Do you have bed bugs? How would you know? Those are questions you should be asking yourself if you wake up in the morning covered in insect bites or if you frequently travel.
According to the National Pest Management Association, 1 out of every 5 people in the United States has a bed bug infestation in their home or knows someone who has had a bed bug infestation.
With bed bugs found in all 50 states and three times more likely to be found in urban living areas, these pesky bed intruders is something everyone should be concerned about–especially since they crawl out of upholstery at night to feed on their human victims!
What is a bed bug, exactly?
First, bed bugs are tiny; so tiny that a bed bug hatchling can crawl through a stitch hole in a mattress.
Adult bed bugs are somewhat larger and are visible to the naked eye.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicate bed bugs are generally 1 to 7 mm in size (approximately the size of Lincoln’s head on a penny), and are flat-bodied, reddish-brown in color, and have no wings.
It won’t take long for you to know if you have bed bugs.
Where there is one bed bug there are usually more, and if you have bed bugs it won’t take long before you have more bed bugs.
The average female can lay more than 500 eggs in her lifetime, which generally translates to five a day.
These little creatures are incredibly resilient, going several months without food if need be and withstanding temperatures up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit and below freezing. This hardiness is what makes the bed bug so difficult to get rid of and so adaptable to new environments.
How will I know if I have bed bugs?
One of the first signs you have bed bugs is the presence of bites on members of the family.
Bed bugs come out at night and feed while their victims are sleeping. They drink approximately seven times their own weight in blood and take their meals from both humans and other animals.
If you have bed bugs, you will likely notice itchy, red bumps on your skin when you wake up in the morning.
The Mayo Clinic states these tell-tale marks are usually found on the face, neck, arms, and hands and often appear in clusters.
Some individuals have little to no reaction to bed bug bites, but others can be severely allergic and may develop hives or blisters.
Other warning signs you have bed bugs include:
- The presence of exoskeletons after molting.
- Bed bugs found in the folds of sheets and mattresses.
- A sweet, musty odor in certain rooms.
- The presence of reddish stains along furniture, which is the result of the blood-filled feces excreted by bed bugs.
Keep in mind that bed bugs want to be where people and animals are sleeping.
If you suspect you have bed bugs, closely examine bedrooms, couches, bed beds, cribs, and any other areas where people or animals tend to doze off.
Why do I have bed bugs?
Unfortunately, there is no way to know for certain how you ended up with a bed bug infestation.
These little critters can be carried in on clothing or luggage, by you or by someone you know.
They are so small it is almost impossible to spot one if it decides to hitch a ride on your clothes or bury itself in your suitcase after a trip.
While it is not always possible to prevent a bed bug infestation, individuals can take the following precautions to help reduce risk:
- Carefully inspect secondhand items you purchase of signs of bed bugs. Be sure to wash any items which can safely fit into your washing machine.
- When traveling, inspect your mattress for signs of bed bugs. Keep suitcases and travel bag off of the floor and bed; place them on dressers or on top of cabinets instead.
- Keep wildlife under control. Bed bugs will feed off of most animals; if you have birds or bats living in your home, their nesting sites can be havens for bed bugs.
Now that I have bed bugs, how do I get rid of them?
Everyone is at-risk for bed bugs.
These pests are not associated with poor hygiene or poverty, despite common misconceptions.
If you have bed bugs, your best option is to call a professional exterminator to evaluate the situation. Some bed bug infestations are massive, and you must kill all of the bugs if you want to be bed bug-free.
Thankfully, bed bugs are not associated with disease transmission, so having them is no immediate threat to your health unless you are allergic.
Once a professional has begun fumigating your home, he or she will advise you on what steps to take next.
Usually people are advised to purchase plastic covers for mattresses and pillows, but because bed bugs can hide just about anywhere, this is no guarantee of protection.
Killing bed bugs often takes more than one house treatment to ensure any eggs are sterilized. It is often a time-consuming and expensive process.
The bad news? Even if you become bed bug-free again, there is no way to completely protect yourself from re-infestation. There are no products currently on the market, according to WebMD, which can repel bed bugs. Traditional bug spray and holistic approaches do not work.