How Bed Bugs Find Humans

US EPA

Bed Bugs

How to Find Bed Bugs

If you have a bed bug infestation, it is best to find it early, before the infestation becomes established or spreads. Treating a minor infestation, while an inconvenience, is far less costly and easier than treating the same infestation after it becomes more widespread.

However, low-level infestations are also much more challenging to find and correctly identify. Other insects, such as carpet beetles, can be easily mistaken for bed bugs. If you misidentify a bed bug infestation, it gives the bugs more time to spread to other areas of the house or hitchhike a ride to someone else’s house to start a new infestation. Learn about identifying bed bugs.

Bites on the skin are a poor indicator of a bed bug infestation. Bed bug bites can look like bites from other insects (such as mosquitoes or chiggers), rashes (such as eczema or fungal infections), or even hives. Some people do not react to bed bug bites at all.

Looking for Signs of Bed Bugs

A more accurate way to identify a possible infestation is to look for physical signs of bed bugs. When cleaning, changing bedding, or staying away from home, look for:

  • Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed.
  • Dark spots (about this size: •), which are bed bug excrement and may bleed on the fabric like a marker would.
  • Eggs and eggshells, which are tiny (about 1mm) and pale yellow skins that nymphs shed as they grow larger.
  • Live bed bugs.

Where Bed Bugs Hide

When not feeding, bed bugs hide in a variety of places. Around the bed, they can be found near the piping, seams and tags of the mattress and box spring, and in cracks on the bed frame and headboard.

If the room is heavily infested, you may find bed bugs:

  • In the seams of chairs and couches, between cushions, in the folds of curtains.
  • In drawer joints.
  • In electrical receptacles and appliances.
  • Under loose wall paper and wall hangings.
  • At the junction where the wall and the ceiling meet.
  • Even in the head of a screw.

Bed Bugs FAQs

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, flat, parasitic insects that feed solely on the blood of people and animals while they sleep. Bed bugs are reddish-brown in color, wingless, range from 1mm to 7mm (roughly the size of Lincoln’s head on a penny), and can live several months without a blood meal.

Where are bed bugs found?

Bed bugs are found across the globe from North and South America, to Africa, Asia and Europe. Although the presence of bed bugs has traditionally been seen as a problem in developing countries, it has recently been spreading rapidly in parts of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe. Bed bugs have been found in five-star hotels and resorts and their presence is not determined by the cleanliness of the living conditions where they are found.

Bed bug infestations usually occur around or near the areas where people sleep. These areas include apartments, shelters, rooming houses, hotels, cruise ships, buses, trains, and dorm rooms. They hide during the day in places such as seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, inside cracks or crevices, behind wallpaper, or any other clutter or objects around a bed. Bed bugs have been shown to be able to travel over 100 feet in a night but tend to live within 8 feet of where people sleep.

Do bed bugs spread disease?

Bed bugs are not known to spread disease. Bed bugs can be an annoyance because their presence may cause itching and loss of sleep. Sometimes the itching can lead to excessive scratching that can sometimes increase the chance of a secondary skin infection.

What health risks do bed bugs pose?

A bed bug bite affects each person differently. Bite responses can range from an absence of any physical signs of the bite, to a small bite mark, to a serious allergic reaction. Bed bugs are not considered to be dangerous; however, an allergic reaction to several bites may need medical attention.

What are the signs and symptoms of a bed bug infestation?

One of the easiest ways to identify a bed bug infestation is by the tell-tale bite marks on the face, neck, arms, hands, or any other body parts while sleeping. However, these bite marks may take as long as 14 days to develop in some people so it is important to look for other clues when determining if bed bugs have infested an area. These signs include:

  • the bed bugs’ exoskeletons after molting,
  • bed bugs in the fold of mattresses and sheets,
  • rusty–colored blood spots due to their blood-filled fecal material that they excrete on the mattress or nearby furniture, and
  • a sweet musty odor.

How do I know if I’ve been bitten by a bed bug?

It is hard to tell if you’ve been bitten by a bed bug unless you find bed bugs or signs of infestation. When bed bugs bite, they inject an anesthetic and an anticoagulant that prevents a person from realizing they are being bitten. Most people do not realize they have been bitten until bite marks appear anywhere from one to several days after the initial bite. The bite marks are similar to that of a mosquito or a flea — a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating. The bite marks may be random or appear in a straight line. Other symptoms of bed bug bites include insomnia, anxiety, and skin problems that arise from profuse scratching of the bites.

Because bed bug bites affect everyone differently, some people may have no reaction and will not develop bite marks or any other visible signs of being bitten. Other people may be allergic to the bed bugs and can react adversely to the bites. These allergic symptoms can include enlarged bite marks, painful swellings at the bite site, and, on rare occasions, anaphylaxis.

How did I get bed bugs?

