How Are Bed Bugs Causes

What Attracts Bedbugs to Human Environments?

  • B.A., Political Science, Rutgers University

Once considered a pest of the past, bedbugs now make regular headlines as they infest homes, hotels, and dormitories worldwide. As bedbugs spread, more people worry about them and want to know what causes a bedbug infestation.

Though it might seem as if bedbug infestations are on the rise, historical context indicates that bedbugs and other bloodsucking parasites have been associated with humans for thousands of years. Throughout that history, people have endured them feeding on their blood. Bedbugs all but disappeared when people started using DDT and other pesticides to keep insects out of their homes. Although news headlines suggest bedbugs are conquering the world, the reality is that bedbug infestations are still at historically low numbers.

Why are they called bedbugs? Once they settle into your home, they congregate where you spend a lot of sedentary time: chairs, couches, and especially beds. They are attracted to you by the carbon dioxide in the air you breathe out, and you do a lot of breathing over the hours you’re in bed. Then they feed on your blood.

Bedbugs Don’t Care If You’re Clean or Dirty

Contrary to popular belief, there is no association between bedbugs and filth. They feed on human and animal blood, and as long as a source of blood is available to them, they will happily take up residence in even the most pristine home.

Being poor doesn’t put you at greater risk for bedbugs, and having wealth doesn’t immunize you from a bedbug infestation. Although poverty doesn’t cause bedbugs, impoverished communities may lack the resources needed to control infestations, making them more persistent and pervasive in such areas.

Bedbugs Are Excellent Hitchhikers

For bedbugs to infest your home, they have to hitch a ride on someone or something. They don’t usually stay on their human hosts after feeding, but they might hide in clothing and inadvertently go along for the ride to a new location. Most often, bedbugs travel in luggage after someone has stayed in an infested hotel room. Bedbugs may even infest theaters and other public spaces and spread to new locations via purses, backpacks, coats, or hats.

Bedbugs Go Where the Action Is

Since bedbugs travel by hitchhiking, infestations are more common in places with high rates of turnover in the human population: apartment buildings, dormitories, homeless shelters, hotels and motels, and military barracks. Any time you have a lot of people coming and going, there’s an increased risk that someone will carry a few bedbugs into the building. In general, owners of single-family homes have a lower risk of getting bedbugs.

Bedbugs Hide in Clutter

Once in your home, bedbugs scurry quickly to select a new hiding place; in beds and other furniture, behind baseboards, under wallpaper, or inside switch plates. Then it’s just a matter of time before they begin multiplying. A single female may arrive at your doorstep already carrying enough eggs to produce hundreds of offspring. While filth does not benefit bedbugs, clutter does. The more cluttered your home is, the more hiding places there are for bedbugs and the harder it will be to get rid of them.

Bedbugs

Bedbugs are small insects that often live on furniture or bedding. Their bites can be itchy, but do not usually cause other health problems.

Check if it’s bedbugs

Jeff March / Alamy Stock Photo

Bedbugs can hide in many places, including on bed frames, mattresses, clothing, furniture, behind pictures and under loose wallpaper.

Signs of bedbugs include:

  • bites – often on areas exposed while sleeping, like the face, neck and arms
  • spots of blood on your bedding – from the bites or from squashing a bedbug
  • small brown spots on bedding or furniture (bedbug poo)

Bedbug bites can be red and itchy. They’re often in a line or cluster.

Otto Pleska / Alamy Stock Photo

Some people have a reaction to the bites. They can be very itchy and there may be painful swelling.

How you can treat bedbug bites

Bedbug bites usually clear up on their own in a week or so.

Things you can do include:

  • putting something cool, like a clean, damp cloth, on the affected area to help with the itching and any swelling
  • keeping the affected area clean
  • not scratching the bites to avoid getting an infection

You can ask a pharmacist about:

  • using a mild steroid cream like hydrocortisone cream to ease bedbug bites (children under 10 and pregnant women should get advice from a doctor before using hydrocortisone cream)
  • antihistamines – these may help if the bites are very itchy and you’re unable to sleep

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • the bites are still very painful, swollen or itchy after trying treatments from a pharmacist
  • the redness around the bites is spreading

You may have an infection and need treatment with antibiotics.

