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.
Some facts about bed bugs:
- 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.
Other troubling things to know about bed bugs:
- 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 with bed bug proof seams and zippered constructions Several of our encasing lines are comfortable for sleeping, and scientifically proven to block both allergens and bed bugs.
Recommended home remedies include:
- Replacing your mattress if possible. If you cannot afford to do this, vacuum the encase the mattress 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.
- To kill bed bugs, spray an all-natural product, such as Bed Bug Patrol, on, into or around areas where you suspect bed bugs exist.
- Use the sticky type of bed bug 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
Bed bugs can also go dormant for a period of months or even a year or more, and then suddenly reappear. In these instances, it would be best to call a professional, just as it would be if you have a heavy infestation.
Once 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 1940s and 50s 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 1990s, but infestations are on the upswing today.
...But On The Rise Again
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. Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has gotten involved, holding two National Bed Bug Summits since 2009, and recently launching a website called Bed Bugs: Get Them Out and Keep Them Out to help Americans deal with the burgeoning problem.
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, leaving a social stigma on nearly anyone who's had them. 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.”