Bed bugs are experts at hiding. Their slim flat bodies allow them to fit into the smallest of spaces and stay there for long periods of time, even without a blood meal. Bed bugs are usually transported from place to place as people travel. The bed bugs travel in the seams and folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding, furniture, and anywhere else where they can hide. Most people do not realize they are transporting stow-away bed bugs as they travel from location to location, infecting areas as they travel.

Who is at risk for getting bed bugs?

Everyone is at risk for getting bed bugs when visiting an infected area. However, anyone who travels frequently and shares living and sleeping quarters where other people have previously slept has a higher risk of being bitten and or spreading a bed bug infestation.

How are bed bugs treated and prevented?

Bed bug bites usually do not pose a serious medical threat. The best way to treat a bite is to avoid scratching the area and apply antiseptic creams or lotions and take an antihistamine. Bed bug infestations are commonly treated by insecticide spraying. If you suspect that you have an infestation, contact your landlord or professional pest control company that is experienced with treating bed bugs. The best way to prevent bed bugs is regular inspection for the signs of an infestation.

This information is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you have any questions about the parasites described above or think that you may have a parasitic infection, consult a health care provider.

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

How Do Bed Bugs Find You?

August 23, 2018 by pb

Bed bugs can see you!

Well. No not really. They have eyes. But that’s not necessarily how they see you.

But what bed bugs do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills they have acquired over a very long period of time. Skills that make them a nightmare for people like you and me.

Although bed bugs aren’t quite on Liam Neeson level of finding people, they are excellent at finding humans.

So how do they do it? How do bed bugs find you?

Bed Bugs are attracted to the Co2 we exhale (especially to at night when a large cloud of it hangs over us like a large neon sign), the warmth of our bodies, and even our smell!

But, How Do Bed Bugs Find Us?

Bedbugs are adapted to find food (us) from thermal signature (heat) and then feed by locating and piercing skin. This approach has been used to make artificial feeders for laboratory studies and the work of the Sheffield University Entomology group in creating these feeders confirms that bed bugs cannot lap up blood from a heated pool.

Blood itself is not an attractive for bedbugs. The bugs find us by warmth and CO2.

Warmth

When you’re going to bed, most likely you’re the warmest thing in a bedroom (especially if you’ve given up incandescent light bulbs and switched to LEDs). All of the furniture in the room is at about room temperature, usually between 68 and 85 degrees as determined by the temperature outside or your home’s ventilation system.

So you’re lying there in bed with a toasty core temperature 98.6 degrees, with a skin temperature of about 91 degrees. Bed bugs are attracted to this warmth and will seek you out.

Your body heat is an attractant but only close up, like 8-10 inches. Other factors may entice the bed bugs from further away (CO2) but once they get in range and can feel the heat that driving element takes over and the bugs come right for you.

CO2

Did you know that bed bugs can sense Carbon dioxide? Yeah, weird right?

There have been numerous entomological studies showing not only the bed bugs attraction to C02 but specifically the appeal of the release of CO2 that is consistent with our sleeping patterns.

There was a presentation at the National Pest Management Association’s national conference on bed bugs (PestWorld) where C02 was used as an attractant between two diametric poles with nearly 85% of the bugs moving towards the C02 pole.

The numbers of bedbugs captured were 656 and 5898 in traps without and with CO2 , respectively. The numbers of bedbugs of all development stages captured were significantly greater in traps with CO2.

CO2 is a universal thing around humans. We exhale it with every breath we take. When we sleep, we emitted carbon dioxide, and a cloud of it sits in the room, lingering. That lingering CO2 is a giant flashing neon arrow over your body advertising an “all you can eat buffet” to bed bugs.

You might try sleeping with a ceiling fan on, which can distribute the carbon dioxide evenly throughout the room. That might work well if it were their only way of detecting you, but unfortunately, they can also locate you other numerous ways.

Your Smell

Bed bugs like the smell of us!

An interesting twist to the bed bugs phenomenon is their attraction to dirty laundry.

In an article on popsci.com, discusses bed bugs attraction to dirty laundry and how researchers tested their hypothesis.

Researchers asked volunteers to wear white cotton t-shirts and socks for three hours in the afternoon, then placed the soiled items into plain cotton tote bags. Then they fed precisely 10 bed bugs a diet of fresh human blood and placed them in a container at the center of a controlled room. Four bags, two

with dirty laundry and two with clean versions of the same clothes, were spaced at even intervals in a cross pattern around the bugs.

Once the bed bugs had acclimated to their new home, the container was lifted; they had four days to explore the room. In some runs, the room also contained a block of dry ice to simulate a sleeping human. When the group repeated this multiple times and gathered all the data, they found that bed bugs were twice as likely to make their home in dirty laundry as they were clean laundry. They didn’t wander aimlessly around the room or hide in a corner—they actively chose to live inside the clothes that smelled of human.