Coronavirus update: how to contact a GP

It’s still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

How to get rid of bedbugs

contact your local council or pest control service – it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get rid of bedbugs yourself because they can be resistant to some insecticides

wash affected bedding and clothing – use a hot wash (60C) or tumble dry on a hot setting for at least 30 minutes

put affected clothing and bedding in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer (-16C) for 4 days (alternative to hot washing)

clean and vacuum regularly – bedbugs are found in both clean and dirty places, but regular cleaning will help you spot them early

do not keep clutter around your bed

do not bring secondhand furniture indoors without carefully checking it first

do not take luggage or clothing indoors without checking it carefully if you have come from somewhere where you know there were bedbugs

Page last reviewed: 21 January 2019
Next review due: 21 January 2022

What Causes Bed Bugs

Bed bugs often appear even in new apartments that are equipped with the all modern conveniences. Certainly, the owners of clean houses are puzzled about why parasites have inhabited their apartment. Moreover, how have they penetrated into their dwelling? There are several causes of bed bugs appearance in the apartment.

The thing is that it does not matter how carefully cleanliness is maintained. The main and the only target of bed bugs is a human being (or sometimes small-sized animals). Thus, they can settle in the places where people spend nighttime.

To avoid bed bugs penetration into the house you should always stay alert and monitor the subtle changes that happen in the apartment. Also, from time to time it is useful to take prophylactic measures and apply insecticide on the perimeter of the possible entry points of insects. It is also recommended to communicate with your neighbors and pay attention to the condition of their apartments.

Additionally, bed bugs can come to your house by chance. In this case, it depends on the owner’s wish to mind all the possible ways of their penetration. Therefore, it is important to understand what causes bed bugs appearance to be able to protect yourself from these parasites when needed.

What Causes Bed Bugs in an Apartment?

It is difficult to answer the question about where bed bugs come from. It depends on the flat location, the presence of parasites at neighbors’ apartments, or the owners’ recent trips by train or someone else’s car. There are many ways of how these insects penetrate into the house; thus, bed bugs causes may be different.

  • In most cases, bugs come from neighboring premises. It is especially typical for old buildings. Insects can crawl through a damaged wall, cracks or the outer wall of the house. Also, bed bugs often come through ventilation shafts. They can survive without food for quite a long time. Thus, long travels are not a problem for them. Insects’ body shape and small size facilitate their penetration into small holes and cracks. If a house is located in the countryside, bed bugs can often come to people from small-sized farm animals. In fact, the thick skin of a rabbit or a goat is not so attractive to these blood-sucking insects as the human one.
  • You can “catch” a bed bug and transfer it to your apartment having spent a night outside your house. Hotels, friends’ apartments, as well as trains or railway stations are places where you can get these parasites. Bed bugs are small in size. Thus, even if an insect does not have time to hide when a person gets up and dresses, the bug’s presence will be unnoticeable on the cloth.
  • One more cause of bed bugs penetration is buying appliances. Bed bugs like to hide in the places that are protected from bright daylight and have a source of heat. Parasites often get into working system units. If such a unit is moved to be repaired or to a new apartment, bed bugs will quickly spread through a new place.
  • Another way of getting bed bugs is bringing them to the house on clothes. Parasites cannot bite through clothing, but they can hide in it. It is not always possible to notice the bloodsucker due to its tiny size. Therefore, it is very likely to bring one or more insect home, having visited an apartment inhabited by them. Also, another cause of bed bugs penetration can be a purchase of clothes infested by these parasites.
  • Furniture is one of the most common bed bugs causes. New pieces of furniture brought from the store are rarely infested, as parasites simply have nothing to eat there. However, exceptions may occur. In most cases, bed bugs can dwell in the furniture that was previously used. Parasites spread through its surface and cracks. It is necessary to check the furniture very carefully before buying it, especially the inside part of it.
  • Bed bugs can live on bats, birds, hamsters and rats if they have not very long and thick hair. These insects do not drink blood of cats or dogs because their skin is too thick for these parasites. For this reason, they prefer cattle.
  • Guests may bring bed bugs to the apartment too. People who live in the infested premises may bring these insects on their clothes. It happens that after flat renovation owners may reveal bugs “left” by workers. These parasites are very fond of the large crowds of people, so they often live in construction trailers and hostels. If hired workers live in such conditions, it is very likely that they will bring bed bugs to their workplace.

