Don't believe the stereotype that bedbugs occur in only poor dirty houses and communities. Many affluent communities and households also have bedbug problems.
Don't be fooled by the name “bedbug” either. Bedbugs can be found any place humans rest and lounge. Bedbugs can be found under school desks, restaurant benches, on computers in the library, chairs, inside electronics/appliances, hospital beds and curtains or on a store wall. The same goes for carpets. Many times a brush against a wall in an infested area can lead to bedbugs in the home. Bedbugs are very good at clinging onto fabrics. Transportation hubs such as airports, train stations and bus terminals are also key infestation stations to be wary of.
Bedbugs were once a common public health pest worldwide, but declined in incidence through the mid 20th century. However, bed bugs have undergone a dramatic, worldwide resurgence since they have now evolved resistance to common insecticides. Bedbugs are one of the great travellers of the world and are readily transported via luggage, clothing, bedding, and furniture.
What Does a Bedbug Look Like?
Adult bedbugs are brown to reddish-brown, oval-shaped, flattened, and about 1/4 to 5/8 inch long. Their flat shape enables them to readily hide in most cracks and crevices. After feeding, however, their bodies swell and are reddish in colour. Bedbugs feed exclusively on blood of humans (or animals), crawling out from their hiding places at night to bite you. Although they are a nuisance, they do not transmit diseases.
These tiny bloodsucking creatures do not fly, but they can move quickly over solid surfaces. They love to live in the crevices between bed frames and mattresses.
When Bedbugs Bite
Bedbugs are active mainly at night and usually bite people while they are sleeping. They feed by piercing the skin and withdrawing blood through an elongated beak. The bugs feed from three to ten minutes to become engorged and then crawl away unnoticed.
Most bedbug bites are painless at first, but later turn into itchy welts. Unlike flea bites that are mainly around the ankles, bedbug bites are on any area of skin exposed while sleeping.
People who don't realize they have a bedbug infestation may attribute the itching and welts to other causes, such as mosquitoes. To confirm bedbug bites, you must find and identify the bugs themselves.
How to treat bedbug bites?
A mild steroid cream or antihistamine can help relieve itchy bites.
You might need antibiotics for worse reactions. See a doctor if you experience pain, redness, swelling or other signs of infection.
Signs of Bedbug Infestation
If you wake up with itchy areas you didn't have when you went to sleep, you may have bedbugs, particularly if you got a used bed or other used furniture around the time the bites started. Other signs that you have bedbugs include:
Blood stains on your sheets or pillowcases
Dark or rusty spots of bedbug excrement on sheets and mattresses, bed clothes, and walls
Bedbug faecal spots, egg shells, or shed skins in areas where bedbugs hide
An offensive, musty odour from the bugs' scent glands
If you suspect an infestation, remove all bedding and check it carefully for signs of the bugs or their excrement. Remove the dust cover over the bottom of the box springs and examine the seams in the wood framing. Peel back the fabric where it is stapled to the wood frame.
Look in any place that offers darkness, isolation and protection to the bedbug.
Also, check the area around the bed, including inside books, telephones or radios, the edge of the carpet, and even in electrical outlets. Check your closet, because bedbugs can attach to clothing. Inspect adjoining rooms where an infestation is found. Even when the bedbugs themselves cannot be found, their hiding places can be located by looking for the spots of faecal material they often leave.
If you are uncertain about signs of bedbugs, call an exterminator, who will know what to look for.
If you find signs of infestation, begin steps to get rid of the bugs and prevent their return.
Bedbugs can be persistent, so you'll need to demonstrate a greater level of persistence if you want to eliminate them.
Getting rid of bedbugs begins with cleaning up the places where bedbugs live. This should include the following:
Clean bedding, linens, curtains, and clothing in hot water and dry them on the highest dryer setting. Place stuffed animals, shoes, and other items that can't be washed in the dryer and run on high for 30 minutes.
Use a stiff brush to scrub mattress seams to remove bedbugs and their eggs before vacuuming.
Vacuum your bed and surrounding area frequently. After vacuuming, immediately place the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag and place in garbage can outdoors.
