“Night, night sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite”. The sweet, innocent bedtime saying many of us say to our children when it is bedtime. The elusive bedbug however is not so innocent. During the 1990’s the bedbug made a comeback. The resurgence of the bedbug can be attributed to several reasons. Shifts in pest management play a role as well as resistance to certain pesticides. During the last ten to twenty years international travel has become commonplace allowing the bedbugs to hitch a ride so to speak on our clothing and luggage. We, as a society have also let our guard down to these resilient little bugs by thinking that bedbugs are a thing of the past.
Common bedbugs , their proper name being cimex lectularius, were thought to have originated in the Middle east in caves inhabited by bats and humans. Bedbugs were mentioned as far back as 400 BC in ancient Greece. Bedbugs were a serious problem during World War II, General MacArthur actually commented that bedbugs were the “greatest nuisance insect problem….at bases in the U.S.”
With the introduction of more effective pesticides during the 1940’s the bedbugs nearly disappeared completely in Western countries. Bedbugs are parasites that are usually no more than 1/5 of an inch in length. Bedbugs feed on blood of humans and other animals. Bedbugs are nocturnal and most often feed when people are asleep. An adult female bedbug can lay up to 500 eggs during her lifetime. When a bedbug feeds it injects a salivary secretion to the bite to discourage coagulation, the secretion can cause itching and swelling. Although bedbug bites are not known to carry any human blood-borne pathogens, the bites can be painful, and can cause distress. Scratching the bites can lead to secondary infections and some people have been shown to have allergic reactions to the bites. Bedbugs reside and lay their eggs in your furniture, the box springs and folds of your mattress, they can hide in the cracks of your hardwood floors, in your carpet, behind pictures, in your luggage and even behind baseboards and other places in your home.
There are many ways to pick up bedbugs. One way is travel. Hotels, motels and resorts have a constant turnover of guests. You can bring them home unknowingly on and in your luggage and clothing. It is a common misconception that bedbugs thrive in filth, this is not true. Bedbugs can infest any type of dwelling. They can show up in luxury resorts as well as the cheaper “chain” hotels and motels. Bedbugs can also come into your home by way of infested furniture. Make sure any “second hand” furniture purchases from garage sales, consignment shops, antique shops and thrift store purchases are cleaned thoroughly before entering the home. Pets can bring the parasites into your home. People visiting from a source of infestation can also bring them into your home. People who live in nearby dwellings such as apartments and town homes can have the bedbugs come into their home by way of duct work if there are easy routes. Bedbugs are common with wild animals too, especially bats, rodents and birds. Bedbugs will often nest near animals that have also nested in a dwelling. A well fed bedbug can live anywhere from four to six months. A dormant bedbug can live without feeding for as much as 18 months. With the long span and capability of a dormant bedbug to lie dormant for that amount of time and emerge and begin to feed it is a good idea to make sure any items that you bring into your home and are unsure of their history should be inspected and thoroughly cleaned. An infestation of bed bugs can get out of control quickly with the number of eggs a female is capable of laying in her lifetime.
Now that you’re fully “grossed out” and probably itching just reading this article, you can fight the bedbug war. Detection of bedbugs is not as difficult as you may think. Even though these parasites are tiny, they still can be seen with the naked eye. They are experts at hiding however and are nocturnal and usually only come out at night. You can look for signs that you have an infestation by examining your mattress and bedding for any blood spots or brownish or reddish spots. These are called fecal spots. You can also sometimes identify an infestation by checking for evidence of their skins that have sloughed off during moulting. In severe cases sometimes a pungent odor is prevalent. This is a result of the oily liquid they emit. The most obvious of all the signs that you may have a bedbug infestation is the bite itself. The bites can be red and blotchy or welt like. Early detection is always a plus in helping control an infestation.
Knowledge is always power with the treatment of bedbugs. The best course of action once you have determined you have an infestation is to contact a professional. Remember that the bed is usually ground zero (hence the name), but it is not the only place they reside. It is a good idea to eliminate clutter around your home. Anything you deem is infected and decide to discard should be sealed and labeled so no one else will become infected. Mattresses and box springs that are being disposed of should also be labeled and sealed in the same manner for safe disposal. Treatment will depend on how serious the infestation is and the range of action taken by the professional could range from industrial vacuuming to heat treatments , encasement of mattresses in plastic cover and /or the application of pesticides . Follow up visits may be necessary by your professional to ensure the problem is taken care of.
Like mosquito and tick bites, it’s good to be vigilant and take some time to inspect your bites. While bed bug bites are annoying and cause frustration and concern, at least they aren’t known to carry disease like mosquito and tick bites.
Remember, mosquito and tick bites can be prevented before they happen and in that case, prevention is the best cure. Have your yard sprayed on a regular basis during the spring, summer and early fall season. You can also take extra precautions against ticks by having an expert lay a product called tick tubes which animals will take back to their breeding and sleeping grounds.