What Causes Bed Bugs in Your Home ?

If you wake up in the middle of the nigh scratching itchy arms and legs, you may have a bed bug infestation. These small, reddish-brown bloodsucking pests can cause a number of health issues if they are not eliminated quickly.

A single bug is no larger than an apple seed. This is why you may not be able to detect them till it is too late. They can remain hidden between cracks, crevices, box springs, the headboard, and any furniture that is near your bed.

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How Do Bed Bugs Get In Your Home?

These pests don’t materialize out of thin air and land on your bed. Bed bugs are notorious hitch hikers – they can get on you and you won’t even realize they are there till they multiply on your bed. Here are some common places where these bloodsuckers can come from:

  • Office buildings.
  • Daycare centers
  • Schools
  • Libraries
  • Nursing homes
  • Police station
  • The theatre
  • Bus depots (from seats)

In fact, bed bugs can also transfer from one person to the next so you aren’t safe even if you avoid the aforementioned locations.

1. Doesn’t Matter If You Are Clean

What causes bed bugs to come? Let’s get one thing straight – no matter how clean you are, you are still susceptible to an infestation from these pesky insects. Their main diet is human and animal blood and they can live almost any place that has a ready supply of either of these. So no matter how pristine your home is and even if you don’t have pets, you may have these bugs.

Even though bed bugs prefer to remain hidden, they venture out when they sense a suitable source of food nearby. These are quite caution though which is why they come out in the middle of the night. Plus, there is a reason why you don’t feel them biting you when you are asleep. When they bite, they inject a weak anesthetic into their host so that they can eat their fill without being noticed.

2. They Are Master Hitchhikers

As mentioned before, for bed bugs to get in your home, they have to hitch a ride on you or anything you are carrying. Normally, they don’t remain on a host after they have fed their fill but they may crawl onto them and ride to a new location.

Needless to say travelers are the ones who are the most susceptible to this. If you stay in a hotel that has a bed bug problem, you will probably take some home with you on your luggage, purse, backpack and coat.

3. They Prefer High-Activity Areas

Since bed bugs travel from one feeding ground to the next by hitching a ride on unsuspecting people, they are usually found in populated areas. This includes shelters, dorms, hotels, apartments, etc.

In other words, if you have a lot of guests coming over for dinner or a party, chances are at least one of them are hiding pesky uninvited guests so to speak. People who live in single family residences are at a lower risk.

4. They Love Clutter

Once bed bugs get in your home, they immediately start searching for hiding places. This can be anything from baseboards and wallpaper to your sheets, under switch plates and especially clutter. This spells bad news for hoarders – the more things you have lying around your home, the harder it will be for you to get rid of them.

Once they find a decent hidey hole, they spare no time multiplying and they do this quite fast. In fact, a single female can lay over hundreds of eggs at a time. With a ready food source and isolation, it can produce eggs as many times as it needs.

5. They Can Be Found In Second Hand Furniture

If you prefer to buy furniture second hand, chances are you will get more than you bargained for. If it comes from a home that is infested with bed bugs, it will definitely have a few that can infest your home as well. This also includes rented furniture which is not deep cleaned and inspected for pests after it is returned.

Unfortunately, isolating an infested piece of furniture may not resolve the problem. Bed bugs can survive for months without feeding after all.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes bed bugs and how to get rid of them?

To summarize, bed bugs are caused by clutter, infested furniture and travel. Here are some ways that you can prevent an infestation and/or get rid of them:

  • Be diligent when you are traveling. When you are staying at a hotel, place your bag on your suitcase, not on the floor or the bed. Plus, keep it away from the furniture and the walls.
  • Before purchasing new or used furniture, examine it for bed bugs by lifting the seams, cushions and tufts.
  • Vacuum your home frequently
  • Cover all power outlets. Bed bugs hide in the holes during extermination and come out when the coast is clear.
  • Store clothing in vacuum sealed bags while traveling. This will prevent these pests from hitching a ride on you all the way back to your home.

