Bed bugs are excellent hitchhikers and travel from infested areas to new ones on people’s clothes, bags, luggage and other possessions. They are also great at spreading in a home or apartment building when people bring infested furniture from another location.
Constant sleep deprivation, bite marks and never-ending itchiness from a bed bug infestation can cause stress and weaken the immune system. Often, this can trigger latent health issues or make them worse.
How to Identify a Bed Bug Infestation
The most common sign of a bed bug infestation is dark spots or streaks on bedding. The smears are caused by the bugs’ blood and excrement. The insects are also known for leaving a foul, rotting smell.
These nocturnal pests are opportunistic and don’t discriminate between different types of furniture, appliances, electronic devices, and even people. Bed bugs prefer to hide in dark cracks and crevices near areas where their hosts sleep and rest, but they will spread to any accessible space with a host.
They are more likely to be found in wood furniture than metal, especially items with wicker components. Bed bug fecal matter (excrement) and dead bugs are easily mistaken for dirt or rust stains, and these dark spots can be difficult to remove completely.
Adult bed bugs are oval in shape and rusty red or mahogany in color. They have well-developed antennae and 2 beady black eyes that protrude from the sides of their heads. Bed bug nymphs are smaller and lighter in color.
When not feeding, the nymphs and adults hide in dark crevices. They will typically hide within 6 feet of the area where their hosts sleep, although they may venture farther if there is food nearby. They will hide in the seams and tufts of mattresses and box springs, in the corners and joints of headboards, in wood furniture, along baseboards, and behind headboards.
A comprehensive bed bug inspection should include any furnishings close to the bedroom. Inspect dressers, nightstands, and other pieces of wood furniture, paying special attention to the screw holes and crevices.
Pull up upholstered furniture to inspect the backs and bottoms, as well as the spaces under cushions. Check tack strips under wall-to-wall carpeting, behind pictures, and at the junction where the ceiling meets the walls for signs of infestation.
Health Risks Associated with Bed Bugs
Unlike other common household pests, bed bugs are not believed to transmit any diseases. However, the bites they leave behind can cause irritation, anxiety and sleep disturbances in their victims.
Those who are sensitive to insect bites may develop itchy, red or raised bumps around the bite marks. In extreme cases, severe allergic reactions to these tiny insects can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention.
Bed bug infestations disproportionately affect underprivileged communities that live in crowded or dilapidated housing.
They can also be found in hotels, hostels and other places with high occupant turnover such as apartments or college dorms. Their flattened bodies allow them to fit into narrow spaces no wider than a credit card, making it easy for these nocturnal pests to travel between homes and other locations.
Once in a home, bed bugs can quickly spread to other rooms and apartments by hiding in luggage or clothing that people bring back from trips, or in second-hand furniture and mattresses. They also hide in small crevices such as the seams of mattress or box springs, and in upholstered furniture and upholstery such as sofas and chairs.
Preventative Measures and Treatment Options
A bed bug infestation can have a profound effect on your quality of life. Sleep deprivation can lead to health issues such as anxiety, heart disease and weight problems. It can also lead to mental problems such as depression.
The bites of bed bugs are itchy and can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Some may experience a severe allergy, causing a life-threatening reaction called anaphylactic shock.
The best preventative measures are to avoid second-hand furniture and to carefully inspect used bedding and clothing before bringing them into your home. You should also avoid buying or removing any items from curbsides or at garage sales, since they can contain bed bugs.
A clean, uncluttered house can reduce the hiding places for bed bugs. It is a good idea to wash clothes and luggage immediately after returning from a trip. It is important to vacuum and sanitize the furniture in your home on a regular basis. You can seal items that can’t be washed in plastic bags or boxes to keep them free of bed bugs.
Lastly, you can purchase a mattress encasement to isolate the mattress and box spring from contamination. These products are available online and at most hardware stores. The encasements cost less than replacing the mattress and can be used for up to a year.
Tips for Travelers to Avoid Bringing Home Bed Bugs
Bed bugs can be transported from a hotel or a friend’s home in luggage and clothing. They are also often brought into homes by people who bring in furniture or bedding that has been in an infested dwelling.
People can prevent bringing home bed bugs by performing a visual inspection in hotels and in their own homes before they move in.
They should always place luggage in a room far from the bedroom, and they should inspect their clothes and shoes for signs of bed bugs before wearing them. If they find any, they should wash their clothes and shoes in the hottest water that the fabric can tolerate, and they should store them somewhere other than the bedroom.
They should also check hotel rooms for signs of bed bugs, such as dark spots that resemble pepper or dried fecal matter, rusty or reddish stains on the bedspread and mattress seams, and light-colored shed skins of the insects’ nymphs. They should also look in nightstand drawers and behind picture frames, and they should inspect the seams and cracks of upholstered furniture.
Those who do suspect a bed bug infestation in their own home should call a professional pest control company for treatment options.
These professionals have special equipment and training that enable them to safely and effectively apply insecticides directly to areas where the bed bugs are hiding.
This is more effective than using over-the-counter total-release aerosol foggers, which can be hazardous to people and pets.
People who are sensitive to the bites of bed bugs should seek medical care if they develop itchy welts. These welts could be a sign of an allergic reaction to the saliva in the bed bugs’ stylet fascicles, which are used to penetrate skin in order to feed. In severe cases, an allergic reaction to the saliva of a bed bug can lead to life-threatening anaphylactic shock.