How Long Can Bed Bugs Live Without Human Contact

HOW LONG CAN BED BUGS LIVE WITHOUT FEEDING?

How long can bed bugs live without blood? The answer depends on the age of the bed bug, if it is resistant to certain pesticides and the temperature range it is exposed to. “How long can bed bugs live without feeding before becoming adults?” is the first question to ask yourself.

A newly hatched bed bug is called a nymph. Nymphs go through five stages before becoming mature adults. When a bug molts, it sheds its skin. Immature bed bugs molt five times before reaching maturity and must feed in between every molt. For that reason, nymphs must feed more often. Despite their young age, newly hatched bed bugs can still survive for at least a few weeks without feeding.

But if nymphs can survive weeks without feeding, how long can bed bugs live without blood after maturity? That depends. When living in warm conditions, bed bugs will usually try to feed at regular intervals. Adult bed bugs can survive for about five months without a blood meal.

Once the bed bug settles on a host, it will feed for a few minutes. Length of feeding depends on the stage of development, how much it ate last time and how long it’s been since it last fed. After the bed bug is full, it will leave the host and return to a crack or crevice, typically where other bed bugs are gathered.

Bed bugs usually feed every three to seven days, which means that most of the population is in the digesting state, and not feeding much of the time. However, because bed bug infestations can spread so rapidly, it can often feel like you are waking up with new bites every morning. This can lead to high stress levels and a lack of sleep.

Don’t let bed bugs get the best of you. A pest control specialist can help you kick bed bugs out of your house and keep them out.

Polanco AM, Miller DM, Brewster CC. Survivorship During Starvation for Cimex lectularius L.. Insects. 2011; 2(2):232-242.

Can bed bugs live in my hair or on my body?

This is a question that we run into fairly often. People find bugs crawling around their skin, or hiding in their hair, and they’re worried that they may be bed bugs. Obviously, they don’t want to spray their skin with insecticides (nevera recommended option, by the way), so they come to us for support.

First, let’s get one important note out of the way: bed bugs don’t like to hang out on skin or in hair. They may hide on a person to move from one place to another (such as from a public area to your home), but they prefer to nest somewhere out of sight when they’re not feeding. If you frequently find bugs crawling on you throughout your day (especially if you’re away from your home), there’s a good chance that you’re dealing with fleas, ticks, or lice, rather than bed bugs.

Finding bed bugs in your hair is particularly unlikely. While lice and ticks have claws that are designed to help them navigate through hair, bed bugs don’t. Their front claws actually need to be set in a certain way before they begin feeding, which is hard enough to do without hair getting in the way. When bed bugs come to feed, they would much rather do so on bare skin.

If you do find bugs crawling around your skin or hair, take a hot shower with liberal use of soaps and shampoos. Wash your clothes, linens, and towels in hot water, and dry them on high heat settings when possible. Consult with your general practice doctor or a dermatologist as soon as possible for the best treatment suggestions. Depending on what type of bug it is, they may prescribe a special shampoo or lotion.

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.

Top 10 Myths about Bedbugs

The insects, making a comeback around the globe, cannot fly and are really not interested in hanging out on your body–but they do occasionally bite during the day

  • By Megan Scudellari on May 27, 2011

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Once a pest of the past, bedbugs now infest every state in the U.S..Cimex lectularius—small, flattened insects that feed solely on mammalian and avian blood—have been living with humans since ancient times. Abundant in the U.S. prior to World War II, bedbugs all but vanished during the 1940s and ’50s thanks to improvements in hygiene and the use of pesticides. In the past 10 years, however, the pests have staged a comeback worldwide—an outbreak after the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney was a harbinger of things to come. This revival may be the worst yet, experts say, due to densely populated urban areas, global travel and increasing pesticide resistance—something to consider as the summer travel season gets underway.

"By every metric that we use, it’s getting worse and worse," says Coby Schal, an entomologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Health authorities and pest control operators are regularly flooded with calls, and the epidemic may not have yet peaked. And because bedbugs are indoor pests, there are no high or low seasons throughout the year, he adds, only continual bombardment. "It’s just the beginning of the problem in the U.S.," Schal says.

Spreading rapidly with the bedbugs is a mass of misinformation about their biology and behavior. Straight from the experts, here are the facts behind some of the most notorious myths about the diminutive bloodsuckers.