This is an excellent thing to remember when you’re on vacation. Keep your dirty laundry in a sealed bag and throw in the dryer when you get home to be sure to kill off any traveling bed bugs.

How to Find Bed Bugs

Good Night, Sleep Tight. Don’t Let The Bed Bugs Bite!

For those born after the 1950s, bed bugs were an almost forgotten artifact of history, as extinct as buggy whips and zoot suits. They were once a scourge of housewives and travelers all over the world, more despised than cockroaches. The introduction of the pesticide DDT in the 1940s soon eradicated them from the western hemisphere.

DDT, effective but environmentally disastrous, was banned in the U.S. in 1972, and they began staging their comeback. In 2001, infestations in metropolitan cities and small towns across the country began making headlines. The reasons for the upsurge aren’t clear, although increased international travel and the insect’s resistance to most current pesticides are often cited.

Regardless of the reasons, travelers and homeowners must take precautions and make it part of their regular routine.

What Are They?

These bugs are small, flat-bodied parasitic insects that feed on the blood of mammals and birds. Unlike fleas or ticks, they do not live on their food source. They hide near their host, and bite during the night.

Bites are painless at the time of attack; in fact they bite several times over a ten minute period, resulting in meandering lines or clusters of red, itching bumps.

Adult are approximately 3/8th of an inch long, about the size of an apple seed. They are reddish brown and have oval, flattened bodies. They are sometimes mistaken for ticks. Immature bugs, called nymphs, are translucent and are about the size of the “e” in the word “liberty”on a Lincoln head penny.

Have Bed Bug Problems?

The most common species is the Cimex lectularius, which prefers the blood of humans, but it will also feed on other warm-blooded animals such as rodents, bats, dogs, cats and birds.

Where do They Thrive?

Hardy and prolific creatures, they thrive in the temperatures and humidity levels favored by humans. In a year, a female can produce three generations of offspring. Nymphs mature within a month. Each of those adult can survive up to a year without feeding, so even a vacant dwelling cannot be assumed to be bug-free.

Once they have found a host, they stay within a five to ten-foot radius of the feeding area. A hungry bug, however, can travel 100 feet in search of a blood meal. Insect repellants are ineffective. Studies have proven that they will march across wet or dry repellants and bite through them, with no ill effect on the bug.

Are They Dangerous?

These parasites do not transmit disease, though this seldom reassures anyone suffering from an invasion of the voracious little creatures. Entomologists have isolated several pathogens from their internal organs bugs, but as of this writing, no case of any illness has ever been traced to a bite.

The realization that one’s bed has been infested by bloodsucking insects can cause anxiety and serious psychological distress. Anxiety, fear and the itching bites can result in insomnia.

Reactions to Bites

Bites can be numerous in a heavy infestation, but they are rarely serious. Most people develop a raised, itchy, red bump or wheal at the site of a bite within ten minutes, though reaction can be delayed for seven to ten days.

A few individuals do not react at all to being bitten. Others may develop allergic reactions such as hives, blisters, or a rash. Children exposed to a heavy infestation are sometimes lethargic from disturbed sleep and can become anemic.

As with any insect bite, they can become infected from scratching. Itching can be controlled with calamine lotion or over-the-counter anti-itch creams. Always consult with a physician or pharmacist about the suitability of any topical treatment before use.

Not all bites in the night are the work of these insects. Mosquitoes, fleas, ants and spiders are also frequent offenders. If the source of bites cannot be easily discovered, it is best to call in a pest control professional for an inspection and treatment evaluation.

How Do Infestations Occur?

Wingless and unlikely to crawl more than ten feet from their established feeding site, these bugs rely on humans to transport them to new habitats. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to become a personal transport service for these bugs.

They are attracted to body warmth and the carbon dioxide given off during breathing. During the day, they conceal themselves in dark areas and crevices, such as inside box springs or in the screw holes and cracks in wooden bed frames. This habit means that they will also take refuge in clothing, shoes, luggage and other items that are left on or near their current habitat.

Unlike ticks and lice, do not attach themselves to a person’s skin or hair, but they can be transported inside the seams of clothing, purses, backpacks, luggage and shoes. Hitchhiking bugs can infest upholstered furniture, with couches and easy chairs being favorite destinations.

Early Detection is Crucial

If noticed early, an infestation can be controlled by treating the limited area the bugs inhabit. However, once they spread throughout a room or apartment, eradication becomes much more difficult. Unchecked or ineffectively treated, they can spread throughout a building.

Rats, mice, bats, birds or other wild mammals can also be the source of infestations. While the most common, Cimex lectularius, prefers a human host, other species of similar insects infest warm-blooded animals and will feed on humans and colonize homes if their animal hosts invade the building.

An infestation is not a sign of poor sanitation. Unlike vermin such as cockroaches and rodents, these bugs are not attracted to filth or food debris. The cleanest home may become the site of an infestation if the creatures are introduced from an infested area.