How do I know that my home has bed bugs?

  • You see small, red bumps on your skin that itch when you get up in the morning.
  • You see blood stains on the sheets.
  • You see black droppings on furniture, in crevices, in your bed and in cracks.
  • You notice a musty odor in your home
  • You see dark spots on the walls.
  • You see bed bug shells (white, husk-like specks) on your mattress.
  • You see small, white spots in the furniture.

I have a bed bug problem. How do I control it?

  • Get rid of clutter and clean up your home.
  • Move the bed well away from the furniture before treating it.
  • Wash infested sheets, pillows, blankets etc and dry it in a hot dryer for at least half an hour. This should kill the eggs as well. After that, consider using spring and box spring covers to prevent re-infestation.
  • Seal all openings such as cracks and crevices especially where the pipes and wires are located.
  • Remove all the drawers from a dresser to search for the bugs and pull it away from the wall to block escape routes.
  • To dislodge eggs, scrub infested areas with a stiff brush and then vacuum the room extensively. A vacuum hose attachment will be effective especially in cracks and small holes. Since bed bugs latch on tightly, use the nozzle of the vacuum to scrape them lose and then suck them up.

How do I use pesticide to eliminate bed bugs?

Only use pesticides if the infestation is too large to manage. Plus, make sure to use a product that is made specifically for eliminating it such as Temprid FX. Follow the directions that are mentioned on it carefully. Use only the amount that is prescribed and place it in a spray bottle.

Spray the pesticide in areas where bed bugs are usually found such as in corners, around thresholds, and window frames, under the furniture, the bed and furniture legs, the edge of carpets and baseboards, etc. Whatever you do, do not spray an entire carpet or floor and allow it to dry on areas that you do spray before removing dead bugs.

What health risks do bed bugs carry?

Bed bugs affect each person differently. Some people may not even see any red spots or signs of an infestation on their body while others may either get small, red and engorged marks on their body or a full-on allergic reaction which may require medical aid. The worst case scenario may be burning and an anaphylactic reaction. Some people may also suffer from insomnia if they know that their bed has bugs in it for fear of being bitten.

How do I prevent bed bugs from returning after cleaning them out?

Even if you evacuate your home, some bugs may return and feed off other pests such as rats and mice. In other words, make sure that you get rid of them as well as the bugs at the same time.

How do I prevent an infestation after returning home from a vacation?

  • When you get home from a vacation, take your luggage into the garage or any area that is not near your home and shake out everything in it.
  • Place all of the clothes in your luggage in a plastic bag and wash them separately in the washing machine even items that you never wore during your trip. Use hot water for this.
  • Vacuum your empty suitcase from the inside out thoroughly and dump the contents outside. Take extra precautions by rubbing the suitcases with rubbing alcohol. Apply it to a cotton ball and rub it around the crevices and cracks.
  • Items that should not be washed can still be treated. For example, you can leave the shoes you used in your travels out in the sun for a couple of days to drive out any bed bugs in it.

If you see a single bed bug, chances are there are more behind it hiding in your home. Take the threat seriously by taking the mentioned preventative/elimination measures and you will be free of the pesky critters in no time.

Bedbugs

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Bedbugs are small, oval, brownish insects that live on the blood of animals or humans. Adult bedbugs have flat bodies about the size of an apple seed. After feeding, however, their bodies swell and are a reddish color.

Bedbugs do not fly, but they can move quickly over floors, walls, and ceilings. Female bedbugs may lay hundreds of eggs, each of which is about the size of a speck of dust, over a lifetime.

Immature bedbugs, called nymphs, shed their skins five times before reaching maturity and require a meal of blood before each shedding. Under favorable conditions the bugs can develop fully in as little as a month and produce three or more generations per year.

Although they are a nuisance, they are not thought to transmit diseases.