Myth 1: Bedbugs can fly
Bedbugs lack wings, and therefore cannot fly. That is unless you put a blow dryer behind them, says Stephen Kells, a bedbug researcher at the University of Minnesota. Then they’ll fly about 1.2 meters. On their own, bedbugs crawl about a meter a minute, he says.

Myth 2: Bedbugs reproduce quickly
Compared with other insects, bedbugs are slow to reproduce: Each adult female produces about one egg per day; a common housefly lays 500 eggs over three to four days. Each bedbug egg takes 10 days to hatch and another five to six weeks for the offspring to develop into an adult.

Myth 3: Bedbugs can typically live a year without a meal
Scientists debate this point, but evidence suggests that at normal room temperature, about 23 degrees Celsius, bedbugs can only survive two to three months without a blood meal. But because they are cold-blooded, their metabolism will slow down in chillier climates, and the insects may live up to a year without feeding.

Myth 4: Bedbugs bite only at night
Although bedbugs are generally nocturnal, they’re like humans—if they’re hungry, they’ll get up and get something to eat. "If you go away to visit a friend for a week and you come back and sit down on the couch, even though it’s daytime the bedbugs will come looking for you," Schal says. Keeping a light on, then, unfortunately does not keep these tiny vampires away.

Myth 5: Bedbugs live exclusively in mattresses
"’Bedbug’ is such a misnomer," Kells says. "They should also be called pet bugs and suitcase bugs and train bugs and movie theater bugs." Bedbugs spread away from beds into living areas and can be seen on any surface, he says, including chairs, railings and ceilings.

Myth 6: Bedbugs prefer unsanitary, urban conditions
"Bedbugs are terribly nondiscriminatory," Schal says. Bedbugs can be found anywhere from ritzy high-rises to homeless shelters. The prevalence of the bugs in low-income housing is therefore not a result of the insect’s preference, but of dense populations and the lack of money to pay for proper elimination strategies. "Any location is vulnerable," Kells says. "But some people are going to have a harder time getting control of them because it is such an expensive treatment."

Myth 7: Bedbugs travel on our bodies
Bedbugs do not like heat, Kells says. They therefore do not stick in hair or on skin, like lice or ticks, and prefer not to remain in our clothes close to our bodily heat. Bedbugs are more likely to travel on backpacks, luggage, shoes and other items farther removed from our bodies.

Myth 8: Bedbugs transmit disease
Bedbug bites can lead to anxiety, sleeplessness and even secondary infections, but there have been no reported cases of bedbugs transmitting disease to humans. They do, however, harbor human pathogens: At least 27 viruses, bacteria, protozoa and more have been found in bedbugs, although these microbes do not reproduce or multiply within the insects. Canadian researchers announced (pdf) in the June issue ofEmerging Infectious Diseasesthat bedbugs isolated from three individuals in a Vancouver hospital carried methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus, aka MRSA. Still, there have been no reported cases that the bugs actually transmit human disease.

Myth 9: We should bring back DDT
When the controversial pesticide DDT was banned in 1972, most bed bugs were already resistant to it, Schal says, and today’s populations are even more widely resistant thanks to the use of a new class of pesticides. Pyrethroids, the main class of pesticides used against bedbugs today, targets sodium channels in bedbug cells, just like DDT. Consequently, as bedbugs develop resistance to pyrethroids, they also become cross-resistant to DDT.

How to Manage Pests

Pests of Homes, Structures, People, and Pets

Bed Bugs

In this Guideline:

  • Don’t bring bed bugs home when you travel (2:40)
  • How to inspect for bed bugs (2:20)
  • How to use a bed bug detector (2:29)

Bed bugs adults and nymphs. Scale bar represents 5 millimeters.

Bed bug eggs on paper. Eyespots are visible as red dots on the developing bed bug embryos.

Life stages of a bed bug. The five nymphal stages each require a blood meal before molting to the next stage. The increments on the ruler are millimeters.

Bed bug bites cause swellings that become red and irritated when scratched. Some people, however, exhibit no visible symptoms after being bitten.

Fecal spots of bed bugs. Eggs and cast skin (exuviae) are visible in the upper left-hand corner.

Bed bugs are blood-sucking insects in the family Cimicidae. Both nymphs and adults feed on sleeping or sedentary humans, mostly at night, a time when this pest’s stealthy habits are difficult to observe.

