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They Want to Suck Your Blood: Not Vampires, but Bed Bugs

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:

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Photo from U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Photographer: Piotr Naskrecki

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378 comments

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7:28PM PDT on May 13, 2011

They're so hard to get rid of. We need to find an easier way.

12:25PM PDT on Sep 12, 2010

I would not recommend getting rid of mattresses where are they going to end up "Landfill". A pro bed bug exterminator should be able to clear them without having to dispose of beds or furniture.

5:29PM PDT on Aug 24, 2010

Yukky! Its crazy some of the bugs we live with....how about some natural solutions to keep them away in the first place??!

5:27PM PDT on Aug 24, 2010

Yukky! Its crazy some of the bugs we live with....how about some natural solutions to keep them away in the first place??!

12:51PM PDT on Aug 17, 2010

People... get it together. Learn about them, and learn how to avoid getting them. We need to be more aware of what's going on in our lives and on our planet. How to get rid of bed bugs will give you a good understanding and not just freak you out.

8:25AM PDT on Aug 12, 2010

Thanks for posting.

1:08PM PDT on Aug 11, 2010

:(

10:38AM PDT on Aug 11, 2010

Thank-you for such an informative article. It is amazing how easy it is for these little critters to invade new territories.

8:25AM PDT on Aug 10, 2010

The article doesn't mention their sickening smell. It's not just the dogs that can sniff them out!

1:19AM PDT on Aug 9, 2010

RE: bed bugs, Here in Nelson New-Zealand because we had a mild Autumn, during Winter we've experienced epidemics of rats, mice, cockroaches .....and bed bugs! Personally, I only experienced the mice which my cat kindly sorted out for me. A good friend of mine was unlucky enough to get the bed-bugs, I say unlucky because it nearly did her head in eradicating them!

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