What. Just. Bit. Me.
Bedbugs are primarily active at night while you are asleep, giving rise to the name ‘bedbug’. Their bites are visible as small red bumps with a darker red center. The spots itch like mosquito bites and are typically located in areas of skin not covered by pajamas (face, neck, arms, legs, etc). A bedbug attack is indicated by the patterning of the bumps (a rough line or clustered in small areas) rather than the physical appearance of the bites. In addition, common external indicators include dark specks along mattress seams or blood smears on the sheets. Bedbugs also have exoskeletons and molt 5-6 times in their lifespan. The molting process requires a new blood feeding, making exoskeletons from the tiny bugs another common sign of a bedbug infestation.
Bedbug infestations are more common in highly populated buildings that have high occupancy turnover rates. For example, this includes apartment complexes, dormitories, homeless shelters, hotels, military barracks and hospitals. Any building with high levels of traffic is at risk. Bedbugs prefer environments that are warm and dark, so any household crevice is at risk for inhabitation. The most common locations for a bedbug nest are mattresses, box springs, bed frames, furniture (with cracks or crevices), carpeting, upholstered furniture, under switch plates and electrical outlets, curtains, unused drawers or shelves and even around water pipes. In summation, any dark area of a room or building can potentially house bedbugs.
Get it away from me.
If you find bedbugs in your home, the best thing to do is to 1) not panic, and 2) call a professional. In the event of a suspected bedbug infestation, professional pest control will often bring in bedbug dogs to sniff out the perpetrators. Bedbugs have a peculiar odor that humans can only smell in the event of a serious infestation. Bedbug dogs are trained to pick up faint traces of the smell to positively confirm the presence of bedbugs in a room. Treatments used to eliminate bedbugs are typically a steam treatment followed by insecticide use. The steam kills most bedbugs by heating the area up to 46oC for seven minutes. Insecticides are used immediately afterwards to kill any residual bugs who survived the steam. Insecticides are used with caution though, as there can be many potential health hazards associated with their use. Some countries (primarily in Europe) have begun to use cold treatments over steam/insecticide routes. This new treatment freezes the bugs with carbon dioxide snow (cryonite) and has no known toxic side effects. It tends to be more expensive and isn’t as commercially available, so steam treatments continue to save the day in America.
And the best method is:
Prevention. Travel is one of the principal effectors for spreading a bedbug infestation. The bedbugs can travel in suitcases, on pets, or on coats and other clothing items. Ideally, you should check all hotel rooms for bedbugs and immediately report to the manager if you see evidence of bedbugs. In addition, it’s safest to place all luggage on the luggage rack that sits in the closet. This will prevent bedbugs from crawling out of the carpet and into your bags for a ride back to your place. If you do visit an infested domicile, check all of your clothing, coats and bags for bedbugs before bringing them into your home. If bugs are visible on your clothing, you should immediately place the items into a dryer on high heat for at least 20 minutes to kill all bugs and eggs.
The good, the bad and the ugly.
- Fact: Bedbug bites are relatively harmless. They cannot carry diseases, and in that sense are safer than mosquitoes! The bugs cannot harm you and are simply annoying to deal with. The only potential risk arises if you are allergic to bedbugs.
- Myth: Bedbugs are more attracted to messy environments. Bedbugs are actually as easily found in pristinely clean homes as they are in messy ones. Reducing clutter can reduce the chance of catching bedbugs, but it doesn’t eliminate the possibility.
- A Half-Truth: You can’t see bedbugs if you have them. This can be true or false depending on where the bugs are in their life cycle. Newly hatched bedbugs are transparent and the size of a poppy seed, making them difficult to see. Adult bedbugs are red/brown in color, roughly the size of an apple seed (about ¼ in. long) and easier to identify.
- Really Cool: Human DNA from blood in bedbugs can be isolated up to 90 days following a feeding. This carries the potential to lead to a new forensics method for identifying criminals. Pretty cool, right?
For more information and links about bedbugs, visit the Center of Disease Control (CDC) website at http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/Topics/bedbugs.htm