Where Bed Bugs Hide

Bedbugs may enter your home undetected through luggage, clothing, used beds and couches, and other items. Their flattened bodies make it possible for them to fit into tiny spaces, about the width of a credit card. Bedbugs do not have nests like ants or bees, but tend to live in groups in hiding places. Their initial hiding places are typically in mattresses, box springs, bed frames, and headboards where they have easy access to people to bite in the night.

Over time, however, they may scatter through the bedroom, moving into any crevice or protected location. They may also spread to nearby rooms or apartments.

Because bedbugs live solely on blood, having them in your home is not a sign of dirtiness. You are as likely to find them in immaculate homes and hotel rooms as in filthy ones.

When Bedbugs Bite

Bedbugs are active mainly at night and usually bite people while they are sleeping. They feed by piercing the skin and withdrawing blood through an elongated beak. The bugs feed from three to 10 minutes to become engorged and then crawl away unnoticed.

Most bedbug bites are painless at first, but later turn into itchy welts. Unlike flea bites that are mainly around the ankles, bedbug bites are on any area of skin exposed while sleeping. Also, the bites do not have a red spot in the center like flea bites do.

People who don’t realize they have a bedbug infestation may attribute the itching and welts to other causes, such as mosquitoes. To confirm bedbug bites, you must find and identify the bugs themselves.

Continued

Signs of Infestation

If you wake up with itchy areas you didn’t have when you went to sleep, you may have bedbugs, particularly if you got a used bed or other used furniture around the time the bites started. Other signs that you have bedbugs include:

  • Blood stains on your sheets or pillowcases
  • Dark or rusty spots of bedbug excrement on sheets and mattresses, bed clothes, and walls
  • Bedbug fecal spots, egg shells, or shed skins in areas where bedbugs hide
  • An offensive, musty odor from the bugs’ scent glands

If you suspect an infestation, remove all bedding and check it carefully for signs of the bugs or their excrement. Remove the dust cover over the bottom of the box springs and examine the seams in the wood framing. Peel back the fabric where it is stapled to the wood frame.

Also, check the area around the bed, including inside books, telephones or radios, the edge of the carpet, and even in electrical outlets. Check your closet, because bedbugs can attach to clothing. If you are uncertain about signs of bedbugs, call an exterminator, who will know what to look for.

If you find signs of infestation, begin steps to get rid of the bugs and prevent their return.

Bedbug Treatments

Getting rid of bedbugs begins with cleaning up the places where bedbugs live. This should include the following:

  • Clean bedding, linens, curtains, and clothing in hot water and dry them on the highest dryer setting. Place stuffed animals, shoes, and other items that can’t be washed in the dryer and run on high for 30 minutes.
  • Use a stiff brush to scrub mattress seams to remove bedbugs and their eggs before vacuuming.
  • Vacuum your bed and surrounding area frequently. After vacuuming, immediately place the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag and place in garbage can outdoors.
  • Encase mattress and box springs with a tightly woven, zippered cover to keep bedbugs from entering or escaping. Bedbugs may live up to a year without feeding, so keep the cover on your mattress for at least a year to make sure all bugs in the mattress are dead.
  • Repair cracks in plaster and glue down peeling wallpaper to get rid of places bedbugs can hide.
  • Get rid of clutter around the bed.

If your mattress is infested, you may want to get rid of it and get a new one, but take care to rid the rest of your home of bedbugs or they will infest your new mattress.

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Bedbug Extermination

While cleaning up infested areas will be helpful in controlling bedbugs, getting rid of them usually requires chemical treatments. Because treating your bed and bedroom with insecticides can be harmful, it is important to use products that can be used safely in bedrooms. Do not treat mattresses and bedding unless the label specifically says you can use them on bedding.

Generally it is safest and most effective to hire an experienced pest control professional for bedbug extermination.

Sources

University of Kentucky College of Agriculture: "Bed Bugs."

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet: "Bed Bugs."

The New York City Department of Heath and Mental Hygiene: "Stop Bed Bugs Safely."

University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension Lancaster County: "Managing Bed Bugs."

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