Bed bugs have become one of the leading problems in the insect world. These blood-sucking pests are breeding at an exponential pace and fighting them has become more difficult as infestations spread across the country. While bedbugs thankfully don’t form huge colonies that can be seen from space, they can be a huge problem for you if they infest your home. Understanding everything you can about these pests will help you conquer any problems you may have if you encounter them.
What Are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs (Cimex Lectularius) are a blood-eating insect that can cause red, itchy bites and generally emerge to feed at night when people are asleep. Bed bugs are of the same family as head and body lice. Bed bugs prefer to feed at night because their victims are still and easy to attack.
Bed bugs are very small. An adult bug is approximately 1/4 inch in length when completely grown. They are similar in size and shape to an apple seed. These bugs are flat and oval shaped when they have not recently fed. They may look like a little ball when they are engorged with blood.
Bed bugs have a five-stage life cycle. Each of these cycles requires the bug to consume blood to develop to the next stage. Unlike other bugs of this category, bed bugs will look for food and bite people in their larval stage so that they can develop to the next level.
Bed bugs also have an extended life span. Larva can last several months without a meal before they die. Each stage can go “dormant” for a period of time in anticipation of a meal. In some cases, a bed bug once it has hatched, can take up to a year to develop into an adult. This is what makes them so difficult to exterminate.
Do Bed Bugs Cause Harm or Spread Germs?
Extensive research has been conducted on bed bugs and their potential to spread disease through their bites or droppings. Until recently, it was believed that these bugs could not transmit any diseases or cause any specific diseases. However, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has recently released a report stating that they believe the increased cases of Chagas in the United States can be directly connected to bed bugs. Chagas is a serious disease that impacts the heart and digestive system.
Other research has shown that the most significant problem associated with bed bug bites are the allergic reactions at the bite site. The itching can become chronic and burdensome. Excessive bites can also cause a person to become anemic because of the loss of blood. However, anemia is a very rare condition caused by bed bug bites.
The CDC has also stated that there is significant emotional trauma caused by bed bugs. People who are continually attacked by bed bugs, or have a fear of bugs, can suffer emotional trauma from the infestation. Frustration from not being able to get rid of these bugs can also lead to emotional stress.
Where Are Bed Bugs Found?
Bed bugs can be found everywhere in the world. They are more common in poorer nations that have a hard time bringing in the right type of extermination products and in dense populations. Bed bugs are found in every state and commonly show up in areas where there are a lot of hotels.
When an Infestation Occurs, Bed Bugs Are Often Found:
- Around the seams of the mattress, around the piping, and around the tags on the mattress.
- Between the mattress and the box springs.
- Around the seams of the box springs.
- In and around the seams and cracks of furniture in the room or house.
- Under chair or couch cushions
In Heavily Infested Areas:
- Around the seams and in the folds of curtains.
- In and around wall sockets.
- In the creases of the wall and near the ceiling and wall joints.
- In the drawer joints of dressers and tables.
- In the carpet near the edge of the wall.
How Do Bed Bugs Invade a Home?
Bed bugs are very resilient bugs. They are so small that they can travel easily. They have been known to attach themselves to clothing, luggage, boxes and bedding. Once the bugs arrive in your home, they quickly multiply, especially if there is an easy food source.
To protect your home from infestation, you should make sure that any used furniture that you purchase is carefully inspected prior to bringing it in the house. Any furniture that seems to have signs of bed bugs, such as small red speckled stains under the cushions, should not be brought into the home.
If you share a laundry facility at an apartment complex or use the local laundry mat, you should also take precaution on having your clothes intermingle with others or setting them on any of the tables. Clothes should be brought in a clean plastic bag and after they are dried, placed back in the bag right from the dryer. Fold your clothes at home.
How Can You Tell if Your Home or Apartment Is Infested?
If you suspect that your home or apartment is infested with bed bugs you need to find evidence. Since there are other types of biting bugs, it is important to be able to identify bed bugs specifically so you can have the right type of treatment performed on the dwelling.
Signs of a Bed Bug Infestation Include:
- Reddish-brown stains on sheets, on mattresses, on the bottom of curtains, and under seat cushions.
- Random black dots about the size of pinhead on sheets and mattress. This is bed bug excrement.
- Little bit of off-white specs that resemble egg shells. These are signs of larva.
- Live bed bugs
- Random bug bites that occur during the night.
What Should You Do if You Find Bed Bugs?
If they are in your home you will need to treat the problem immediately. Bed bugs can be difficult to get rid of, so it will take professional treatment as well as extensive cleaning to get rid of the problem.
You will need to vacuum and steam clean your carpeting and all of your upholstery. You will need to take curtains and draperies down and clean them using warm water and high heat to dry them. All bedding will need to be washed and dried the same way. Place clean items into a sealed plastic bag right from the dryer until the home has been treated.
You will need to vacuum your mattress or replace it completely when the home has been treated. If you do not replace the mattress, after you have vacuumed it, put a protector on the mattress that has been certified for bed bug protection.
You will need to call a professional exterminator that can treat for bed bugs. They will treat your home with chemical compounds and most likely a heat treatment. Some exterminators will use a freezing treatment instead of heat. After the treatment the carpets and upholstery will need to be vacuumed again. Bad infestations may require a double treatment.
What Can You Do to Manage Bed Bugs?
The best thing that you can do to manage bed bugs is to be careful not to bring them into your home. This means being careful when traveling and staying in hotels and when using public laundry facilities.
Additionally you can protect your home by eliminating clutter around your house. Clutter is very attractive to bed bugs because it gives them a place to hide. Make sure that you use high heat to dry bedding and regularly vacuum your home. Make sure when you vacuum you make sure to get real close to the edges of the walls and next to furniture.
