Homeowners Guide to Bed Bugs

Monday, January 19th, 2015 by Bill Cowley

bed bugs 

The bed bug (cimex lectularius) is a biting insect that is found in all fifty states as well as many other parts of the world. A bite from these pests will cause an itching sensation and may cause swelling. Due to their ability to easily move from one area to another, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), consider bed bugs a public health pest.

What are the Distinguishing Characteristics of a Bed Bug?

It is important to know the key characteristics of a bed bug. Bed bugs are six-legged wingless insects that are relatively flat and oval in shape. Unfed adult bed bugs are mahogany in color whereas an engorged bed bug turns a red-brown color. A bed bug nymph is nearly colorless. The average adult bed bug is a quarter of an inch long and is about the width of a credit card. A newly hatched nymph can be the size of a pinhead. Both the nymphs and eggs of a bed bug are so small it is hard to see them without the use of a magnifying glass.

How Do You Know If You Have Bed Bugs?

If you have a very large infestation you may see bed bugs in your home,bed bugs on curtains however, the most common sign of bed bugs bites on the people living in your home. Bed bug bites usually manifest themselves as itchy welts that appear in a zigzag pattern. Unfortunately, bed bug bites are often hard to distinguish from other common bites like that of mosquitos, fleas, or spiders.

How Do Bed Bugs Enter Your Home?

Bed bugs are excellent “hitch-hikers” that are easily transported into people’s homes in suitcases, boxes, book bags, purses, and shoes. Since bed bugs are found in many places (they are not limited to homes and hotels) these pests can be brought into your home at almost any time. Pest control companies have reported infestations everywhere from single-family homes, apartments, and hotels, to schools, office buildings, and even retail stores.

Why Do Bed Bugs Enter Your Home?

Bed bugs enter people’s homes to find a food source and shelter. Bed bugs are hematophagous insects, they feed on blood. They are attracted to the carbon dioxide emitted into the air as we breathe. Bed bugs often feed on humans at night when they are staying stationary because bed bugs require approximately five to ten minutes to engorge themselves with blood. Bed bugs are opportunists; although they prefer to feed at night, they will bite their host during the day. They also prefer to feed on humans but will feed on other warm-blooded animals if necessary.

To feed, bed bugs insert two hollow, beak-like feeding tubes into their host. The first tube is used to inject its saliva, which contains anesthetics to numb the bite area. It is the second tube that actually removes the blood from the host. After feeding, they move to secluded places and hide for 5-10 days. During this time, they do not feed but instead digest their meal, mate, and lay eggs.

Because bed bugs move to secluded places after they feed, if suspicious bites are found, your next step should be to investigate these secluded areas. The first place to look is on the mattresses in your home. You should check for both bed bugs as well as bed bug waste. If you see dark spots there is a possibility that they are either solid feces, eggs, shed skins, or blood blots from a bed bug.

If you are not sure if the items you are finding are bed bug waste, you can purchase traps to monitor your home for pests like bed bugs. If you are still uncertain or if you do find bed bugs your best solution is to call a pest management professional.

How Do You Prevent Bed Bugs from Entering Your Home?

Since bed bugs are notoriously difficult to get rid of, the best thing to do is prevent an infestation before it happens. The most important action you can take is to vacuum frequently to remove any successful “hitchhikers” who were able to enter your home in a book bag, purse, etc.

If you are staying in a hotel: bring both your clean and dirty clothing home in sealed plastic bags. Pre-sort the clothes into lights and darks. drying clothes on highWhen your clothes are transported in sealed plastic bags it makes it harder for a bed bug to get out of the laundry and into your home. Once the clothes are in your home, make sure that you launder them in the highest temperature water the clothing will allow. If you have all of the clothes pre-sorted, tip each bag directly into the washer and then immediately put the empty bag into another clean bag, seal it firmly, and dispose of the bags in your outside trash. For best results, dry all the clothes in your dryer after they have been washed. Much like the clothes that need to be laundered, tip the bag of clean clothes directly into your dryer and dispose of the plastic bag in the same manner. The high heat of the dryer will kill the bed bugs and make the clothes and bedding safe to use.

If you are bringing second-hand furniture into your home: make sure to carefully check any second-hand furniture (especially beds, and couches) for any signs of bed bugs before you bring the pieces into your home.

Should I Act Quickly if I Suspect Bed Bugs?

Seventy-six percent of the respondents to the 2013 Bugs Without Borders Survey stated that bed bugs were the most difficult pest to treat. If you believe you might have bed bugs in your home it is imperative to bring in a pest management professional in order to remedy the problem quickly. Pest professionals will all agree that the earlier a bed bug infestation is found the quicker it can be resolved. Bed bug infestations that go untreated can spread beyond the sleeping areas and become a major inconvenience for the homeowner and a more difficult infestation to remedy for the pest professional.

Therefore, if you have any concerns about bed bugs, the best thing to do is contact a pest professional immediately so that they may identify the pest at hand and begin treatment immediately if in fact, you do have bed bugs. 

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