How Do Bed Bugs Spread In Schools


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

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How Fast Can Bed Bugs Spread?

Silent Pests

Bed bugs have been in the news in recent years.After decades in which they seemed to have been almost eradicated, these pests are making a comeback. This is bad news for humans. According to the College of Agriculture at the University of Kentucky, bed bugs require a “blood meal” to survive, and they prefer the taste of human blood to that of other warm-blooded animals. These miniature vampires typically strike at night while people are sleeping, making a painless bite and sucking several drops of blood. Not known to carry infectious diseases, bed bugs nonetheless can cause allergic reactions to their saliva, and their bites leave itchy blotches similar to mosquito or flea bites. Hiding in inaccessible places, spreading out to all areas of a building and able to go months without feeding if necessary, they are difficult to find and control.

Once an infestation is underway, the property owner faces a tough eradication process that will require the services of a professional exterminator.This must be done sooner rather than later because they are hardy and they spread very quickly.


In the outdoors, bed bugs infest nests of birds, bats and other animals.These flightless insects, which measure 1/4 inch at maturity, enter a house, motel or apartment building by hiding in luggage, clothing or fabric. Once in place, the bugs set about reproducing, which they can do with impressive speed. Female bed bugs lay between one and five tiny eggs per day. Hatchlings are no bigger than a poppy seed.Once hatched, according to the School of Public Health at Harvard University, a baby bed bug or “nymph” requires only a single blood feast to molt and move into its next stage of development, which occurs five times before adulthood.

The nymphs reach maturity in a month or more, depending on conditions such as temperature (bed bugs like it warm) and the availability of blood. Assuming an average daily production of three viable eggs, simple math would indicate that at the end of one week, a single female would lay more than twenty eggs. Some weeks later, given a steady blood supply, these 20 bedbugs are adults. If half of them are females and each one lays twenty eggs in a week, this means a second generation of nymphs numbering approximately 200, all of which come from just one female bed bug. The production of three generations of bed bugs in a year is not uncommon.

Locational Spread

Bed bugs can spread from one room or apartment to another through door frames, windows, or holes or cracks in the walls, ceilings and floors. They can contaminate wood furniture by laying eggs in cracks and recesses, and when that furniture is moved, these eggs (which can stay viable for years) may hatch in a new location. Weeks or months without blood do not harm these tough insects.As a result, if bed bugs are found, one should consult an exterminator immediately.

Bed bugs have been in the news in recent years. After decades in which they seemed to have been almost eradicated, these pests are making a comeback. Not known to carry infectious diseases, bed bugs nonetheless can cause allergic reactions to their saliva, and their bites leave itchy blotches similar to mosquito or flea bites. These flightless insects, which measure 1/4 inch at maturity, enter a house, motel or apartment building by hiding in luggage, clothing or fabric. Some weeks later, given a steady blood supply, these 20 bedbugs are adults.

Five Tips To Avoid Bringing Bed Bugs Home From School

NYC Pest Control from Bell Environmental

Five Tips To Avoid Bringing Bed Bugs Home From School

Bed Bug Prevention A ‘Must Do’ Homework Assignment

FAIRFIELD, N.J., Sept. 8, 2011 – Pens? Check. Notebooks? Check. Lunch? Check. Bed Bugs? – Wait a Minute!
While they’re not on any school’s list of items to bring to class, it is inevitable that some students, teachers, and staff will unwittingly carry bed bugs into schools. Others will unfortunately take these hitchhiking insects home in their backpacks. Some bed bugs will even decide to make classrooms their new homes. As the bed bug epidemic worsens, these insects have spread to elementary, middle and high schools in towns nationwide. In New York City, bed bug incidents in public schools rose to 3,590 last year, more than triple the 2009-2010 school year.

As parents prepare their kids for the new school year, giving students the knowledge of how to prevent bed bugs coming home from school is just as important as getting them the right supplies.