Encase mattress and box springs with a tightly woven, zippered cover to keep bedbugs from entering or escaping. Bedbugs may live up to a year without feeding, so keep the cover on your mattress for at least a year to make sure all bugs in the mattress are dead.
Repair cracks in plaster and glue down peeling wallpaper to get rid of places bedbugs can hide.
Get rid of clutter around the bed.
If your mattress is infested, you may want to get rid of it and get a new one, but take care to rid the rest of your home of bedbugs or they will infest your new mattress.
While cleaning up infested areas will be helpful in controlling bedbugs, getting rid of them usually requires chemical treatments. Because treating your bed and bedroom with insecticides can be harmful, it is important to use products that can be used safely in bedrooms. Do not treat mattresses and bedding unless the label specifically says you can use them on bedding.
Generally it is safest and most effective to hire an experienced pest control professional for bedbug extermination.
Exposing bed bugs for an hour to a temperature of 45°C (113°F) kills all stages, and at temperatures over 60°C (140°F), all bedbugs are killed rapidly.
Directly applied steam can be an effective tool against bedbugs, as can whole-room or contained heat treatments. However, the latter poses a risk of spreading an infestation because bed bugs will seek the cooler areas in the room beyond the reach of the heat.
Bed bugs can be killed by cold temperatures, but it requires temperatures below -18°C (0°F) for at least 4 days in order for the cold to penetrate an object and kill all the bugs and eggs. Smaller items may be put in a suitably cold freezer and the 4-day period should be counted from when the centre of the object reaches -18°C (0°F). This takes longer for bulkier objects.
Gas systems designed for instant freezing are ineffective and may spread an infestation since they simply blow the bugs away with their high air pressure.
Leaving a room empty for more than a year can be effective for killing bedbugs as this deprives them of sustenance; they may, however, simply migrate to an adjacent property and return later.
Bedbugs Life Cycle
The life cycle stages of a bedbug are egg, nymph (larva), and adult. The reason they are called bedbugs is that they readily infest mattresses, bed frames and box springs. Eggs are not placed on the host's body (the person sleeping in the bed), but the eggs are found on surfaces near where the host sleeps. Eggs are laid along the edges of or around buttons on the mattresses and can also be glued to rough surfaces. Female bedbugs may lay hundreds of eggs, each of which is about the size of a speck of dust, over a lifetime. The female bedbugs lay eggs after a blood meal. Eggs will hatch in one or two weeks into Nymphs. Newly hatched bugs (Nymphs) begin feeding immediately. At room temperature, and with an available food supply, the nymphal period will last 14 to 30 days. They shed their skin (Instar) five times before becoming adults and require a meal of blood before each shedding. Bedbugs will mate soon after becoming mature, so the time from egg hatch to egg laying is 4 to 9 weeks, under favourable conditions. The average life span of the bedbug is 6-12 months and they feed every 10 days or so during this time. Bedbugs can survive many months without a blood meal and their reproduction is high.
How to Prevent a Bed Bug Infestation
Prevention and vigilance are key to preventing a bed bug problem. It’s easier to control them if they are found early, when there are only a few of them, as opposed to when they grow to number in the hundreds.
Encase your mattress. Enclosing your mattress, pillows, and box spring with a protective cover can block bedbugs from reaching their favourite hiding place.
Be cautious when you travel. Hotel and motel rooms are hotbeds for bedbugs. When checking in, put your luggage in the bathroom, then inspect the bedding. Stow your suitcases on a luggage rack or a hard surface.
When you return home, quarantine your bags. Decontaminate your luggage and clothing by putting your entire suitcase into a large chest freezer (if you have one) for four days. An extreme hot or cold temperature kills bedbugs. You can also put your clothes in the dryer on a hot setting for 30 minutes, and try steam cleaning your luggage and clothing.
If you buy used furniture, inspect all the items before bringing them into your residence.
Never bring discarded bed frames, mattresses, box springs, or upholstered furniture into your home.
No preventative method is guaranteed to work, and the key to control is early detection and swift action, followed by practical measures to reduce the risk of a reintroduction of the insects.
Not all insecticides are effective against bedbugs, due to a need for careful application and increased resistance in bedbugs. Insecticides are best used by professionals after other steps have been taken. Many commercial products sold against bedbugs are ineffective.