Detecting Them

As their name suggests, the first place to inspect is the bed. Check the sheets and blankets for any dead bugs, dormant bugs, or small, black spots and streaks. Take pillows out of their cases and check along their seams. Remove the bedding and check the mattress for the same signs of spots, streaks or bugs.

Take special care to check along seams, cording, tufting, and under any buttons. They are especially fond of the cording around the edge of a mattress, particularly where it folds over at the corners. If there is a pasted-on label on the top of the mattress, check carefully around it and under any loose areas.

Check the Box Springs

If possible, lift the mattress and check the box springs and bed frame, paying close attention to crevices, cracks and seams. Mattresses and box springs can be heavy and unwieldy, so have help to do this, if necessary, to avoid possible injury.

They may be more likely on the underside of mattresses and box springs than on top.

The bottom of box springs is their ideal habitat. Check along the dust cover. They congregate around the staples that hold the gauze dust cover to the frame.

If the box springs have plastic or cardboard corner protectors, they will often rest under or around them. If possible, remove these to allow inspection, but be aware that it may be difficult or impossible to reattach them as they were originally installed.

If the dust cover is loose, or torn, or if it can be removed by the owner, check inside the box springs for signs of insects. It is extremely difficult to thoroughly check every nook and cranny inside box springs, so if bugs are found on the outside it may be best to replace the box springs or cover it with a zippered case sold for dust mite and bug control.

Wooden bed frames are more likely to harbor insects than the more common metal variety, but the seams and overlapping sections of metal frames should also be inspected. Also be sure to look behind the headboard, if possible, and behind any pictures or loose wallpaper near the bed.

Drawers and Other Areas in the Room

These parasites cannot climb smooth surfaces, but hitchhiking bugs can invade drawers. Always check the inside and bottom of drawers and inside closets before storing clothing. If possible, do not remove clothing from the suitcase.

In dorms and furnished apartments, check along baseboards where they join the wall, and also along the edges and seams of carpets. Lift throw rugs to check the underside. Inspect upholstered furniture, paying special attention to seams, cording, cracks and crevices, and where attached cushions touch.

Check under seat cushions and along the seams and crevices of the furniture’s decking. Couches and recliners used for sleeping are to be considered especially suspect.

Heavy infestations can produce an unpleasant, sickly-sweet odor, but this is not a reliable indication of their presence. Even with close inspection, bugs can hide so well that they can be missed by someone who is not a pest-control specialist.

Prevention is the best method for dealing with the threat of infestations, while on the road or at home.

Avoid While Traveling

These bugs thrive in places like dorms and hotels, where the turn-over of guests are high.

Hard-shell luggage is less likely to harbor them than luggage made of fabric. Remember, they cannot crawl up smooth surfaces.

Pack a small, bright flashlight to aid in inspecting your hotel room. Bring sealable plastic bags for packing items that cannot be laundered. Place items that can be laundered into dissolvable laundry bags before returning home. Dissolvable laundry bags can be found at many retailers and purchased from online merchants.

How to Store Luggage

Never place luggage or clothing on the bed or other upholstered furniture. Always use a luggage stand or the top of a piece of furniture. If no luggage stand or suitable furniture is available, set luggage in the center of the room, away from other furniture. Do not allow luggage or clothing to touch walls near the beds or other upholstered furniture.

Because they prefer to be near their hosts, and because they cannot negotiate smooth surfaces, the safest place to store your luggage and other belongings is in the bathtub. If it is feasible, keep clean clothing inside the suitcase, and store soiled clothing in dissolvable laundry bags.

If bugs are found, or bites are discovered in the morning, contact management at once and request another room in a different area of the building.

Returning Home from Travel

Before returning home, seal luggage in trash bags. On arrival at home, unpack the luggage outside. Do not bring luggage back into the home until it is treated. This can be done by exposing it to heat. Temperatures above 120°F will kill adults and their eggs.

In the summer, a simple method of disinfection is to place luggage in sealed black plastic bags, and set the bags in direct sunlight. Check interior temperature with a thermometer before removal. In winter, a blow dryer or heat gun may be used, but is somewhat less effective. Discard the used trash and packing bags in outdoor receptacles.

For frequent travelers, special units are available that will heat luggage to the appropriate temperature to eradicate all bugs and their eggs. These may be found wherever luggage and travel supplies are sold, and through online retailers.

Unpacking Luggage

Launder all clothing without removing it from the dissolvable laundry bags. Launder clothing as soon as it is unpacked. If it is allowed to sit in the laundry room, any stowaway bugs will have a chance to wander away and begin to breed. Use water of at least 120°F. Adding borax, a mineral laundry aid available at most supermarkets, is considered helpful. Dry laundered clothing on the hottest dryer setting the fabrics can tolerate.

