Just reading about bedbugs may make you start itching, but they’re working their way across the country – they’ve already hit Columbus – so at the risk of totally grossing you out, here’s everything you need to know about these creepy little critters.
What are they?
Bed bugs (Cimex Lectularius) are external parasites that feed on blood. Adults are reddish-brown, oval-shaped and about the size of an apple seed. They prefer human blood, but can feed off of rodents, bats, birds, and pets in a pinch. They can live 12-18 months and can survive up to a year without a meal. They can’t fly. They feed at night and hide during the day.
Where do they hide?
Bedbugs rarely hang out on the surfaces of beds or chairs. They like cracks and crevices in mattresses, cushions, bed frames, and floor boards. Female bed bugs deposit 1-12 eggs per day in these areas, which hatch in 4-10 days.
Can they hurt me?
Not really. The bites themselves are usually painless, but can cause itchy, red, bumps about the size of a pencil eraser. In rare cases, the bites can get infected or cause a severe allergic reaction, but usually they go away on their own.
Even though they feed on blood, as far as we know bed bugs do not transmit disease. There have been no reported cases of a bed bug feeding off of one person with HIV or Hepatitis (or any other infectious blood-borne disease) and passing it to another person by feeding on them. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why this is, but they’re trying to figure it out.
How can I tell if they’re on me or in my room?
The itchy red bumps caused by bed bugs are usually in a line because the bug walks and feeds at the same time. You will also often see blood stains from crushed bugs on sheets or clothing, and little black spots of bedbug poop on mattresses, pajamas and along floorboards.
If you find a bug, the Ohio Department of Health offers an insect identification service. The Ohio State University Extension Office also has a Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic that can identify it for you.
What do I do if I think I have them in my room or apartment?
Do NOT try to get rid of them yourself. Bug bombs only drive them further into their hiding areas and may make them spread to other rooms. Baits, traps and other insecticides don’t work. It wouldn’t hurt to vacuum your place really well, but if you do, spread a little talcum powder on the floor first – it suffocates the bugs in the vacuum bag so they don’t spread elsewhere. Washing your sheets and clothes on hot (120 °F) and drying them for 15 minutes is sufficient to kill them.
If you live in a dorm, contact your RA or hall director who can contact Facilities Management to assess the situation and coordinate pest control contractors. If you live in off-campus housing, contact your landlord to have the situation evaluated.
What can I do to avoid getting them?
- Never buy used mattresses
- Remove clutter as much as possible, especially under the bed. Using plastic, under-bed storage containers with lids is a good idea
- Put mattress and box springs in bed bug resistant encasements
- Vacuum regularly
- When you move into a new apartment or dorm, checking the mattress seams and baseboards isn’t too paranoid. Some people even keep their luggage in the bathroom when they stay in hotels
For more information, the extension office has a great fact sheet on bed bugs, and you can check out: http://www.centralohiobedbugs.org/
John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University