Bed bugs are found worldwide in association with human habitations. The common bed bug,Cimex lectularius, is a widely distributed species most frequently found in the northern temperate climates of North America, Europe, and Central Asia. It occurs more sporadically in southern temperate regions. In tropical regionsC. hemipterus, the tropical bed bug, is the dominant species. The most common species found in California isC. lectularius.

The growth and development ofC. lectulariusis optimal when it feeds on humans; however, this insect also feeds on other species of mammals and on birds found near the home including chickens, mice, rats, and rabbits. Bat bugs and swallow bugs, close relatives of bed bugs, may also be found in and around human dwellings and may sometimes bite humans, although their preferred hosts are bats and birds, respectively.

Until recently, bed bug infestations were thought to be associated primarily with crowded and dilapidated housing. However, bed bugs have undergone a resurgence in pest status and can now be found even in the finest hotel and living accommodations. The reasons for this resurgence aren’t totally understood but appear to involve increased global travel and commerce, ease of movement of infested items, widespread insecticide resistance, and changes in pesticides available to control this pest.

IDENTIFICATION AND LIFE CYCLE

Adult bed bugs are oval, wingless, about 1/5 inch long, and rusty red or mahogany. Their bodies are flattened, they have well-developed antennae, their compound eyes are small, and the area behind the head (the pronotum) expands forward on either side of the head, bearing many small hairs. The immatures, called nymphs, appear identical to the adults except for their smaller size (1/20 –1/5 inch), thinner outer skeleton (cuticle), and lighter yellowish-white color.

Bed bugs are readily distinguished from another common blood-sucking species, conenose bugs (also known as kissing bugs), by their smaller size, more rounded shape, and lack of wings as adults. Conenose bugs may be up to 3/4 inch long. (SeePest Notes: Conenose Bugs.)

Bed bugs can be distinguished from their close relatives bat bugs and swallow bugs by comparing the length of the hairs on the pronotum to the diameter of the eye; this requires a hand lens or microscope. These hairs are shorter than the diameter of the eye on a bed bug and longer than the diameter of the eye on bat bugs and swallow bugs. This distinction is sometimes important to make, since managing these bed bug relatives involves managing their vertebrate hosts (i.e., bats and swallows) nesting in, on, or near homes.

Female bed bugs lay 200 to 500 tiny (1/20 inch) white eggs during their lifetimes, usually two to five eggs per day, on rough surfaces such as wood or paper near their hosts’ sleeping places, resting places, or both. Gluelike material covers the eggs, which hatch in about 10 to 15 days at room temperature. After hatching occurs, the eggshells frequently remain stuck in place.

There are five progressively larger nymphal stages, each requiring at least one blood meal before molting to the next stage. The entire life cycle from egg to adult requires anywhere from five weeks to four months, depending on temperature and availability of food (blood). Development occurs most rapidly when temperatures are between 70° and 82°F.

Both nymphs and adults generally feed at night and hide in dark cracks and crevices during the day, although hungry bugs may feed any time hosts are nearby and sedentary. Common hiding places are typically located within 6 or fewer feet from areas where humans sleep or rest and include: along mattress seams and tufts; beneath covers; in wood joints of box springs; in cracks and joints of bed frames; behind baseboards and headboards; under loose wallpaper; behind picture frames; and inside furniture, appliances, electronics and upholstery. Bed bugs are more likely to harbor in or on materials made of wood, paper, or fabric as compared to those made of metal or plastic.

Occasionally, people may pick up bed bugs in theaters or on buses and trains. People can also bring bed bugs into their home on infested clothing, bedding, furniture, and luggage.

Bed bugs can go without feeding for 20 to 400 days, depending on temperature and humidity. Older stages of nymphs can survive longer without feeding than younger ones, and adults have survived without food for more than 400 days in the laboratory at low temperatures. Adults may live up to one year or more, and there can be up to four successive generations per year.

DAMAGE

Bed bugs feed on humans, usually at night when they are resting. This insect feeds by piercing the skin with its elongated mouthpart, which consists of four stylets that normally fold under its body when at rest but fully extend during blood feeding. Two maxillary stylets form canals, a small salivary canal that carries saliva into the wound and a relatively large food canal through which body fluids from the host are taken in.

