This article was originally published in The Journal on December 19, 2016.
Recently I heard through the county grapevine that there have been some local cases of bed bugs (Climex lectularius). I have not identified any infestations myself and I hope that will still be true in 2017. In any case, it is always good to be prepared to address a situation such as this. So, let’s start by debunking a prevalent myth about bed bugs:
“Only dirty people get bed bugs.”- False. This is absolutely false.
The spread of bed bugs is more related to the movement of people than it is to cleanliness. However, it may be more difficult to treat or diagnose a case of bed bugs in cluttered spaces and within displaced groups of people, rather than in a spotless environment. Bed bugs are arachnids that are exclusively mobile by crawling. They are sensitive to light and will hide in dark crevices, such as bed frames, mattress seams, and base boards, which is why people often notice bites before they notice bugs. The most obvious sign of bed bug presence is black speckles of feces on crevice surfaces. Bed bugs often use carpeted areas to approach new hosts and climb into luggage, purses, clothing and more.
After hitching a ride to a new environment, they make a new home in your home. You probably won’t notice the first day, or even the first week. That means that by the time you do notice them, they have multiplied. A female bed bug typically lays about five eggs daily throughout her lifespan, which can range from 6-12 months. Eggs hatch into the first of five nymph stages within 4-12 days. Although bed bugs require a feeding between each nymph stage, they can survive for extended periods of time without a meal.
Biting occurs at night and there is usually no pain to the host during the act of biting. Residual effects of the bite can cause mild to moderate skin irritation for 1-2 weeks. Bed bugs rarely transmit disease. All in all, they are a severe annoyance that is very challenging to eliminate without professional intervention.
If you suspect that you have bed bugs in your home or business get a positive ID. Sticky traps near hiding areas are effective for collecting specimens. Another method that works well is to use clear tape to capture a specimen and secure it to a white or clear surface. Then examine the specimen to confirm if it is or is not a bed bug. Professionally assisted eradication is the most effective method for ridding your environment of these pests. It is very difficult to get effective control using only cultural methods or only with pesticides. It will require a combination of both and may take multiple attempts. Always check furniture for signs of bed bugs when you spend the night away from home and also check before bringing new furniture into your home.
If you fear that you have encountered bed bugs while traveling, there are steps to take to reduce the risk of spreading them to your home. Upon your return, bag and seal clothing and other belongings before you enter and immediately heat treat whatever you can in the dryer. Proceed to washing items in hot water and drying them again. Exposure to high heat will kill bed bugs. Vacuum any upholstery or carpet that you may have contacted on the way in.
Getting bed bugs is not the end of the world, but it can be embarrassing and difficult to treat. I hope that you do not encounter bed bugs, but if it happens hopefully you will know what to do after reading this article.