How Do Bed Bugs Travel

Do Bed Bugs Travel on People?

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Believe it or not, bed bugs can travel via human hosts. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images )

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They’re creepy, they’re crawly and they’re often quite difficult to spot. Bed bugs – blood-sucking, tiny parasites that dine on human and animal hosts – have become a concern worldwide due to their stealthy ways of getting around. Unfortunately, the little critters are more mobile than we would like to think.

Bed Bug Bites and Basics

Bed bugs – named for one of their favorite hangouts – tend to be found in linens, between cracks in mattresses and even in cracks and crevices in the floor. They leech off their human or animal hosts, with bed bug bites leaving scabby trails of rashes and marks across the skin. Because they are mostly active at night, it can take awhile for a person to notice that his home or hotel room has bed bugs.

How Bed Bugs Spread

Not everyone is aware that bed bugs can be spread via humans: if a person goes to a hotel room that has bed bugs, and the bed bugs hide out on the person or on the person’s luggage, the bed bugs can be spread to a new location. Because of this, no house is safe from a bed bug infestation. Bed bugs can spread from house to house, living in even the cleanest conditions; bed bugs are not a sign that a person’s home is dirty or unkempt.

Looking for Bed Bug Evidence

If you suspect that your home has been hit by bed bugs, look for the following telltale signs: small scabs or rashes in a line-like pattern on your skin, small fecal droppings or small blood smears on your sheets. The bed-bug bites will most likely be across your face, arms, or legs – the areas that are not covered by your pajamas as you sleep. Remember, though, that not all people will develop a rash if being bitten. You’ll also want to check for bugs in your mattress and in your luggage by closely inspecting them.

Eradicating Bed Bugs for Good

Though a variety of sprays and ointments are out there marketed as beg-bug killers, the truth is that many of these products do not work. You can attempt to rid yourself of these pests by vacuuming every inch of your apartment and by putting your linens in a dryer set on the highest setting. While it’s rare to find bed bugs on the clothes you’re wearing – they tend to fall off once you start moving – you should still wash any potentially contaminated clothing as well. A severe infestation will require the attention of a licensed exterminator; it can often take more than one visit from the exterminator to ensure that the bed bugs are really gone.

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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.

Department of Health

Bed Bugs – What They Are and How to Control Them

Bed bugs have been around for thousands of years. They feed on blood, but are not known to spread any diseases to humans. Some people can be allergic to their bites. Getting rid of a bed bug infestation is not easy, but there are steps you can take to control the problem. There are also steps you can take to avoid bringing bed bugs home.

What are bed bugs?

How can bed bugs get into my home?

  • They can come from other infested areas or from used furniture. They can hitch a ride in luggage, purses, backpacks, or other items placed on soft or upholstered surfaces.
  • They can travel between rooms in multi-unit buildings, such as apartment complexes and hotels.

How can I avoid bringing bed bugs into my home?

  • When staying in a hotel, place your bag on a suitcase stand rather than on the bed or floor. Keep the rack away from walls or furniture. When returning home, wash the clothes from your trip and put them in a hot dryer.
  • Inspect new and used furniture before bringing it inside. Look in seams, tufts and under cushions.

How do I know if I have a bed bug problem?

  • You can see the bed bugs themselves, their shed skins, or their droppings in mattress seams and other items in the bedroom.
  • There may also be blood stains on sheets.

How do I control a bed bug problem in my home?

It can be done, but it usually requires what is called an "integrated pest management" (IPM) approach. This combines techniques that pose the lowest risk to your health and the environment. Try these strategies:

  • Clean and get rid of clutter, especially in your bedroom.
  • Move your bed away from walls or furniture.
  • Vacuum molding, windows and floors every day. Vacuum sides and seams of mattresses, box springs and furniture. Empty the vacuum or the bag immediately and dispose of outside in a sealed container or bag.
  • Wash sheets, pillow cases, blankets and bed skirts and put them in a hot dryer for at least 30 minutes. Consider using mattress and box spring covers –the kind used for dust mite control–and put duct tape over the zippers.
  • Seal cracks and crevices and any openings where pipes or wires come into the home.