A bed bug can take up to six times its weight in blood during one feeding event, which takes between 3 and 10 minutes. Usually people aren’t aware they have been bitten until afterward; bites occur while people sleep, and bed bugs are known to inject a natural anesthetic while feeding. However, saliva injected during the feeding can later produce allergic dermal reactions such as large itchy swellings on the skin. These may become irritated and infected when scratched. Swelling may not develop until a day or more after feeding, and some people show no symptoms at all. Bed bugs have never been shown to transmit human disease.

Distinguishing bed bug bites from the bites of other arthropods such as mosquitoes, fleas, and spiders is difficult to impossible. People often confuse itching bed bug welts with mosquito bites. The only way you can really confirm bed bugs as the cause is to find the bugs or their signs in your bed or bedroom. Often people are bitten when traveling and may be unable to produce a specimen, making diagnosis even more difficult.

In addition to direct injury to humans, bed bugs leave odors and unsightly fecal spots on bed sheets and around the insects’ hiding places. These spots are usually reddish brown or dark brown to black, sometimes yellowish, roughly round (although sometimes they appear as streaks), and can be very small.

MANAGEMENT

How to inspect for bed bugs(2:20)

Confirmed bed bug infestations should be managed by trained professionals. Managing a bed bug infestation is a difficult task that requires removing or treating all infested material and follow-up monitoring to ensure the infestation has been eliminated. Management will require employing several nonchemical methods such as vacuuming, washing bedding at a high temperature, using steam or heat treatment, and sealing up hiding places.

Insecticides may be required to eliminate serious infestations. Several active ingredients are federally registered for bed bugs for over-the-counter use, but few have been demonstrated as effective. Pest management professionals (PMPs) have access to a wide range of effective registered products; however, insecticide resistance among bed bug populations is increasingly common. The best approach is to combine chemical and nonchemical tactics with increased sanitation and habitat modification practices. Prevention and monitoring of bed bug infestations are paramount and should be ongoing.

Monitoring and Detection

The presence of raised wheals, blisters, rashes, or any other dermal symptom associated with arthropod bites should never be used for diagnosis, since several household pests are known to bite humans, and since reactions vary widely between individuals. You can confirm a bed bug infestation only by detecting the pests themselves or their signs, which include fecal spots, blood spots, egg cases, and shed skins (exuviae).

Current research indicates 85% of bed bugs are found in or near the bed, so inspections for infestations should initially focus on the mattress, box spring, bed frame, and headboard. Lift the mattress and inspect all its seams and surfaces as well as those of the box spring. You may need to dismantle the bed. Keeping in mind bed bugs can utilize cracks and crevices as small as the width of a credit card, make sure to thoroughly inspect all potential harborage sites. Use a flashlight and a small mirror to aid in the inspection process. It can take a good deal of time, patience, and perseverance to detect low-level infestations.

Remember, these nocturnal insects are small. Although you can see adults and aggregations of nymphs with the unaided eye, seeing the eggs requires a hand-magnifying lens. Make sure to look for dark spots of dried bed bug excrement, blood spots where engorged bugs were inadvertently crushed, or the insects’ light-colored shed skins. A foul, rotting, bloody meat, or acrid “buggy” smell might be present in heavily infested areas.

The remaining 15% of infestations usually are in upholstered furniture other than beds; in bedroom cabinets; along baseboards; under wallpaper; and in carpets, wall hangings, and similar hiding spots. Bed bugs prefer fabric or wood surfaces to metal or plastic. When there are heavy infestations, keep in mind that adjoining rooms, filing areas, and clutter can be out-of-the-way shelters.

Recent research has shown that canine detection utilizing dogs conditioned to the scent of bed bugs can be an effective tool for detecting bed bug infestations. Laboratory and simulated field studies have shown this method can be very accurate; under actual field conditions, however, canine detection accuracy has been highly variable. Therefore, third-party certification and ongoing training of any canine team should be verified before hire, and any canine detection alert should be confirmed with a detailed inspection by a trained PMP.

Other recent research indicates monitors that attract or intercept bed bugs moving between a hiding place and a host can aid in bed bug detection, particularly when using several monitors near beds or suspect locations. Pest management professionals are already widely using these monitors. Although quite diverse in terms of size, appearance, and price, monitors generally fall within one of two categories: active monitors or passive monitors. All monitors have the benefit of ease of inspection as compared to potentially having to disassemble furniture and other household items to find bed bugs.

