For decades, the saying “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” was a fairly meaningless lights-out phrase for kids in the U.S. But within the last few years, bed bugs have reappeared, causing sleepless nights for homeowners and hotel owners alike.
Bed bugs have been extremely rare in the U.S. since World War II, but they continued to bug people in other areas of the world. Expert opinion is that post-war increase in hygiene and the use of DDT in the U.S. eliminated bed bugs; but today’s global travel and reduction of general “baseboard spraying” by pest control professionals brought the bugs back to America and enabled them to survive.
Today, bed bugs have become so prevalent, many states have formed bed-bug task forces, bed-bug awareness bills have been introduced at state and federal levels, and treatment is a regular part of the job for most pest control professionals.
About Bed Bugs
- Identification – Bed bugs are very small, just over 1/8-inch long, and light to deep brown with flat, oval bodies. They are sometimes mistaken for ticks.
- Feeding – The bed bug feeds on the blood of animals, including humans. Although it prefers regular feeding, the adult can live for more than a year without a blood meal.
- Habits – They are most active at night and hide during the day, in mattress folds, bed frames, nightstands, even behind wall hangings and light switches – close to where humans sleep.
- Signs – Live or dead bugs, shed skins, and blood spots on mattress or bed linen are signs of a bed bug infestation. Bites leave small welts, similar to that of a mosquito, on exposed skin.
Although bed bugs are known to carry disease bacteria, there are no known cases of their transmitting disease to humans. People who are particularly sensitive or allergic to the bed bug saliva may have some reaction to the bites, but a serious reaction is rare.
Preventing Bed Bugs In Your Home
Bed bugs are most frequently brought into the home on belongings or furniture from an infested hotel room or home. To prevent this:
- At the Motel/Hotel - When checking into your room, lift the bed sheets and check the mattress for signs (above). Check any upholstered furniture, and take a peek behind the bed's headboard. Do not set suitcases or other possessions on furniture until you have thoroughly checked the room. If any sign of bed bugs is found, immediately notify management and request another room.
- Returning Home - If you have any doubt that you, or anyone coming into your home, may have stayed in a hotel or home with bed bugs, do not bring the bags and suitcases into your home. Empty cases; thoroughly check all items for any signs; and immediately wash clothing in hot water.
- In Your Home - Be very wary of second-hand mattresses and upholstered furniture. You are best to buy them from a reputable retailer that heats such items prior to resale. If you are getting or purchasing the item from an individual, be sure to check it very thoroughly and decline anything with any possible signs of bed bud presence. Be especially wary of anything found at a dumpster. It could very well be trashed because of bed bugs. Getting a free mattress or couch is not worth the cost of bringing the bugs into your own home.
Bed bug control is labor intensive with limited options for do-it-yourselfers. There are a few cost-effective steps you can take once you've discovered bed bugs, but an infestation will generally require the services of a pest control professional.
Professional service should consist of:
- Identification. The first step in control is positive identification of the bed bugs. A specimen should be captured and compared against an authoritative image or provided to the pest control professional.
- Inspection. A thorough inspection is critical for control. Many pest control companies now use dogs to sniff out bed bugs. Because of the dog’s keen sense of smell, it can provide a quick and thorough tracking of bed bug areas.
- Treatment. Pest control professionals will generally combine a number of methods to eliminate bed bugs from your home. This may include removal of highly infested items, non-chemical treatment such as vacuuming and/or steam cleaning of infested areas, sealing of cracks and crevices, and heat or chemical treatments.
- Follow-up. After treatment is made to all areas where bed bugs live or travel, follow-up visits are generally required to ensure the bed bugs were completely eliminated and have not re-infested.