Purchase a mattress protector and clean your bed real good prior to putting on the mattress cover. Take the time to inspect your home regularly for signs of the bugs and make sure to inspect the areas where you have guests that stay overnight after they leave.
If you see any signs of bed bugs, begin the treatment process immediately. The sooner you treat the problem the easier it is to get rid of them.
What Are Your Rights and Obligations as a Renter?
Renting in a multi-family unit can lead to a bed bug infestation. With different families moving in and out of the units all the time, it can be difficult to control bed bugs. There are specific laws that deal with bed bug infestations in rental units in each state. While these laws do differ, they basically state the following:
- Landlords are obligated to rent apartments that are free from pests. It is the landlord’s responsibility to provide a clean apartment before the renter moves in.
- If the infestation occurs at no fault of the renter, the renter has the right to demand pest control for the apartment as well as cleaning fees. In some states the law allows the renter to request relocation costs and to be let out of the lease obligation free.
- If the infestation is the renters fault, the renter must immediately start treatments on the apartment at their own cost and notify management of the potential of bed bugs spreading throughout the units.
Renters in single family homes will have a harder time proving that a bed bug infestation was not their fault. The longer that they are living in the house, the more difficult this proof will become. In most cases, unless the infestation occurs within the first month, the burden to exterminate bed bugs will fall on the renter.
DIY Removal Methods That Don’t Work or Shouldn’t Be Used
Because there has been such a surge in bed bug infestations lately there has also been an increase in DIY methods for treatment. Some of these treatments may actually work, but many of them are dangerous.
High heat treatments are often stated as being effective as a bed bug treatment. While this is true, high heat will kill bed bugs, it is impossible for a person to get their home hot enough to be effective. Cranking the heater up to the highest level is not enough to treat your home, and could cause combustion. Pest control professionals have special equipment for heat treatments.
On the other extreme, cold therapy is also recommended. Again, it is impossible for a person to get their home cold enough to kill all the bugs. Your home has to be below 32 degrees for at least 96 hours straight to kill the bugs. This includes attic areas and all nooks and crannies. This is never an effective way to DIY bed bug control.
Over-the-counter chemical sprays. While many of these are effective, you must make sure that any product that you use is EPA approved to work on bed bugs. In most cases, more than one insecticide must be used to treat bed bugs. The safest and most effective way to treat bed bugs is to contact a professional pest control service.
How Can You Have Bed Bug Specimens Examined?
If you want to be sure the bugs that you have discovered are actual bed bugs and not another type of infestation, you can have them professionally identified. There are several services that will examine your specimen and determine what bugs are invading your home.
If you are sending your specimen off to a lab you will need to collect the bugs into a sealable plastic bag. Once the bag is sealed, it is recommended that the bag is placed in your freezer for several hours to make sure that the bugs are dead. Once you have completed this step, you send the specimen to the lab for identification.
Many local pest control places also have the ability to identify a bug for you so they can determine the course of treatment. In the same manner, collect the bugs, freeze them, and then take them to the pest control place or have a rep pick them up from your home
Identifying the bug before you begin treating your home will ensure that the right extermination treatments are used.
Insecticides, Sprays and Other Treatments for Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are very resilient insects and it has become harder and harder to find a single method of treatment that works completely. Professional pest control companies are using multiple methods on each treatment to ensure that the bugs do not survive the treatment.
At this time there are seven classes of pesticides that are used to treat bed bugs with over 300 EPA approved pesticides that fall within these seven classes.
- Pyretrins. These insecticides are made from the chrysanthemum flower. This botanical pesticide kills bed bugs on contact and the smell drives them from their hiding places causing them to go out into the sprayed area and die. Some bed bugs, however, have become resistant to this type of treatment.
- Pyrethroids. This type of insecticide is are chemical compounds used to mimic the pyretrins and are thought to be stronger than the botanical compounds. Again, they kill on contact but many bugs have already become resistant to this compound,
- Desiccants. This type of compound works differently than other pesticides. The desiccant dissolves the protective shell of the bug and causes the bug to dehydrate and die. Because this is a physical type of extermination bed bugs cannot become accustomed to the compound and build a resistance. If used in a DIY project, it is very important to use EA approved products because they are very strong.
- Biochemicals. The only approved biochemical for bed bug treatments is cold-pressed Neem oil. Neem oil is from the seeds of the Neem tree which is grown in South Asia and Africa. The oil has a strong insecticide occurring naturally in the oil.
- Pyrroles. Chlorfenapyr is the only approved chemical in the pyrroles class. This strong insecticide causes internal damage to the bed bugs which brings about their death.
- Neonicotinoids. This class of insecticide is a synthetic form of nicotine. This ultra-strong nicotine impacts the nervous system of the bed bugs and causes them to die. Because it is a nervous system response, bed bugs cannot become resistant to this treatment. This treatment is often used on bugs that cannot be exterminated with other methods.
- Growth Regulators. Depending on the type used, the growth regulators will either stop the bed bug from developing or will cause rapid growth. Either method will destroy an infestation.
Protecting Yourself After Visiting an Infested Area
If you find that you have visited a hotel or home that had bed bugs, the last thing that you want to do is bring them into your home. You will have to be very careful and take a lot of precaution.
- Wash all of your belongings immediately in warm water and dry them on hot.
- Do not bring luggage directly into the home. Leave them in a hot and sunny place for a while and then vacuum them thoroughly.
- Anything packed in boxes or bags should be carefully transferred to clean plastic bag that can be sealed. Wash each item completely, leaving the others in the bag in between washing.
- Vacuum your car from top to bottom. Have it detailed if possible. Vacuum every day for several days.
- Make sure you take a very warm shower, as warm as you can stand it, and then wash everything that you were wearing. Make sure to dry it on high heat.