Should I also try pesticides?

Pesticides may not be effective and can be dangerous if used improperly. If you decide to use pesticides, follow these rules:

  • Only use pesticides that are registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (look for the U.S. EPA Registration Number on the label) and make sure they are labeled to control bed bugs.
  • Do not apply pesticides directly to your body (there are no repellents registered to control bed bugs that can be used on the human body).
  • Do not use outdoor pesticides indoors.
  • If you decide to hire a pest control company, make sure they have experience with bed bugs. They should follow the steps of IPM, along with any pesticide application. Use a company that is registered and employs licensed applicators. The Department of Environmental Conservation has a list of registered companies.

It takes time and persistence to get rid of bed bugs, and in some cases, the cooperation of landlords, neighbors and others. It can be physically and emotionally exhausting. It can also be expensive when pest control companies are called in. Just remember – bed bugs are more of a nuisance than a health concern and, with vigilance, you can avoid or deal with infestations.

See the following for more information on bed bug biology and control measures:

Photo courtesy of Dr. Harold Harlan, Armed Forces Pest Management Board Image Library

Bed bugs

Quick facts

You may not realize that you have been bitten. Bite reactions vary from no reaction to mild red spots to severe rash or hives.

The return of the bed bug

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) were almost completely removed from North America due to mass treatments with highly toxic insecticides that are no longer in use.

Frequent travel, improved treatment methods that target other insects without affecting bed bugs, and a lack of public awareness has led to a rise in the spread of bed bugs.

Identifying bed bugs

Contact an expert to help identify any suspected bed bug specimens.

The "Let’s Beat the Bed Bug" campaign at the University of Minnesota found that 76 percent of samples submitted for identification are not bed bugs.

  • Adult bed bugs are oval, flattened, brown and wingless insects approximately 1/4" to 3/8" long (5-9 mm). They are similar in appearance to a wood tick.
  • After the bug has taken a blood meal its color changes from brown to purplish-red and it becomes larger and more cigar-shaped.
  • Young bed bugs resemble the adult in shape but are much smaller, 1/16" (1.6 mm), when they first hatch. They are nearly colorless except after feeding.

Life cycle

After mating, females lay white, oval eggs (1/16" long) into cracks and crevices.

  • An individual bed bug can lay 200 to 250 eggs in her lifetime.
  • The eggs hatch in 6 to 10 days and the newly emerged nymphs seek a blood meal.
  • Immature nymphs molt five times (they shed their outer exoskeleton) before reaching adulthood.
  • There may be three or more generations per year. All ages are found in a reproducing population.
  • Under normal circumstances adult bed bugs will live for about 2 to 4 months.
  • Bed bugs need to feed at least once before each molt, although they could feed as often as once a day.

    Young nymphs can survive without a blood meal for days up to several months. Older nymphs and adults can survive longer without a blood meal up to a year under favorable conditions.

    Bed bugs are also found in schools, retail facilities, office buildings, libraries and other public areas.

    Signs that you have bed bugs

    Look where you sleep

    Bed bugs typically group together in out-of-the-way areas. But some bed bugs will live by themselves, away from the rest of an infestation. The best way to check for an infestation is to look for bed bugs where you sleep or rest.

    In bedrooms, look particularly on and around:

    • boxsprings, mattresses, bed frames, tufts, folds and buttons on mattresses
    • furniture such as desks and chairs
    • behind wallpaper, clocks and pictures
    • cracks in wood floors and under the edge of carpet

    Be careful when you travel

    The greatest chance of finding bed bugs is while you are traveling. It is a good habit to check your room whenever on vacation.

    Check your luggage where you typically set it down when you enter your home and where you store it after travelling.

    While bed bugs are most commonly found in bedrooms, infestations can occur in other rooms including bathrooms, living rooms and laundry rooms.