“Vigilance is the best, ongoing defense against bed bugs in schools and at home,” said Glenn Waldorf, of Bell Environmental Services, a leading pest control company and bed bug specialist. “Bed bugs are great hitchhikers that crawl into backpacks, bags, and jackets to get to and from school. Once present, a pair of bed bugs can multiply into a large infestation in a short period of time.”

The entomologists at Bell Environmental Services offer these five tips to help students and teachers avoid bringing bed bugs home:

    • At school, place backpacks and jackets inside large, resealable plastic bags, and don’t let them sit on the floor in a closet or in pile with other coats and bags

      • Upon returning home from school, empty backpacks completely outside the home, if possible, and inspect bags and items inside for bed bugs.

        • At home, keep backpacks in plastic bags or closed storage bins. At minimum, do not leave backpacks in or near bedrooms.

          • If bed bugs have been found at their school, have children disrobe immediately upon coming home, and place clothing in sealed plastic bags. Place clothing in a dryer (medium-high heat for 20 minutes) and throw out the plastic bag. Bed bugs can’t survive high heat.
          • Engage the school administration. Ask them what precautionary and proactive measures they are taking to prevent the introduction and spread of bed bugs. Encourage them to educate students how to identify bed bug signs and use teaching tools such as “Roscoe and the Big Bed Bug Hunt,” a free coloring and activity book on bed bugs authored by Bell Environmental.

          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.

          Schools Risk Bed Bug Problem

          Because of the rise of the bed bug epidemic researchers and public health officials are concerned that the little unwanted bugs are going to spread through schools. Why? Because the little brown bugs can easily get transported from home to school on children’s clothes and their backpacks. They can also be transported to other homes this way and therefore cause even more bed bug infestations. Jennifer Smith Richards wrote an article for The Columbus Dispatch called “Schools Risk Bed Bug Problems.” According to Richards two different schools in Franklin County (Ohio) have had bed bug sightings and contacted the public health department.

          Schools are often notoriously known for having head lice problems which can be difficult to get rid of but bed bugs are even harder to exterminate in schools. Why? According to Susan C. Jones, an urban entomologist at Ohio State University, you know where to look when it comes to head lice. But bed bugs? They could be anywhere and everywhere. They can also be transported easily to other places and thus the infestation gets even worse. Bed bugs are often called “hitchhikers” because of this. Schools sometimes need to be closed down and fumigated and health departments don’t want that to happen.

          Last year a school in Kentucky was closed down because of bed bugs and the problem is only getting worse. Both parents and school officials are concerned and worried about this problem. They want to know what they can do to help. According to Greg Kesterman, director of the environmental health division for Hamilton County Public Health, you’re guaranteed to see bed bugs show up in public facilities because they are able to crawl on and travel with a person. And this is the case with any type of insect that has these capabilities. The important thing is to notice and catch the problem before it becomes too big.

          In the 1950’s harsh pesticides were used to kill and take care of bed bug problems but now these pesticides are banned. The result? Bed begs are back and in full force. They are everywhere! They’ve been brought back with travelers and are found in homes, schools, dorm rooms, apartment complexes, businesses, hotels and many other places. The Franklin County Board of Health established a central Ohio bedbug task force with intentions to keep an eye on the bed bug population. They also plan to discuss how to handle complaints and inform the public. The board hopes that other districts will see what they are doing and join to help with the situation. Their ultimate goal is that all schools in the district will have workable tools that all schools can use, whether private or public.

          The school nurses in Columbus schools are also prepared to look out for bugs and report any seen. They also are prepared to talk with families and students if any are found. If bed bugs are found during the school day on a backpack or clothing item one easy thing that can be done is to seal the backpack or clothing in a plastic bag. In general, officials don’t believe that students should be banned from school if a bed bug is spotted on them or their belongings.

          Many agree that the health department should be more involved, they tend to stand back because bed bugs aren’t considered to be a health hazard, but it may be too late when the bed bug problem has exploded.

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