Experts believe the recent increase in bed bugs in the United States may be due to more travel, lack of knowledge about preventing infestations, increased resistance of bed bugs to pesticides, and ineffective pest control practices.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, bites on the skin are a poor indicator of a bed bug infestation. Bed bug bites can be misidentified, which gives the bed bugs time to spread to other areas of the house. Bed bug bites can look like bites from other insects (such as mosquitoes or spiders), rashes (such as eczema or fungal infections), or even hives. Some people do not react to bed bug bites at all.
A far more accurate way to identify a possible infestation is to look for physical signs of bed bugs. For example, spots on bedding, as described below, are one of the earliest and most accurate methods.
When cleaning, changing bedding, or staying away from home, look for:
- Dark spots (about this size: •) which are bed bug excrement and may bleed on the fabric like a marker would
- Eggs and eggshells, which are tiny (about 1mm) and white
- Skins that nymphs shed as they grow larger
- Live bed bugs
- Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed
When not feeding, bed bugs hide in a variety of places. Around the bed, they can be found near the piping, seams and tags of the mattress and box spring, and in cracks on the bed frame and head board.
If the room is heavily infested, you may find bed bugs in the seams of chairs and couches, between cushions, in the folds of curtains, in drawer joints, in electrical receptacles and appliances, under loose wall paper and wall hangings — even in the head of a screw. Since bed bugs are only about the width of a credit card, they can squeeze into really small hiding spots. If a crack will hold a credit card, it could hide a bed bug.
Bed bugs can hide in furniture, luggage and clothing, causing itchy, painful bites.
Here are some tips on how to help prevent bed bug infestations:
- Carefully inspect any secondhand couches, beds and other furniture for signs of bed bugs.
- Protect any mattress and box spring with a cover. Make sure it is of good quality and light in color, Remember to inspect it frequently for tears and bed bugs.
- Cut down on clutter throughout your home to provide fewer areas for bed bugs to hide.
- If staying in a hotel, keep luggage up on racks, not on the floor.
- Inspect hotel mattresses and headboards carefully.
- When you return from a trip, put clothing directly into the washing machine. Carefully check luggage for bed bugs.
So how to do you treat a bed bug infestation?
Controlling bed bugs takes time and patience. There are a variety of non-chemical approaches that have been shown to be effective. In addition, pesticides are available to aid in the control process.
Combining chemical and non-chemical treatments in a unified approach often makes the most sense.
- Inspect infested areas, plus surrounding living spaces
- Correctly identify the pest (save a sample to show an extension agent or other reliable expert in entomology)
- Keep records – including dates when and locations where pests are found
- Clean all items within a bed bug infested living area
- Reduce clutter where bed bugs can hide
- Eliminate bed bug habitats
- Physically remove bed bugs through cleaning
- Try non-chemical methods
- Use pesticides carefully according to the label directions or hire a pest management professional
- Follow up with inspections and possible treatments