    Look for spots or smears

    Bed bugs will sometimes deposit fecal spots (digested blood) while they are feeding. These are seen as dark (dark reddish or brownish) spots or smears found on bed sheets, pillowcases and mattresses, or in nearby areas.

    • Dark blood spots on sheets and bedding may indicate bed bug feeding.
    • In severe infestations, bed bugs may be more noticeable.
    • A combination of bugs, cast skins (empty shells of bugs as they grow from one stage to the next) and fecal spots will be very obvious when closely seen.

    Inspect carefully

    These insects are small (1/16" to 1/4") and very flat, so they can move into very tight corners and cracks. They have been found under picture frames between the glass and the frame.

    Bed bugs can be found behind electrical outlets and other wall plates.

    • Inspect all areas closely and, if in doubt, contact a pest control service.
    • If you find a bed bug stop inspection and begin control activity.
    • Bed bugs will move from their hiding places once disturbed. All further inspections should be accompanied by control measures.

    How to avoid bringing bed bugs into your home

    Traveling and bed bugs

    Inspect your personal items before packing and when you unpack

    You can only confirm that bed bugs are present by carefully inspecting each item. Pay attention to cracks, crevices, seams and folds of material.

    If you find bugs, then you have to be careful in containing the infestation.

    Bed bugs do not travel on people

    Bed bugs may hitch a ride on clothing, but they are not like lice and will not travel directly on a person.

    If you are concerned about bed bugs on clothing remove suspect articles and put them into a plastic bag.

    • Remove clothing in a place with a non-carpeted floor so bed bugs will have to travel before finding a hiding spot.
    • A wet cloth wiped over the floor will help contain any bed bugs that try to escape.

    Tips for reducing the risk of bringing home bed bugs

    If you think there might be bedbugs on your items seal everything in plastic bags until they can be laundered, washed by hand, heated or frozen.

    There is no need to throw away luggage and clothing after discovering an infestation.

    Before leaving the location, sort anything that can be washed and place in plastic bags.

    • Separate the laundry as you would if you were normally laundering items.
    • This will prevent escaping bed bugs as you try to sort the laundry at home.
  • Set the washer and dryer for the hottest setting that the fabric can stand.
  • If using a dry cleaning service, mention that the items may have bed bugs and that they can keep the articles in the plastic bags until just before loading into the machines.
  • Inspect suitcases and other items that cannot be placed into a washing machine and place them into plastic bags if you find bed bugs.
  • Suitcases may be hand-washed using soapy water and the hottest water possible.
  • Test the item to make sure it will not be affected by the hot water.
  • A temperature of 100°F to 120°F should be hot enough.
  • Use a scrub brush along the seams and folds.
  • Items that cannot be washed may be heated or frozen.

    • A two-hour core exposure at 120°F (45°C) is considered a minimum target temperature for heat treatments.
    • For freezing, a minimum of 23°F (-5°C) must be maintained for at least 5 days.
    • The exposure time can be reduced if the articles are flash frozen at a temperature of -15°F (-26°C), which would freeze the eggs instantly.
    • Most household freezers will have temperatures between 30°F and 20°F.
    • A 2-week freeze time is recommended if you are uncertain of the freezer temperatures.

    If you heat or freeze items, these conditions must reach the core of the articles being treated.

    Bed bugs on used furniture

    Used furniture is another potential source of bed bugs.

    • Do not pick up beds and furniture that have been left by the curb for disposal or behind places of business.
    • Bed bug infestations can be found on tables, drawers and even electronics if these items were located in a bedroom or another place that was infested.

    How to get rid of bed bugs

    Hire a professional exterminator

    We recommend that you seek assistance from a professional pest control company.

    • An exterminator uses specialty equipment to move furniture, take it apart and control the infestation.
    • They perform careful inspections along with non-chemical controls (heat treatments, vacuuming and steam treatments) and insecticide treatments.
    • The insecticides used are commercial products requiring special equipment and training.
    • Pest control services use heat treatment (118°F maintained for at least 70 minutes) in target areas.
    • All stages of bed bugs are killed when this is done properly.
    • Heat treatment does not prevent bed bugs from coming back into a home and reinfesting it.
    • Sometimes furniture is removed and heat treated in a container. But, it is not necessary to move or throw away your furniture or belongings, especially from an apartment or condominium.

