Bedbugs – creepy and persistent saboteurs of sleep. It is no wonder these parasitic insects have caused such a stir in the news. Their resilience can make them unwelcome house guests indefinitely. And now they’re invading more than just houses and hotels; latching on to furniture, suitcases, or any number of comfortable surfaces, they’ve started moving into airplanes, schools, movie theaters, hospitals, and more.
But panic isn’t – as it rarely is – the answer. Bedbugs aren’t known to carry diseases like other vermin. And while they can be a painful nuisance and costly to exterminate, they are not life-threatening.
Their survival techniques are clever. When bedbugs bite, they inject “a sort of anesthetizing agent, which allows the bite to be painless,” explains Michael Potter, an entomologist specializing in pest management, to an NPR reporter. “That’s a good survival mechanism because if you woke up and felt the pain, not too many bedbugs would survive to feed another day.” Painless at first, bites from bedbugs can become red and itchy welts.
After bedbugs bite, they can hide in a number of out-of-sight places including behind loose wallpaper, electrical switch plates, seams of mattresses and other upholstery.
Next: 10 tips on how to spot the blood-suckers and what to do if you find them.
1. When sleeping in a new bed, check for signs of their feces: small, black or dark brown dots on sheets or the mattress. (If you are in a hotel and find potential bedbug fecal matter, ask for a new room far from the original.)
2. While bedbugs mostly hide out during the day, you may be able to spot the actual bug at night (using a flashlight may be helpful). Baby bedbugs are nearly invisible, but their older relatives are brown to red-brown and oval-shaped (see image on page one).
3. Regularly inspect places where pets sleep for signs of bedbugs.
4. In some heavily infested areas, a “coriander-like” odor may be present.
5. If you suspect you’ve been exposed to bedbugs when traveling, clean out everything you traveled with. Vacuum out your suitcase and wash all clothes in hot water if possible, whether they are dirty or not. When traveling, leave your suitcases on hard surfaces if possible (rather than carpet or upholstered furniture).
Next: What to do if you suspect bedbugs are in your home.
6. If you suspect there are bedbugs in your home, do not jump directly to pesticide application. Many pesticides, especially over-the-counter treatments, are ineffective in killing bedbugs and their eggs, and only provide unnecessary chemicals in your living space. Professional steam or heat treatments kill eggs and adults (more information on next page).
7. Make sure it is indeed bedbugs that are causing your bites before treating the problem. Fleas, ticks, mites, mosquitoes, or allergic reactions may be the cause of the skin lesions. IdentifyUS suggests a variety of trapping methods you can use to find and identify a bedbug.
8. If you cannot find a bedbug, but suspect they are present, a “bedbug-sniffing dog” may help sniff-out the culprits.
9. Do not put infested furniture on the street or in common areas, as that may spread the problem to other homes. If you do move infested furniture out of your house, place in a locked dumpster and label it as bedbug-infested. If you have infested furniture that is useful, you do not need to dispose of it; it can be cleaned and treated.
10. Clear your clutter. “The most vulnerable people for pests are people who have a lot of clutter,” this Networx article advises. Having a non-cluttered home also makes treatment easier, as there are less objects to clean.
Next: 5 ways to get rid of bedbugs.
1. Steve Tvedten, author of a non-toxic pest control website, suggests using a steam cleaner on cracks and mattresses weekly, if you suspect bedbugs. Bedbugs are very sensitive to heat, and cannot stand temperatures above 111 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit. An hour of high heat exposure should eliminate most infestations, according to Tvedten.
2. Low temperatures (32 to 48 degrees Fahrenheit) for longer periods of time (30 to 50 days) can also eradicate bedbug infestations.
3. Vacuum anything you can. Put other items in sealed plastic bags.
4. Wash any fabric you can in hot water.
5. You may want to use a non-toxic spray for controlling bedbugs.
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Image: A bedbug pictured next to grains of rice