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Don't Let Bed Bugs Bite. Really!

Photo Courtesy of
OSU Extension Entomology

Bed bugs have become "a horrible problem" in areas throughout the United States, with many health departments reporting escalating complaints. Although bed bugs have always been a problem in some regions of the world, single-home residences, apartment complexes, nursing homes, senior living centers, and hotels and motels are now being affected by their growing numbers. This brings home the fact that anyone can have bed bug problems - even four-star hotels. Bed bugs aren't associated with filth or poverty. They can hitchhike anywhere.

Bed bugs are hitchhikers.

There doesn't seem to be a single reason as to why bed bugs are making such a surge; however, society is becoming increasingly mobile. For this reason, it is important to look at photos of bed bugs and signs of infestations so you know what to look for in your home and when traveling. Often when traveling or going into an infested unit -- dorms, apartments, hotel rooms or private rooms -- bed bugs will crawl into your purse, backpack or luggage and hitchhike home with you. And all they want to do is suck your blood.

Bed bugs don't fly, but they do crawl quickly and cling tightly onto surfaces. So, if you're traveling or bringing college students home for the summer, do some checking for signs of bed bugs to prevent them from coming home with you.

Bed bug bites cause severe itching.

Bed bugs aren't known to spread disease, but their bites, though painless when they occur, can cause severe itching as well as anxiety, sleeplessness and sometimes allergic reactions. Scratching the bites can also cause infection. However, individuals differ in their sensitivity to bed bug bites, and some people do not develop welts after being bitten.  On average, 7 of 10 individuals show some type of allergic response to bed bug bites.

Follow these guidelines to keep the bed bugs from biting.

1. When traveling, check the room for signs of bed bugs before carrying your luggage inside. Look for the bugs themselves -- adults are dark reddish-brown and about the size of an apple seed; very young nymphs are nearly colorless and much smaller; eggs are white and about 1/32 of an inch long. Eggs are glued in place to surfaces. The most obvious signs are spotting and dark stains from the pests' liquid fecal matter. Check for the bugs and stains on mattresses, box springs, the headboard and elsewhere on the bed frame, bed skirts, furniture, drawers, baseboards and walls, especially in corners and crevices such as the tufts, seams and folds of mattresses.

2. If you find signs of bed bugs in a hotel or motel room, insist on getting another room that doesn't share a common wall, floor or ceiling with the infested room, preferably in a different wing. If that room also indicates an infestation, just leave.

3. When returning home after traveling, inspect purses, bags, luggage and other materials for signs for bed bugs. Take luggage and other items immediately to the laundry room instead of the bedroom, just in case you've missed anything. Washing clothing in hot water (at least 120 degrees) and drying in a hot dryer for at least 30 minutes kills bugs, nymphs and eggs.  If items cannot be washed, place the dry items into the hot dryer for a minimum of 30 minutes for disinfection. 

4. If you suspect an infestation in your home, immediately contact a pest control company with experience in dealing with bed bugs. Don't wait, because the problem will just get worse.  Bed bugs breed rapidly and numbers of bugs can greatly increase in a matter of a month or so.

5. Don't use bug bombs. They rarely kill bed bugs but instead cause the bugs to scatter into areas you wouldn't usually find them, such as your bathroom or kitchen.  Bug bombs make the bed bug problem much worse.

6. Boric acid also is ineffective. This chemical acts as an insect stomach poison and provides good control for cockroaches, which have chewing mouthparts and thus ingest it into their system. Bed bugs have piercing, sucking mouthparts -- they feed on blood. Hence, boric acid doesn't kill bed bugs.

7. Pest control companies should first be sure to identify the pest as the bed bug and not its lookalike, the bat bug, which typically originates from bats roosting in the attic and isn't as widespread in living areas as the bed bug. 

8. When bed bugs are confirmed, an integrated pest management approach should be used, employing sanitation, non-chemical measures, and targeted use of chemicals to combat the problem. More than one inspection and insecticide treatment are usually required, as a female bed bug can lay 12 eggs a day, and eggs can hatch in six to 17 days. Some insecticides are labeled for use on mattresses.  Some companies provide specialized whole house heat treatments to kill bed bugs.

9. Always report bed bugs, although it may be difficult to know where to report such infestations. Start with your local health department, and if that's not the right agency, ask who is responsible.

More Resources to Help in the Battle Against Bed Bugs

To learn more about bed bugs, the extent of the problem, ways to prevent an infestation, and what to do if bed bugs become a problem, visit the links below. You will also find photos of bed bugs and some of their tell-tale signs, brochures, and fact sheets with additional information.

Bed Bugs: Back with a Vengeance
Central Ohio Bed Bug Task Force
OSU Extension Bed Bugs Fact Sheet

This article originally appeared in OSU Extension News (4/23/09) and has been adapted for use on NetWellness with permission.

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Last Reviewed: Apr 05, 2011

Associate Professor of Entomology
Department of Entomology
The Ohio State University