    It is important to cooperate with a pest control service.

    To find a professional belonging to the National Pest Management Association, go to the Pest World website and type in your zip code in the search box under "Find a Professional."

    What you can do to help control an infestation

    When working with a pest management company there are some additional things you might have to do to help get rid of bed bugs.

    Using heat

    You can use your washing machine and dryer to kill bed bugs infesting clothes and other washable items.

    • Clothes laundered in hot water and/or dried in temperatures hotter than 122°F for 20 minutes will kill all stages of bed bugs.
    • This is typically the medium-high setting. If you are not sure what temperature your drier can reach, ask a professional to test it for you.
    • You can also heat curtains and other fabrics, rugs, shoes, backpacks, stuffed animals, toys and similar objects by drying them at medium-high for about 30 minutes for a full load.

    Using cold

    Cold temperatures can kill bed bugs if they are exposed to it long enough. All stages of bed bugs will be killed on objects left in a freezer at 0°F for 3 days.

    • Putting infested furniture outdoors during winter may kill some bed bugs.
    • Outdoor freezing temperatures will not always kill all of the bed bugs infesting an object. But, you can use the cold treatment to disable bed bugs until you decide what to do with the object.

    Encasements

    An encasement is a fabric covering that looks like a very large sack with a zipper and that completely fits around a mattress or box spring.

    They are useful when you want to protect a mattress you know is free of bed bugs (it has been heat treated or you have purchased a new mattress).

    • You can also use encasements on infested mattresses and box springs to trap the bed bugs inside them; you can keep using your bed as long as the encasements are not ripped or torn.
    • Buy encasements (from professional pest control services) that are specifically designed for protecting against bed bugs.

    Bed bug interceptors

    Bed bug interceptors are small plastic trays with an inner and outer ring. You can place them under the bed legs.

    Bed bugs that try to climb up from the floor to the bed become trapped in the outer well. Any bed bugs that try to climb down will become trapped in the center well.

    • Bed bug interceptors not only help to reduce the number of bed bugs that can reach the bed but also help determine whether bed bugs are present.
    • You can buy bed bug interceptors online, from pest management companies, or from retail stores.

    Insecticides

    • Do not try to treat bed bugs yourself. The insecticides available in over-the-counter products are not effective in controlling bed bugs.
    • Bug bombs (total release foggers) are not effective when treating bed bugs.
    • These products throw insecticide into the air and very little product comes in contact with bed bugs hiding in cracks and behind and under objects.
    • Bug bombs are potentially flammable if used incorrectly. It is easy for people to misuse or overuse bug bombs, and can result in unnecessary pesticide exposure.

    CAUTION:We strongly discourage you from trying to treat bed bugs yourself. But, if you decide to use a pesticide, it is very important to carefully read and understand the label before using and to follow all label directions. The product you use should be labeled for bed bugs.

    How Do Bed Bugs Travel?

    Bags & Personal Belongings

    Bed bugs are transported by people, most often in personal belongings such as the following:

    • Luggage & Suitcases
    • Purses
    • Gym bags
    • Items kept close to sleep areas

    They can hide in your personal belongings, or even on you, and hitchhike a ride back to your home, condo, townhouse or apartment.

    Many people ask if bed bugs can jump, but they can’t and dont travel that way.

    Where do you pick them up?

    It’s possible to pick up bed bugs almost any place – they’ve infested offices, stores, hotels, gyms and countless other places.

    Prefer people over pets

    The common bed bug prefers to feed on human hosts and does not prefer pets or other furry animals.

    Bed bugs are easily transported into previously non-infested dwellings.

    Once indoors, they can be extremely difficult to control without the help of an experienced pest specialist.

    If you suspect you may have picked up some of these hitchhikers in your travels, call Orkin for a comprehensive bed bug inspection and assessment and implementation of a treatment solution.

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