Commercial dry cleaning will kill these bugs, but taking infested articles in to be cleaned risks spreading the insects to the entire shop. Dry cleaning experts say that delicate items such as silks or men’s suits will not be harmed by application of dry heat below 160°F.

This can be applied by placing items in black plastic bags in the sun for a day. Do not overfill the bags, as that can allow the bugs to seek refuge in cooler areas. Use a thermometer to ensure that the entire contents of the bag reach the critical temperature of 120°F.

Other Heat Methods

If sun treatment isn’t feasible, de-bug items by sealing them into bags and placing the bags on top of heating pads until temperatures of 120°F or above are achieved for ten to twenty minutes. Use caution when utilizing heating devices for this purpose and never leave the items unattended while being treated.

Items that are not delicate, but which cannot be laundered, such as purses or backpacks, can be disinfected by being put in the dryer on moderate heat, between 120°F and 160°F, for ten to twenty minutes.

Do not overload the dryer; small or medium-sized loads ensure effective heat circulation. Place infested articles in the affected home’s laundry machines only. Transporting buggy linens and items to a commercial laundry or Laundromat will spread the insects to many other locations.

Prevention At Home

Because they can survive for long periods without feeding, it is important to check for signs of their presence when moving into a previously occupied home.

Used and Secondhand Items

Do not bring discarded or secondhand bedding or upholstered furniture into the house. Use extreme caution when bringing in used furniture, such as dressers, bureaus and chests. Remember, that interesting piece may have been set out on the curb because it is full of bugs!

Vintage clothing stores, thrift stores, flea markets and consignment shops are all enjoyable places to find unique bargains, but remember to treat your purchases and also to change and launder your shopping attire as soon as you return home.

These bugs cannot jump or fly, but brushing against items or trying on pieces that harbor them can allow some to stow away. It only takes one egg-bearing female to launch a hostile take-over of the home.

Place all secondhand clothing purchases into dissolvable plastic bags and launder as soon as the items are brought home. Items such as purses, backpacks, luggage, shoes or dry-clean-only clothing should be treated with dry heat as described above in the tips for travelers. Remember, temperatures above 120°F will kill these bugs and their eggs.

How to Handle Bed Frames

Metal bed frames are far less hospitable bugs than wooden ones. Great-grandma favored brass and iron beds for just this reason. If a clean wooden bed frame must be placed in a building suspected of harboring bugs, the bed can be protected to prevent invasion.

Set bed frame legs into metal cans, or onto glue board traps used for cockroaches and mice. Bed frame legs can also be coated with mineral oil or talc used as body-dusting powder. Both substances make the surface impossible for bugs to climb. Bed legs can also be wrapped in double-sided tape.

Keep headboards at least one inch from the wall. Wall-mounted headboards should be removable for periodic inspection and cleaning. Do not allow bedding to touch the floor, and chose bedding that may be cleaned by machine washing and drying.

Enclose mattresses, box springs and pillows in zippered cases advertised to be impervious. Cases advertised as preventing dust mites are also acceptable. These are available from many retailers that carry bedding and house wares, as well as from online retailers.

These cases will prevent an invasion, and will isolate and eventually starve any bugs that may be trapped inside. Check cases frequently, as the material is vulnerable to tearing, especially where there is contact between the case and the bed frame.

Home Care

In the rest of the home, choose furniture that has raised legs, rather than pieces that sit directly onto the floor. Favor metal and molded plastic furniture pieces over wooden ones and simple leather or vinyl upholstery over fabrics with welting and tufting.

Paint is less bug friendly than wallpaper. Loose wallpaper should be re-glued. Paneling should be avoided, but if it is not possible to remove it, seal all cracks with caulking. Bare floors are preferable to carpet or throw rugs, and sheet vinyl and other seamless flooring materials are preferable to planks.

Repair and seal any cracks in plaster or sheet rock, and caulk any cracks between walls and trim. Loose tiles should be reset and grouted.

These insects are indifferent to dust, dirt and scattered crumbs, but they relish clutter. Piles of clothing and other items in corners and on the floor provide prime hiding places. Items should not be stored under beds or sofas.

Closet floor should be kept clear, and if possible, items on hangers should not touch the closet walls or floors. Wire shelving is preferable to wood, and wooden clothes hangers should be avoided.

Eradicating These Pests

Once they have become established, totally eradicating them even by professional methods becomes an almost impossible task. Once they multiplied throughout a home, hotel, or multi-unit dwelling, it is more precise to speak of control.

If they are found soon after they enter, while they invest only a bed or other single furniture item, then eradication is feasible via an intensive search-and-destroy plan.

How to Handle Infested Furniture

A couch or chair that harbors bugs is best discarded. Because of the construction of these types of furniture, it is impossible to reach all the areas where they may hide. Wrap the item in plastic sheeting, and tape it securely closed. This will prevent dropping bugs or allowing them to sneak into clothing while the furniture is being carried away for disposal.

