Everything You Wanted to Know about Bed Bugs

by Shira Linden

While vampires such as Count Dracula are pure myth, there is a modern-day equivalent that feeds on the blood of humans and is quite real. The culprit is the lowly bed bug. These agile, oval-shaped insects are 3/16th of an inch long and reddish brown in color, with flat bodies and vestigial wings. They do not fly, but can crawl rapidly over floors, ceilings and walls. Sometimes, they are mistaken for ticks or small cockroaches.

Bed bugs reproduce by laying eggs, one to two per day…hundreds in their lifetime. Sticky eggs the size of pinheads adhere to surfaces. Nymphs (immature bed bugs) are smaller and lighter in color, shedding their skin five times before reaching adulthood.

A blood meal is needed between each molt. With the right conditions, 70-80°F, nymphs can become adults within a month. Under less than ideal circumstances, nymphs can survive for months without feeding and adults can go as long as a year.

Feasting on Humans

Bed bugs get active at night, piercing exposed skin with their elongated beak while humans or animals sleep. Typically, bed bugs bite the face, neck, hands, arms, legs, chest and back. The bite often is not felt, but it leaves small raised bumps or welts that could become itchy, red, swollen and infected, if scratched.

The bites resemble mosquito or flea bites or other rashes. Frequently, bed bugs make several bites in a row, which infectious disease specialists refer to as “breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Some people notice bites right away. Others have a delayed reaction or no reaction at all.

Telltale signs are blood on the sheets or mattress or dark spots – primarily in the tufts, seams and folds of mattresses and box springs and the cracks and crevices in the vicinity of where the host sleeps.

You may also see eggs and egg shells or the light brown skin of molting nymphs. Where the problem has gone unchecked for quite some time, a buggy smell may be noticeable.

Bed bugs can hitch rides via the clothing, luggage, electronics or belongings of an unknowing carrier. Furniture, headboards, bed frames, clothing, moldings – even seams in wallpaper are favorite hiding places. Once they find a host, they multiply, crawling to adjacent rooms or traversing floors in homes, apartment buildings or hotels.

While bed bugs are not known to carry disease, they do cause sleeplessness, allergies, discomfort, itching, anxiety and embarrassment. Using insect repellent or sleeping with the lights on are not effective deterrents.

Stamping Out Bed Bugs

Prevention is the recommended approach to controlling bed bugs, as they are difficult to eradicate once found. The best prevention involves encasing the mattress, pillow and box spring in a sealable cover that’s 100% cotton or polyester. Two of our encasing lines, Cotton Performance and Pristine Complete, are comfortable for sleeping, and scientifically proven allergen and bed bug barriers.

Recommended home remedies include replacing your mattress if possible. If you cannot afford to do this, vacuum the mattress and encase it in a sealable cover. Wash all clothes, linens and bedding in hot water with an allergen-removing detergent. You can also place infected items in a dryer on medium heat for 10–20 minutes. Use the sticky type of mouse traps to capture rogue bed bugs.

The use of insecticide around mattresses is not recommended. Other methods that may be effective include raising the room temperature to 120 degrees using supplemental heaters to effectively cook the buggers or dropping the temperature below 32 degrees for several days to freeze them out. If you suspect bed bugs, you may need to enlist the services of a pest-control expert to validate your suspicions and eliminate the pests.

Nearly Eradicated

Mentioned in medieval European texts and classical Greek writings from the time of Aristotle, bed bugs have been known since ancient times. They were prevalent in the United States prior to World War II, but were practically eradicated in the 1940’s and 50’s with the pesticide DDT. While bed bugs were found on other continents, including South America, Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia, outbreaks in the United States were rare until the 1990's, but infestations are on the upswing today.

The increases in global travel to the developing world and restrictions on the use of stronger pesticides are thought to be key factors underlying the re-emergence of bed bugs in America. Some have labeled the resurgence a pandemic.

Bed bugs are often found in unsanitary, crowded and cluttered living quarters or where birds, particularly bats, are nesting near a home. However, they can also flourish in posh, upscale, clean environments. Hotels are particularly vulnerable due to the revolving door of guests who transport these hitchhikers.

Visit TripAdvisor.com to read accounts of unhappy travelers’ encounters with bed bugs at everything from fancy, big name hotels to the local hostel.

Avoiding Bed Bugs on the Road

Concerned travelers should examine bed sheets, mattress, box spring and head board before settling in for the night. Elevate suitcases to luggage racks and dresser tops rather than leaving them on the floor. Vigilance and prevention are your best weapons against these thirsty “vampires.”