They Want to Suck Your Blood: Not Vampires, but Bed Bugs
“Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” is more than a cute expression. The little blood suckers are making a comeback and causing problems all across the United States.
According to an MSNBC report, calls to exterminators about bed bugs are up 57 percent in the last five years. A study by the National Pest Management Association and the University of Kentucky found that bed bug populations have increased by 500 percent in the past few years.
This National Geographic video just might get your skin crawling.
The Return of the Bed Bug
Bed bugs are nothing new. They’ve always enjoyed human blood, and they never really went away. According to the Mayo Clinic, bed bugs were eradicated from most developed nations with DDT, a toxic pesticide that has since been banned.
The pesky little devils have made an amazing resurgence due to international travel and places that experience a high turnover of overnight guests, such as homeless shelters, dorms, hotels, and… yes, hospitals. They travel in luggage, on clothing, and in purses; they travel with ease between hotel rooms and apartments.
Bed bugs are not necessarily a sign of uncleanliness. The cleanest homes can have bed bugs. All the pests are interested in is a warm host, a good hiding place, and plenty of blood.
The Bed Bug Profile
A typical bed bug is about the size of an apple seed, is reddish brown in color, and has an oval, flat shape (see mug shot above). They might be hard to find, though, because they are good at hide ’n seek. During the light of day, they hide in cracks and crevices just about anywhere, including behind wallpaper and in electrical outlets and switch plates.
The lifespan of a bed bug is about 10 months. Newly hatched bed bugs are particularly difficult to spot because they are almost colorless. The skin of a bed bug is shed five times while they grow, a process that requires a feast of blood. A female lays as many as 200 eggs in her lifetime.
The Bed Bug Bite
The bite of a bed bug can be very similar to other insect bites. They are usually red and sometimes have a darker red spot in the middle. They can generally be found in a cluster around the face, neck, arms, and hands. Some people have no reaction to the bite while others experience itching, blisters, or hives. It can take as long as a week before an allergic reaction appears. There is no evidence to suggest the spread of disease through bed bug bites.
The redness and itch generally subsides within a week or two. You may use a hydrocortisone-containing skin cream or an oral antihistamine to relieve symptoms. If it persists, or if you develop a skin infection from scratching, you should contact your physician.
Getting Rid of Bed Bugs
Getting rid of the bloodsucking bugs is no easy feat. It takes time, money, and persistence. To get started:
- Dispose of infested mattresses and box springs, or cover them tightly with plastic to trap the bugs. Do the same with pillows and stuffed animals.
- Wash clothes and bedding in HOT water and dry on HIGH HEAT. A temperature of 120 F (49 C) will kill bed bugs.
- Thoroughly clean and vacuum your home, including cracks in floors, etc.
- Clean suitcases, tote bags, and purses.
- Exterminators rate bed bugs more difficult to get rid of than ants, termites, or cockroaches. Treatment by a professional exterminator may include a steam heat or cold treatment to kill eggs, and pesticides to kill the bugs, costing from $800 to $1,200.
Dogs Sniffing Out Bed Bugs
If the bugs’ breeding ground is not treated, you’ll soon be back to square one. Human beings aren’t nearly as good at finding the bugs as our four-legged friends. Dogs have been trained to sniff out drugs, bombs, and humans, so why not bed bugs?
A well-trained dog can be amazingly accurate in finding bed bugs in their favorite out-of-the-way hiding places, under carpets, behind baseboards, and even inside walls. Care2 Healthy & Green Living recently featured an article on Dogs Sniffing Out Bed Bugs that provides further insight.
Here’s one dog in action:
Photo from U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Photographer: Piotr Naskrecki