Active monitors employ an attractant—usually heat, carbon dioxide, host odors (kairomones), pheromones, or a combination of these—to lure bed bugs out of their harborage areas and into a pitfall or sticky trap within the monitor. These devices have the potential, especially in the absence of a host, to detect bed bugs that would normally remain hidden. Airborne aggregation pheromones and other behavior-modifying chemicals might someday help detect low-density infestations.

Passive monitors either exploit a bed bug’s affinity for dark crevices or rely on chance encounters with pitfalls or sticky traps.

Interceptor monitors are a hybrid between active and passive (pitfall) monitors in that they rely on the presence of a host (a sleeping human) to attract hungry bugs and then trap the parasites on route to their meal. These small double-cupped monitors are easily installed under the legs of beds and other furniture items. Research has demonstrated that such interceptors trapped six times more bed bugs than were found from human visual searches alone.

Prevention

People may bring bed bugs into their homes in luggage or on clothes after visiting an infested dwelling or hotel. If you travel frequently, look for signs of bed bugs in your hotel room by checking behind headboards and under sheets and by inspecting mattress seams and tufts, especially if you have been bitten. If you suspect bed bugs are present, change rooms or hotels. Inspect your luggage before leaving, and as soon as you get home, wash and dry all your clothes at the hottest settings the fabric will permit. Frequent travelers may want to store luggage away from the bedroom, such as in the garage or a hall closet.

You may also inadvertently bring bed bugs into your home on infested bedding or furniture. If you purchase second-hand furniture, especially beds or mattresses, thoroughly inspect the item before bringing it into your home. If you remove infested mattresses or furniture from your home, don’t leave them on the curb or porch. Take such items immediately to the dump or clearly mark them as infested by bed bugs so others won’t unknowingly bring the items into their homes.

Managers of hotels, furnished apartments, dormitories, homeless shelters, and other facilities that house transient populations need to train staff to recognize signs of bed bug activity and take action as soon as they find an infestation. One proactive step a manager can take is to regularly replace beds, mattress, and bedding materials. Frequently laundering bedding and placing potentially infested items into walk-in freezers or heat units during tenant turnover can help prevent the spread and establishment of bed bugs. Keep clutter down, so it is easier to inspect and so bed bugs have fewer hiding places. Also, seal up cracks, crevices, and holes in bedding, furniture, and other potential hiding sites. It is much easier to manage a bed bug infestation when the population is small.

Nonchemical Management

A number of nonchemical control methods can be used to manage bed bugs. These methods are directed at killing or removing bugs or restricting their access to beds or bedding material.

You can remove bed bugs and eggs with the suction wand of a strong vacuum; however, you must target the seams of mattresses and box springs, along perimeters of carpets, under baseboards, and in other areas where bed bugs live. A single vacuuming rarely gets all bugs and eggs and should, therefore, be repeated. Portable steam cleaners and other steam delivery devices can kill all bed bug life stages, so these items can also be used to clean mattresses and furniture. Care must be taken, however, to ensure steam penetrates into the areas harboring bed bugs and their eggs.

Commercial heating services are available to treat entire rooms in homes for bed bug infestations. The current recommendation for effective commercial heating services calls for a temperature of at least 140°F for two hours or 130°F for three hours (the minimum lethal temperature is 113°F), which will kill most bed bugs and eggs. In California, providers of heat services must be licensed and bonded by the Structural Pest Control Board. Chilling to a temperature of 32°F or lower and maintaining this temperature for several days will also kill bed bugs.

For suspected infestations in clothing or bedding, a home laundry drier at the hottest setting can be effectively used to deliver the necessary heat. At least 10 to 15 minutes exposure will be needed. Before using this method, consider whether heat will damage the fabric.

Mattress encasements specifically designed to prevent bed bugs from establishing harborages on mattresses are commercially available and have been shown to be effective through laboratory research. Encasements are particularly useful for hotels or other facilities with many beds. Encasements can also be used to contain bed bugs within mattresses when they can’t be discarded or when control tactics such as steam or insecticide application are unavailable or undesirable. Bugs trapped inside encasements will eventually die due to starvation.

Other management practices include sealing up hiding places where bed bugs can hide such as cracks and crevices in walls and around windows and doors. As a temporary measure, you can sometimes exclude bed bugs by using commercially available double-cupped monitors that are easily installed under bed legs.

Insecticides

Insecticide applications alone won’t control bed bug infestations. Insecticides must be combined with infestation prevention measures—a program of removing and cleaning infested beds, bedding, and other harborage sites—as well as nonchemical tactics such as steam or heat delivery and an ongoing evaluation and detection program to ensure treatment was effective and to manage future infestations early on.

