Bed bugs (Cimex lectularis) are nocturnal parasitic blood-sucking pests that feed primarily on sleeping or sedentary humans. Bed bugs hatch from eggs and, before becoming an adult capable of reproduction, pass through five nymphal stages. Eggs and nymphs are very small, but still visible to the naked eye. Bed bug eggs, typically laid in cracks or rough surfaces, are pearly white, and covered with a sticky substance. Nymphs resemble adult bed bugs, but are a lot smaller -- about the size of a poppy seed. Adult bed bugs are flat and oval, up to ¼ inch in length, and have a segmented sucking beak. They do not have wings and are limited to crawling and climbing.
Today, bed bug infestations are common and continue to increase, especially in states like New Jersey where there are high population density areas and a highly mobile population. According to the National Pest Management Association, one out of five Americans either has had a bed bug infestation in their home or knows someone who has encountered bed bug.
For over three decades, bed bugs were not a problem. Unfortunately, since the late 1990s, there has been a resurgence of these pests. The primary reasons are considered to be an increase in inexpensive international travel, a lack of public awareness and the banned use of older types of insecticides such as DDT that were highly effective against bed bugs, almost removing them completely. Although powerful, DDT was banned after it was determined that is was a carcinogen that became more concentrated as it passed up the food chain (known as bio-amplification).
Since bed bugs are nocturnal and hide during the day, an infestation is usually discovered through signs rather than direct observation of the bugs themselves. Perhaps the most common first sign of bed bugs is bed bug bites. Other evidence of a bed bug infestation are blood stains on the bedding, finding crushed bugs in the bed or shed skins in the folds of the sheets or perimeter of the mattress. Bed bug fecal and blood stains look like tiny brown specks, often described as looking like sprinkled pepper.
If a bed bug infestation is suspected, don’t wait before contacting a pest control professional and don’t try to remove the infestation as a do-it-yourself project. Home remedies are not only ineffective, they often make matters worse by spreading the infestation throughout the home from a localized area, making treatment even more difficult.
Once there are bed bug signs, a pest control professional should inspect the home to confirm whether there is a bed bug infestation and, if so, the locations where bed bugs are present. Precautions can be taken to keep the infestation localized.
Treatment Protocols for Bed Bug Infestations
If a bed bug infestation has been identified, there are a variety of proven options and protocols that are available. An experienced pest professional can work with you to determine the best treatment strategy given the level of infestation. According to the National Pest Management Association, bed bugs are one of the difficult pests to treat, even for a professional. The following are the most common steps incorporated in an effective bed bug treatment plan:
Bed Bug Detection
Before any treatment, a visual inspection is necessary. A pest professional experienced in these infestations willclosely examine common harborage sites including the bed and box spring as well as the bedroom(s) and any other sleeping or resting areas in the home like sofas and cribs. Bed bugs are not necessarily confined to beds and a thorough visual inspection should be extended to other harborage areas nearby such as: picture frames, nightstands, molding, chairs and other furnishings.
There are some instances when there are indications of an early infestation, but no adult bed bugs have been found through a human visual inspection. In these cases, a canine inspection may be suggested. In low-level infestations, eggs and nymphs can be difficult to detect with only a human visual inspection. The human eye can only do so much. Professionally trained bed bug scent-detecting dogs can be used to uncover small, isolated infestations or situations where there is a lot of clutter and too many potential harborage sites. In addition, canines are highly effective in quickly identifying potential infestations in multi-unit housing such as apartments, hotels, motels, nursing homes and college dormitories. Inspections with canines, because of their acute sense of smell, are typically faster than visual human inspections. Their accuracy rate is usually in the 90th percentile.
Bed Bug Preparation
Resolving bed bug infestations is a joint effort with the homeowner and pest control professional. The homeowner needs to prepare for the bed bug treatment to maximize its effectiveness. If the homeowner is unable to do so because of age or incapacity, there are paid services to perform this critical step in bed bug treatment. The pest control professional should provide detailed instructions. Depending upon the planned treatment for the particular infestation, preparation can vary. During preparation, careful consideration should be taken to avoid inadvertently spreading bed bugs throughout a home or facility; the objective is to keep the infestation contained and localized.
Preparing for Treatments
Prior to a chemical treatment, it is necessary to uncover any and all potential harborage areas within the home.This
includes killing bed bugs that may be hiding in clothing and other soft fabrics in the room by washing and drying these items. Special steps and considerations for the homeowner are included in our detailed preparation instructions. In the case of a heat treatment, there are additional considerations. Instructions must be carefully followed to ensure that items such as electronics, pharmaceuticals, perishables and even home systems are preserved and unharmed. Be sure to prepare their home prior to a heat treatment according to your pest professional's directions so there is no property damage from the heat. Bed bug heat treatment systems are not your standard portable home heaters; they can raise room temperatures as high as 135 degrees.
The pest control professional’s first task is to vacuum and scrub areas any areas that bed bugs have visibly infested including bedrooms, sleeping areas and any other areas of visible infestation. This step, which dramatically improves the effectiveness of the chemical or heat treatments, involves removing the large population of adult bed bugs, their eggs, droppings and other bed bud remnants. During the clean out, cracks and crevices in walls and molding where bed bugs may be hiding are filled and repaired. It is critical to permanently close these potential harborage sites.
Traditional Chemical Treatment
Traditional chemical treatments typically involves multiple, carefully targeted applications to knockdown active adult bed bug populations in bedroom and sleeping areas. Follow-up treatments are often necessary to treat resilient bed bugs eggs that have hatched since the last chemical treatment.
For widespread infestations, heat is often the preferred treatment option. The advantage of heat is that it kills bed bugs at all stages: eggs, nymphs and adults. Heat is safe, non-chemical and typically takes just one day to complete. Special heating units specifically designed to kill bed bugs are used to bring the temperature of the home and contents to 120-135 degrees. At these temperatures bed bugs and their eggs die. Heat treatment is typically used in conjunction with other bed bug treatment strategies.
It is not necessary to dispose of infested mattresses. Not only is it a waste of money, but also doing so can spread a bed bug infestation throughout your home. And, it should comes as no surprise that bringing a new mattress into the home before an infestation is under control inevitably results in that mattress becoming infested with bed bugs as well. Therefore, the preferred approach is to thoroughly clean, treat and then encase mattress and box springs. Box springs are a common harborage area for bed bugs. Encasements fully cover both mattresses and box springs with specially made zippers that trap bed bugs inside. Because bed bugs can live for approximately one year without a blood meal, encasements should never to be removed. To do so, may cause a re-infestation.
Active Mattress Liners
While encasements simply trap bed bugs, treated mattress liners are typically used in conjunction with encasements to kill bed bugs that come into contact with them for up to two years. Active mattress liners are easy to install. They are simply placed on the bed and sheets are installed over top. These liners help to kill any bed bugs that may have been missed during the treatments, a reducing the chances of a re-infestation. They also protect the mattress and/or box spring depending on where they are installed and also help to protect those sleeping in the bed from bites.
When faced with a bed bug infestation, the best course of action is to remain calm and work closely with a pest management professional. It can’t be stressed enough: the successful removal of a bed bug infestation is a joint effort with homeowners and pest control professional. But there is no getting around it. Bed bugs are a frustrating pest to infest your home and these infestations are a source of stress for everyone living there.
Please keep in mind that, while bed bugs are an annoyance, they do not transmit any diseases like ticks or mosquitoes. Also, today’s bed bug specialists have the experience using ever-improving treatments to successfully eliminate these infestations. Your infestation will successfully be resolved. While heavier infestations can be more difficult to treat, ultimately, the bed bugs will be gone.