Bed bugs are small insects that feed on human blood. Bed bugs have been found in every major Ohio city, and reports to local health departments have increased recently. The insects frequently are found in hotels, dormitories, and apartments, but can be spread to other locations easily. Bed bugs hitch rides on clothing, luggage, bedding, and furniture. Having them in your home is not an indication of poor housekeeping or lack of cleanliness. Rather, it simply means that someone who has been in your home has also been where bed bugs are.
While not life-threatening, bed bug infestations can negatively affect a person’s quality of life.
Bed bugs do not have nests and are great at hiding. Their flat bodies allow them to move in and out of very narrow spaces, such as behind baseboards, around screws in furniture, and in the seams and crevices of mattresses and other furniture.
Adult bed bugs are reddish-brown, wingless and about the size of an apple seed. Newly hatched bed bugs resemble adults but are white or yellowish in color. Their eggs are white, about the size of a pinhead and usually are found in crevices in clusters of 10-50 eggs.
Unless an infestation is severe, you may not see bugs. You’ll have to examine common hiding places for tell-tale signs, such as dark spots and stains. Here are the most likely places to find them:
- In pillowcases, sheets, box springs and the seams and tufts of mattresses;
- Behind your bed’s headboard, the baseboards, anything stored under the bed and furniture near the bed, such as your nightstands;
- Inside window and door casings, pictures, moldings, loose wallpaper, cracks in the plaster and clutter;
- In couches and chairs in which you spend a lot of time;
- Inside electrical outlets and light switches, phones, clocks, smoke detectors and toys; and
- Around pets and their usual resting spots.
Bed bugs usually bite people at night while they are sleeping, and feed on any skin that is exposed. Bed bugs are not known to transmit diseases to humans. However, their bites can lead to allergic reactions and possible infections from scratching. Their bites are characterized by rows of welts and are initially painless. Bed bug bites may cause itchy red welts or localized swelling within a day or so of the bite. Severe itching could last for several hours to days.
Your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce allergic reactions to bed bug bites. They may also recommend antiseptic or antibiotic ointments to prevent infection. Bed bugs are not known to transmit diseases to humans.
Bed bugs “hitchhike” from place to place on clothing, furniture, luggage and more. It can be easy to pick up the bugs or their eggs in one location and carry them to another, where they will hide and keep breeding, spreading the problem.
To keep bed bugs out of your home:
- Check your shoes and clothing before you come into your home, especially if you have been using public transportation or have been to a location where many different people congregate or pass through (such as a doctor’s office or meal site).
- If you have care providers coming into your home, ask them how they have been trained to limit the spread of bed bugs and how they will prevent bringing bed bugs into your home.
- Inspect used furniture for bed bugs before bringing it into your home.
- Never bring discarded bed frames, mattresses, box springs or furniture into your home.
- When traveling, inspect the bed and furniture where you are staying. Keep suitcases off the floor and bed, and inspect them before you leave.
- Wash all clothing immediately after returning from a trip and inspect your luggage for signs of bed bugs.
While not life-threatening, bed bug infestations can be difficult to get rid of and can negatively affect your quality of life. To get bed bugs out of your home, first identify and remove potential hiding places.
- Remove clutter like boxes, papers and piles of clothing.
- Remove smaller items that may be infested, such as picture frames, books and clothing.
- Place items that cannot be cleaned into plastic garbage bags, seal them and put them in the outdoor trash.
Next, clean what you can:
- Wash bedding, curtains, rugs and clothes in hot water (120°F minimum) and dry on the highest dryer setting. Soak delicates in warm water with lots of laundry soap for several hours before rinsing. Place wool items, plush toys, shoes and other similar items in a hot dryer for 30 minutes.
- Vacuum mattresses, bed frames, furniture, floors and carpets, especially in cracks and open spaces. When finished, vacuum ¼ cup of cornstarch or talcum powder to suffocate any bugs in the vacuum, empty it into a plastic bag, seal it and dispose of it in the outdoor trash.
- Scrub mattress seams with a stiff brush to dislodge bed bugs and their eggs. Cover infested mattresses and box springs with waterproof, zippered covers labeled “allergen rated” or “for dust mites” for at least one year.
- Check pets and pet bedding as you do other furnishings.
Finally, throw out what you can’t clean:
- Damage items such as furniture and mattresses to discourage others from taking them into their own homes.
- Remove loose wallpaper and repair cracks in the plaster.
A thorough cleaning may not be enough to get rid of bed bugs. Pest control specialists can battle tough infestations with a variety of techniques. Ask your friends and family members for referrals. The specialist should inspect your property and give you a written treatment plan. He or she will tell you what infested items can be effectively cleaned and what should be discarded. He or she also will work with you until the bugs are gone and teach you how to prevent re-infestation. Ask the professional to:
- Use the least-toxic pesticide labeled for bed bugs that will be effective;
- Follow all instructions and warnings on product labels;
- Respond to your questions about how the treatments will affect pets;
- Tell you when it’s safe to re-enter a treated room; and
- Never spray the top of mattresses or sofas, and if needed, to use only small amounts of pesticides on their seams only.
Agree on a service plan and its costs before work begins. Expect at least two treatments, plus a follow-up visit to confirm that the bugs have been eliminated.