The most effective bed bug pesticides are available to commercial pesticide applicators only. Professionals also have the equipment and expertise that allow for a more effective and precise application of insecticides. In addition, professionals have the training to detect and isolate infestations, which often allows for more effective long-term management.

Insecticides may be applied as liquids directly to cracks, crevices, bed frames, baseboards, and other similar sites, or they may be applied as dusts in cracks and crevices. Pesticides aren’t generally applied to mattresses or bedding because of potential risk to people. Using over-the-counter total-release aerosol foggers has been shown to be ineffective for bed bug control and potentially harmful to residents; therefore, they aren’t recommended.

Liquid insecticide formulations, many of which are available for use only by PMPs, include:

  • Products containing the botanical insecticide pyrethrin, which gives quick knockdown but little long-term control
  • Various synthetic pyrethroid products (e.g., cyhalothrin, bifenthrin, deltamethrin, and permethrin)
  • Mixtures of pyrethroids and neonicotinoids (e.g., Temprid and Transport)
  • Various botanical oils
  • Newer types of products including the pyrrole insecticide chlorfenapyr (Phantom) and the insect growth regulator (IGR) hydroprene (Gentrol)

Fumigation using the active ingredient sulfuryl fluoride is commercially available for bed bug control in California and can be highly effective. However, this is a highly specialized and regulated treatment method, best for remedial control only. Since fumigants have no residual effects, other methods or a combination of methods will be needed to prevent reinfestations.

Some bed bug populations have developed resistance to pyrethroid insecticides and no longer can be effectively controlled by them. Therefore, there is growing interest in alternatives such as the mixtures, botanicals, and IGR listed above. Some studies, however, suggest that mixtures containing pyrethroids continue to drive resistance, that oils have little to no residual action, and that chlorfenapyr and hydroprene may take many days to kill bed bugs.

Insecticides applied as dusts cling to the pest’s cuticle, wearing away the insect’s protective wax covering or poisoning the insect when it grooms itself. Several dust products used in bed bug management include borates, diatomaceous earth, silica gel, and formulations containing pyrethrin or pyrethroids. These materials can provide long-term control as part of an integrated program if they are placed in out-of-the-way places, such as under baseboards or in wall voids, that don’t get wet. Bed bugs may not groom themselves to the same degree as other pests, such as cockroaches, so insecticide dusts requiring consumption, including borates, may be less effective than anticipated.

Do-It-Yourself Treatments

Although over-the-counter pesticide products that have bed bug control written on the label can be found on store shelves, they aren’t generally recommended. Performance of these products under actual field conditions isn’t known. If you need to use a pesticide, you are better off hiring a licensed professional pesticide applicator with experience in treating bed bugs; seePest Notes: Hiring A Pest Control Company.

Residents do have an important role to play when their homes are infested with bed bugs. Once professional treatment has occurred, you should continue to monitor for bed bugs daily. Also, keep down clutter, and vacuum previously infested areas regularly.

REFERENCES

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2011. Acute illnesses associated with insecticides used to control bed bugs, seven states, 2003-2010.Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report60(37):1269–1274.

Cooper, R. 2011. Ectoparasites, Part Three: Bed Bugs & Kissing Bugs. In S. Hedges, ed.The Mallis Handbook of Pest Control, 10th ed. Richmond, Ohio: GIE Media Inc. pp. 587–632.

Ebeling, W. 1975. Bed Bugs and Allies (Cimicidae). InUrban Entomology. Oakland: Univ. Calif. Agric. Nat. Res. pp. 463–475.

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Getty, G., S. Moore, R. Tabuchi, and V. R. Lewis. 2012. A trial evaluation of the London Luxury bed bug mattress protector.Pest Control Tech.40(12):116–118.

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SUGGESTED READING

Bed Bugs. 2013. UC Riverside Center for Invasive Species Research.

Bed Bug Information. 2013. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

PUBLICATION INFORMATION

Pest Notes: Bed Bugs

UC ANR Publication 7454

Authors: A. M. Sutherland, UC Cooperative Extension, Alameda Co.; D.-H. Choe, Entomology, UC Riverside; and V. R. Lewis, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, UC Berkeley.

Produced by University of California Statewide IPM Program

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Statewide IPM Program, Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California
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