Although they were nearly eradicated from developed nations decades ago, bed bugs are once again becoming a problem in the United States and many other countries around the world. Experts at the CDC believe the resurgence is associated with increased resistance to pesticides, more frequent international and domestic travel, decline of pest control program at state and local public health agencies, and other factors.
The following information is adapted from a CDC/EPA joint statement on bed bug control.
So What is a Bed Bug?
Bed bugs are small, flat insects that feed on the blood of sleeping people and animals. They are reddish-brown in color, wingless, and range from 1 to 7 millimeters in length. They can live several months without a blood meal. Infestations of these insects usually occur around or near the areas where people sleep or spend a significant period of time. These areas include apartments, shelters, rooming houses, hotels, nursing homes, hospitals, cruise ships, buses, trains, and dorm rooms.”
Transport of Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are usually transported from place to place as people travel. Bed bugs travel in the seams and folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding, furniture, and anywhere else where they can hide. Most people do not realize they can transport stow-away bed bugs as they travel potentially infesting new areas, including their homes, as they relocate.
Signs and Symptoms
One of the easiest ways to identify a bed bug infestation is by bite marks that appear on the face, neck, arms, hands, and any other body parts. However, these bite marks may take as long as 14 days to develop in some people so it is important to look for other clues when determining if bed bugs have infested an area. These signs may include the exoskeletons of bed bugs after molting, bed bugs in the fold of mattresses and sheets, a sweet musty odor, and rusty-colored blood spots from their blood-filled fecal material that is often excreted on the mattress or nearby furniture.
When bed bugs bite, they inject an anesthetic and an anticoagulant that prevents a person from feeling the bite. Because bites usually occur while people are sleeping, most people do not realize they have been bitten until marks appear. The bite marks are similar to that of a mosquito or a flea – a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating. The bite marks may be random or appear in a straight line. Other symptoms of bed bug bites include insomnia, anxiety, and skin problems that arise from profuse scratching of the bites.
Everyone is at risk for bed bugs bites when visiting an infested area. However, anyone who travels frequently and shares living and sleeping quarters where other people have previously slept has an increased risk for being bitten and for spreading a bed bug infestation.
Control and management of a bed bug infestation should be coordinated with the local health department, and may include:
- using monitoring devices
- removing clutter where bed bugs can hide
- applying heat treatment
- sealing cracks and crevices to remove hiding places
- using non-chemical pesticides (such as diatomaceous earth)
- judicious use of effective chemical pesticides
Click here for more detailed information on bed bugs from the CDC, including management strategies.