When setting an infested piece out on the curb for garbage removal, it is advisable to attach a sign to it stating that it harbors these offending creatures. It may also be wise to damage the piece so that no one is tempted to try and salvage it.

What to Do With Bedding

If the bugs have invaded a bed, and the mattress and box springs are older or damaged, it is best to discard both mattress and box springs. Place them inside sealed plastic bags to avoid shaking bugs loose during removal from the bedroom.

It is not recommended to spray any pesticide on the upper surface of a mattress. Some professional exterminators will treat the sides and seams of mattresses and box springs, but this requires special equipment, training, and chemicals that are not available for use by home owners.

Disassemble the bed frame and clean each piece thoroughly to remove any bugs or eggs. Rubbing alcohol will destroy both adults and eggs on contact, though it has no residual effect once it dries. Test it first in a hidden area because it may damage the furniture finish.

Before reassembly, dust the frame with talc, diatomaceous earth or boric acid. Diatomaceous earth is made from microscopic fossils that scratch the coating on an insect’s body, causing the bug to dehydrate. Boric acid sticks to an insect’s body and when groomed away, the powder solidifies and destroys the insect’s digestive system.

Both diatomaceous earth and boric acid are considered safe for humans and pets, but be sure to read and follow all label directions and stated cautions before using either pesticide.

Wash all bedding in the hottest water the fabric can tolerate with laundry detergent and borax. Dry at a temperature that will ensure all parts of the bedding reach at least 120°F for at least ten to twenty minutes.

Checking for Bugs

Patrol the room with a flashlight and a putty knife or old credit card. Use the putty knife or card to scrape bugs out of crevices or cracks. A blow dryer set on high heat and low fan will also work to force the bugs out of hiding.

Capture any live bugs that emerge in a paper towel wet with rubbing alcohol, or simply crush them in the towel. Dispose of the towels in an outside garbage receptacle.

Be sure to check posters, pictures, mirrors and wall hangings. Use the putty knife or card to check between frame and backing. Scrape any cracks in the walls or flooring, and reattach peeling wallpaper.

Remove and check the inside surface of the plates over electrical outlets and light switches. DO NOT touch any wires or insert anything into the wiring box. If they are found inside the wiring boxes, a pest control professional must be consulted.

If there are any phones, clocks, toys, smoke detectors or other small appliances within ten feet of the item harboring these bugs, use the flashlight to inspect inside them through ventilation vents or other openings. Do not open electrical devices, because of the risk of a dangerous shock.

Extra Precautions

Remove all clutter from the room. This removes potential harborage spots and also makes checking for the insects much easier. Seal any item that is possibly infected in a plastic bag and launder or heat-treat.

Before bringing in a new mattress and box springs, cover the new bedding pieces in cases labeled for bug or dust mite control. It is recommended to also enclose pillows in these cases, and to avoid decorative toss pillows or stuffed toys on the bed until the infestation is completely eradicated.

Preventing Future Infestations

Missed eggs hatch within ten days at normal room temperature. For this reason, it is recommended that a check be made every few days for newly hatched bugs. Nymphs are very small, not much bigger than sesame seeds.

It may be helpful to hunt at night, using a magnifying glass and a flashlight with a red lens or with red plastic film or red tissue over the lens. The red light cannot be detected by the bugs, so they will not flee to their hiding places as they would normally do when disturbed.

Thorough vacuuming is helpful in preventing re-establishment of bugs, though it is not as useful for eliminating the primary infestation. Use a crevice tool and vacuum using scrubbing motions along seams and crevices where bugs were found. Be sure to remove the vacuum bag at once, and dispose of it in an outdoor container. It is best not to use vacuums with reusable bags for this purpose.

Remake the bed with white sheets, if possible. This will make it easier to spot even small insects, and to see their dark waste spots much more easily.

Natural Control Methods

Unfortunately, there are no natural control methods that are proven to be effective. Cedar wood, lavender, herbs, essential oils and other aromatics that are effective for repelling moths or other household pests have no effect on these parasites.

Before the twentieth century, bean plant leaves were scattered around the legs of wooden bed frames. The microscopic hooks on these fuzzy leaves would entangle the spurs on their legs, entrapping them. When the leaves wilted or were spotted with bugs, they would be swept up and replaced.

Not many homeowners have access to large quantities of bean plant leaves, and the bean season is short, so this is a control method of more historical than practical interest.

Biological Controls

Biological controls are also not feasible. Cockroaches, Pharaoh and Argentine ants, and spiders all prey on these bugs. It is obvious, however, that these pests present far more risk to humans. Cockroaches ruin food, carry several serious diseases and can aggravate asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Ants also carry disease organisms and foul food stuffs. Unlike the bite of a bed bug, the sting of an ant or the bite of a spider is venomous and can cause serious reactions.

