall joints (1).
Bed bugs communicate to one another by secreting chemical signals that have a musty, sweet odor (2). According to Michael F. Potter, an expert entomologist at the University of Kentucky, this scent is not easily detected and shouldn't be relied upon for early detection -- if you are able to smell them, you are already way in over your head and infestation has become extreme. Keeping an eye out for physical clues -- shells, eggs, dark spots -- will help you determine the quickest and most effective course of action (1, 2, 3).
Statistics and Bed Bugs
Until recently, the incidence and prevalence of bed bug invasion in the United States had largely improved after World War II to the credit of improved hygiene practices and use of dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) (3). The last decade has seen a resurgence of infestation partly due to international travel, immigration, changes in extermination protocol and use of different insecticides (3, 4). According to the 2011 Bugs without Borders Survey, between 2010 and 2011, the number of cases rose by 15 percent or more in college dorms, nursing homes, offices, hospitals and public transport (5). Hotels and movie theaters saw an increase of 12 to 13 percent (5).
Extermination and Warnings
While 25 percent of people reporting infestation attempt to eradicate bed bugs on their own, pest control providers stress that this is not a problem you can handle alone (5). Never spray pesticides on mattresses, couches or areas where children and pets reside (7). When you come home from traveling, take special care to wash clothing and bedding on high heat and never bring box springs, mattresses, bed frames, or upholstered furniture inside your house. (3, 7). If you notice the warning signs of bed bugs or suspect you have been bitten, contact professional pest control specialists and make an appointment with a licensed dermatologist. Bed bugs are an inconvenient problem that is better dealt with sooner than later.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: How to Find Bed Bugs
- American Academy of Dermatology
- University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment: Bed Bugs
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Parasites – Bed Bugs
- National Pest Management Association: 2011 Bugs Without Borders Survey: New Data Shows Bed Bug Pandemic Is Growing
- National Pest Management Association: Bed Bug Information
- New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services: Bed Bug Fact Sheet
- Biology and Management of Bed Bugs