Bed Bugs

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, flat, parasitic insects that feed solely on the blood of people and animals while they sleep. Bed bugs are small, reddish-brown in color and wingless. They can live for several months without a blood meal.

Bed bugs are found around the world from North and South America, to Africa, Asia and Europe. Traditionally bed bugs were viewed as a problem in developing countries, however recently bed bugs have been spreading rapidly in parts of the United States, Canada, and England. These bugs have been found in five-star hotels and resorts and their presence is not determined by the cleanliness of the living conditions where they are found.

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Bed bug infestations usually occur around or near the areas where people sleep. These areas include apartments, shelters, rooming houses, hotels, cruise ships, buses, trains, and dorm rooms. They hide during the day in places such as seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, inside cracks or crevices, behind wallpaper, or any other clutter or objects around a bed. Bed bugs have been shown to be able to travel over 100 feet in a night but tend to live within 8 feet of where people sleep.
Signs and Symptoms of Bed Bugs:
Bed bugs are not considered a medical or public health hazard because they are not known to spread disease. However, they can be considered a nuisance pest because their presence may cause itching as well as loss of sleep. Sometimes the itching leads to excessive scratching which increases the chance of a secondary skin infection.
Tthe easiest ways to identify a bed bug infestation is by tell-tale bite marks on a person's face, neck, arms, hands, or any other body parts while they are sleeping. However, in some people bite marks may take as long as 14 days to develop. Therefore it is important to look for other signs to determine an infestation of bed bugs. These signs include:
  • Bed bug exoskeltons from molting
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  • Bed bugs in the folds of matresses, sheets and bedding
  • Rusty-colored blood spots excreted as blood filled fecal matter on matresses and nearby furniture, and
  • A sweet musty odor

When bed bugs bite, they inject chemicals that prevents a person from realizing they are being bitten. Most people do not know they have been bitten until the bite marks actually appear, usually between one to several days.  The bite marks are similar to that of a mosquito - a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating. The bites 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. 
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Prevention and treatment:
Bed bugs are experts at hiding. Their slim flat bodies allow them to fit into very small spaces and stay there for long periods of time, even without a blood meal. Most often bed bugs are transported from place to place as people travel. They travel in the seams and folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding, furniture, and anywhere else they can hide. Most people do not even realize they are transporting these stow-aways as they travel from location to location spreading this environmental infection.  
Ayone who frequently travels and shares living and sleeping quarters (hotel rooms, dormatories, etc.) has a higher risk of being bitten, acquiring and or spreading a bed bug infestation. The best way to prevent bed bugs is regular inspection for the signs of an infestation.
Bed bug bites usually do not pose a serious medical threat. The best way to treat a bite is to avoid scratching the area and apply antiseptic creams or lotions. Always contact your doctor if the bites become worse or appear infected. Bed bug infestations are commonly treated by insecticide spraying. However, if you suspect an infestation contact a professional pest control company that is experienced with treating and eradicating bed bugs

Additional Resources: Dept. of Defense Techinical Guide to Control Bed Bugs

Last Update: 05-18-11