Heating and Freezing

As mentioned earlier in this article, heat is an effective means of killing adults and their eggs, but as a do-it-yourself project, it is an effective spot treatment only.

Attempts by desperate homeowners to rid themselves of the infestation by cranking up the thermostat are rarely successful. Bugs can find cooler spots to seek refuge, and home heating systems rarely can raise the temperature throughout the home high enough to ensure that all bugs and eggs are killed.

Freezing will also eradicate these bugs, but the items must be kept in a home freezer for at least a week, so this is rarely a practical process for nonprofessionals.

When to Call a Professional

If bugs have spread past a bed or single piece of furniture, it is best to seek the help of a pest-control professional. Effective control of this insect is extremely difficult, and an exterminator will have the training, chemicals and tools to ensure that the bugs are destroyed with no risk to pets or the human occupants of the dwelling.

Any infestation in a hotel or multi-unit dwelling requires professional attention immediately. All affected rooms or apartments must be treated at the same time, to prevent bugs from being reintroduced into a treated unit to another that is still infested.

If a person shows a tendency towards allergic reaction to bites, it is wise to bring in professional assistance for an inspection and evaluation even if the infestation is only suspected. The professional technician will be able to determine if the bites are due to bloodsucking bugs or other pests, and estimate the level of infestation.

Choosing a Pest-Control Professional

If you live in a multi-unit dwelling such as an apartment, townhouse or condominium, the choice of pest control service may be made by your property manager or landlord.

If the homeowner must make the decision, there are several guidelines to aid in making that choice. Referrals from friends and family members who have used a certain company and are pleased with the service is always a good starting point. However, companies that do excellent work in treating other types of pest problems may not be familiar with the treatment procedures and chemicals used for eradicating bugs.

When calling a pest control company, ask about their training and treatment plan for controlling infestations. Be cautious about any company that claims they can rid the home with one treatment. These bugs are a resistant, difficult insect to control even with professional treatment, and the pest control company must return for inspection and retreatment once or twice to ensure the pests are destroyed.

Professional treatments will at require at least one and possibly two or three follow up visits, to allow the technician to monitor remaining bug populations and to re-treat any areas that may still show signs of infestation.

Get Estimates

A reputable company will give full details about the service plan and its costs. Cheaper is not always better when choosing a pest control company. Always interview more than one company and receive estimates. A reputable company will come out, inspect the property and give a quote for service rather than stating a flat fee.

After the inspection, the homeowner should receive a written report detailing the findings of the inspection, as well as outlining a recommended plan of action for addressing the problems discovered.

If there are extenuating circumstances in the home, such as an allergic individual or someone who is incapacitated and cannot be vacated during treatment if necessary, be certain to make the pest control company aware of it during the inspection visit.

Integrated Pest Management

Most companies that are knowledgeable about treating these bugs will use Integrated Pest Management practices. IPM practices include judicious use of pesticides along with nonchemical control practices such as using heat, cold, or steam to destroy insects, and physical controls such as vacuuming and removing points of entry.

A pest control company utilizing IPM practices may ask the homeowner to aid in the treatment by making sure that clutter is removed, or personal items bagged and sealed before treatment. These requests should be clearly stated in writing and any questions answered to the satisfaction of the homeowner before a treatment contract is signed.

Review the Contract

Always carefully read any contract or service agreement offered. Before signing, be sure that the contract is fully understood.

Some points to consider include the company’s cancellation policy. Is the homeowner as well as the pest control company allowed to cancel the contract? Are there penalties for cancellation? What, if any, exclusion clauses are included? An exclusion clause specifies what circumstances may cause the contract to be canceled.

What Sort of Arbitration or Other Method is Used to Settle Disputes?

Make certain that the company carries insurance to cover incidents like accidental staining or breaking of furnishings. These are normally covered in the contract under an “errors and omissions” clause.

The company must be licensed. Licensing requirements vary from state to state, but in most licensing means that all technicians have had proper training, and that a Certified Operator in charge of all technicians is on call within a certain geographical area.

Both the homeowner and the pest control company must sign any contract or agreement. Do not sign until the contract is completely read and understood. The pest control technician or the office staff should be able to answer any questions to the homeowner’s satisfaction.

Chemicals Used for Control

The banned pesticide DDT was responsible for reducing these bugs from a ubiquitous threat at the time of its first use in the 1940s, to near extinction in the U.S., U.K. and Canada by the late 1950s.

DDT acted by disrupting an insect’s nervous system, causing all the neurons to fire simultaneously. This especially effective method of action was augmented by the fact that DDT was, and is, highly persistent. Once applied, it had a residual effect that remained effective for months, sometimes years.

Unfortunately, this same tendency to persist in the environment wreaked environmental havoc among species that were never intended to be poisoned with DDT. It was considered safe for humans at the time it was extensively in use, an assurance that is no longer considered true.

