The scientific name for the common bedbug found in North America is Cimex lectularius. They can be found in homes, apartments, hotels, public spaces, cruise ships, trains, and offices, among other places. Adult bedbugs are easy to see with the naked eye. They are flat, brown-red, five millimetres by three millimetres, and look very similar to apple seeds. Bedbugs have six legs, are oval in shape and have no wings. After feeding, they become a bit larger and darker in colour. Female bedbugs can lay around 200 eggs per year. The eggs take 10 days to hatch. Nymphs (young bedbugs) are slightly lighter in color and take about two months to become adults.
Adult and nymph bedbugs feed on the blood of mammals, including humans. They typically feed once a week for about 10 minutes. Usually they feed at night, and are attracted to humans by body heat and the carbon dioxide released with breathing. They can feed anywhere on the body, but prefer exposed areas like the face, neck, arms, and hands.
About 20 per cent of people do not react to being bitten. However, some people are allergic to bedbug saliva and chemicals in it. Though very rare, a severe life-threatening allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, is possible. At first, bites are painless but may become large, red, and itchy swellings. Bite marks can take up to fourteen days to show. Often, they are in an orderly pattern of a regular line of three – a common description is 'breakfast, lunch, and dinner.'
Most bites go away by themselves in a week or two and do not need any treatment. If needed, a doctor can prescribe antihistamines or costicosteroid creams. Some bites can become infected. If the bite mark is spreading, and increasingly red and painful, it may be infected. Try not to scratch the area, as this increases the chance of infection.
Recognizing and dealing with a bedbug problem is important. Unlike some other pests, bedbugs are not known to spread any disease in either people or animals. However, living with bedbugs can be very distressing. Some people suffer anxiety, loss of sleep leading to exhaustion, and stress. This can cause problems at work and school.
Unexplained bite marks can be the first sign of bedbugs. You may also see blood marks from crushing bedbugs while sleeping, and dark spots of feces (droppings) on mattresses and sheets. In severe cases, there may be a musty, fruity smell. You can also look for the bugs themselves using a flashlight – they are best seen in the hour just before sunrise when they usually come out to feed. (Keep in mind that they may bite at other times of day, such as when children nap.) Try leaving double-sided sticky tape on the bed or in the room to see if any bedbugs get stuck.
Bedbugs dislike light and hide where it is dark. They often hide in walls, baseboards, cracks, furniture, bedding and even picture frames. Look carefully at the seams of mattresses and furniture. You may not be able to find or see bedbugs since they hide well. If you are concerned, consider contacting a pest management company to find out whether bedbugs are present. Sometimes, specially trained dogs may be used to find bedbugs.
Regular cleaning and laundering can help prevent a bedbug infestation. Clean often, vacuum your mattress, and reduce clutter where bedbugs can hide. Be sure to fill cracks in the walls and corners of your house.
Picking up discarded mattresses and furniture is risky. Avoid purchasing used items that could be infested. Inspect second-hand items you bring into your home.
It is possible to bring home bedbugs from your travels. Pack your clothes in clear plastic bags that you can seal. During your trip, be alert for bedbugs where you are staying. Do not put your luggage on the bed or on the floor. The bathtub may be a better choice, as bathrooms are less likely to have bedbugs. After your trip, immediately wash and dry your clothes and other items at high temperatures. Look for bedbugs and eggs on items you cannot wash, such as luggage, before bringing it into your home. Vacuum your luggage and other bags. If you notice bedbugs or bites after you return, talk with a pest management professional.
Bedbugs can be very difficult to get rid of completely. They can live up to a year without feeding or access to water. They are small and hide well during the day. Although they cannot fly or jump, they can crawl between rooms or apartments. In severe cases, they can spread to furniture, frames, walls, and can be found on people during the day. They can also be carried when furniture or clothing is moved from place to place.
If an apartment is infested, co-operation is essential. Neighbours in the building must work with those managing the infestation, so that units above, below and on all sides can be checked.
Bedbugs can be controlled non-chemically as well as with chemicals. In general, regular cleaning, laundering and vacuuming help control a bedbug infestation. Vacuuming furniture, corners, and mattresses will remove bedbugs and eggs. Putting tape or petroleum jelly on furniture legs can prevent the bugs from climbing onto furniture. At night, wear long-sleeved pajamas until the infestation is resolved.
Bedbugs are killed by heat higher than 45 degrees Celsius, so drying clothes in the dryer or using a steam cleaner will help. Once you have checked and cleaned clothing, keep it separate from other items in sealed bags. Extreme and prolonged cold (lower than -19 degrees Celsius for four consecutive days) can also kill bedbugs. Be sure to dispose of all waste in sealed bags outdoors.
Chemical pesticides are also effective and are often needed to deal with the problem. Several chemical treatments are usually necessary. However, bedbugs are becoming increasingly resistant to certain pesticides. If you feel chemical pesticides are necessary, involve licensed pest control experts.
Bedbugs are a common problem worldwide. Still, having bedbugs does not mean that either you or your home are unclean. If you suspect a bedbug infestation, take steps to prevent, identify, and deal with the problem.
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