They had only begun to develop resistance DDT before it was banned in the U.S. DDT is still used in other countries, and recent reports indicate that bugs in those areas have begun to develop resistance to the powerful pesticide. In fact, one study in Africa indicated that they actually became more active after being sprayed with the chemical.

Chemicals for Non-Professional Use

Other than diatomaceous earth, boric acid, and non-residual pyrethrin, there are no pesticides effective that can be applied by a non-professional. Pyrethrin is derived from a type of chrysanthemum and functions as a neuro-toxic contact poison for insects.

While it is very safe, pyrethrin is, by definition and function, a poison. Carefully follow all instructions, warnings and cautions on the label. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in some regions bugs have become immune to the pyrethrine compounds available for use by home owners.

The commonly available “bug bombs”and foggers are ineffective because the released mist of pesticide does not reach into the small, enclosed spaces where the bugs hide.

Chemicals Used by Professionals

Chemicals available to trained, professional applicators that are effective against these parasites include benseneacatate, chlorpyrifos, cyfluthrin, fencalerate, hydoprene, permethrin, propoxur, and resmethrin.

Hydroprene has a unique form of action; it does not poison the bugs, but sterilizes the males. Over time, this drives the population to extinction if unaffected bugs are not brought into the area.

Professional Methods of Control

Many of the professional methods are similar to the methods described above for use by the homeowner. However, the professional receives additional training and has access to methods that are not available to the general public.

Heat and Cold

Special heating units may be utilized, which can bring an entire room or unit up to the proper temperature that is lethal to adults and their eggs. The temperature must be maintained for a sustained period.

Cold treatment may be used for items sensitive to heat. Steam treatment may be used for items such as mattress top surfaces, drapes or other items that cannot be easily laundered or treated with pesticides.

Vacuuming

Vacuuming is also part of a professional control treatment, using special machines outfitted with HEPA filters which contain the bugs to prevent re-infestation of the treated area or others.

Pesticides

Judicious use of approved pesticides is part of a professional treatment plan, and these chemicals can be applied with precision and training unavailable to unlicensed applicators.

Other, more unusual methods include tented fumigation, in which a room or an entire building is sealed and fumigated. This is used only in cases of severe infestation.

Dog-Sniffing Services

Canine detection teams are a new method of detection and inspection used by some pest control companies. A specially trained dog, usually a beagle, is brought in by a handler. The dog will alert the handler to the scent of bugs. These canine professionals are very useful in verifying the presence of bugs in cases of light infestations, and are also useful in determining if treatment methods have been successful in eradication.

Monitors

Monitoring devices that attract bugs through heat and the release of carbon dioxide may also be employed. These are not traps that are intended to eradicate the bugs. They are used to estimate population size, to help determine treatment plans or to determine if treatment has been successful.

The Costs of Prevention and Treatment

These bugs can be expensive pests to control and treat. Regardless of the costs to homeowners, renters and property managers, they also extract a considerable toll on society. Those afflicted with an invasion may lose work or productivity due to sleep deprivation and anxiety. There may be healthcare costs from these issues, or from allergic reactions or infections due to bites.

Professional treatments may be more expensive than treatment for other household pests, because treatments require several treatments by a licensed pest control technician.

Costs of control also include such things as replacing infested furnishings, making necessary repairs to prevent re-infestation, and the purchase of bug-proof encasements for bedding.

Commercial and Multi-Unit Buildings

Bug control in commercial facilities or multi-unit dwellings may be considerably more expensive than treatment for other forms of pests. This is because of the more extensive cooperation required by the staff or renters in preventing the spread from one area to the other, as well as the expenses incurred in treating multiple areas instead of one room or single-family home.

Professional treatment costs vary widely, depending on the geographical area as well as the unique requirements of the infestation area. Professional treatment fees can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Individual Expenses

The costs of controls available to individuals are less daunting. These figures are estimates or averages, and should be used for general information purposes only.

Dissolvable laundry bags cost about $2 per bag. These are an important part of any treatment plan, as well as essential for travelers.

Bug-proof encasements for mattresses and box springs may cost about $80 dollars for a mattress case, and $50 for box springs. These prices vary according to bedding size and from retailer to retailer.

Units that use heat to kill the bugs in luggage cost about $300. Heat treatment for an entire apartment may run from $800 to $2,000.

The use of a canine unit may cost about $1,900 per day, or some fraction of that for shorter visits.

Conclusion

For financial reasons as well as health and peace of mind, when dealing with the growing threat of bed bug infestation, an “ounce” of prevention is more useful and much less expensive than the “pound” of cure required.

Take proper precautions and be ever vigilant about detecting and eradicating these bugs at the first sign of invasion. If everyone follows these practices, then these bloodsucking insects may well once again become only part of history and a figure of speech.

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