The History of Bed Bugs
Understanding the issue of bed bugs is an essential step to ensure that they are rapidly eradicated and that you know how to avoid them again in the future.
Bed bugs are parasites that prefer to feed on humans. They are a persistent pest and have developed a number of highly evolved abilities to remain close to humans.
Bed bugs have been documented since the 17th century although they have been around for much longer and most likely followed Man out of the caves millennia ago. Although they are not considered to be a major pest or health hazard they can be highly unpleasant to live with and can cause a severe lack of sleep. International travel and commerce are thought to facilitate the spread because eggs, young, and adult bed bugs are all readily transported in luggage, clothing, bedding, and furniture. Bedbugs can infest aircraft, ships, trains, and buses as well as offices and public spaces. In some recent cases we have found that the source of infestation was connected with the journey rather than staying in an infected location.
Bedbugs are most frequently found in dwellings with a high rate of occupant turnovers, such as hotels, motels, hostels, dormitories, shelters, apartment complexes, tenements, and prisons. Such infestations are not usually a reflection of poor hygiene or bad housekeeping but that a previous occupant had come into contact with them at some stage.
Adult bed bugs are brown to reddish-brown, oval-shaped, flattened, and about 5mm to 7mm long. Their flat shape enables them to readily hide in cracks and crevices. In some cases, colonies have been found in places where it is difficult to insert a sheet of paper.
Female bedbugs lay from one to twelve eggs per day, and the eggs are deposited on rough surfaces or in cracks and crevices. The eggs are coated with a sticky substance so they adhere to the surface. Eggs hatch in around 10 days, and nymphs can immediately begin to feed. They require a blood meal in order to molt and develop into the next stage. Bedbugs reach maturity after five molts. Developmental time (egg to adult) is affected by temperature and takes about 21 days at 86° F to 120 days at 65° F. The nymphal period is greatly prolonged when food is scarce. The adult’s life span may encompass 12-18 months and they are known to be able to survive for 12 months between feeds.
Because of their incomplete metamorphic lifecycle, juvenile bedbugs are nymphs rather than larvae (caterpillars are larvae and turn into adult butterflies). This simple fact can often be used to establish if someone knows their subject.
Bedbugs are fast-moving insects that are blood-feeders using a stylet to pierce the skin and feed. Nymphs may become engorged with blood within three minutes, whereas a full-grown bed bug usually feeds for ten to fifteen minutes. They then crawl away to a hiding place to digest the meal, which may take 3 or 4 days. Although widely reported as such they are not nocturnal and become active when food is most readily available.
Bedbugs often hide during the day in dark protected sites, preferring fabric, wood, and paper surfaces. They usually occur in fairly close proximity to the host, although they can travel significant distances for food when necessary. Bedbugs can often be found in tufts, seams, and folds of mattresses, later spreading to crevices in the bedstead. In heavier infestations, they also may occupy hiding places further from the bed. They may hide in window and door frames, electrical boxes, floor cracks, baseboards, furniture, and under the tack board of wall-to-wall carpeting. Bed bugs often crawl upward to hide in pictures, wall hangings, drapery pleats, loosened wallpaper, cracks in plaster, and ceiling mouldings.
The use of inappropriate treatment solutions such as aerosol insecticides and foggers will often spread an infestation.
The bite is often painless at the time but will typically cause the skin to become irritated and inflamed. Individuals differ greatly in both the extent and timing of their response to a bite. A small, hard, swollen, white welt may develop at the site of each bite which can occur in rows or batches of three or four although this does vary from person to person and is not a confirming sign of bedbugs. This is usually accompanied by severe itching that lasts for several hours to days. In rare cases, an allergic reaction may follow – in such cases seek medical attention immediately. The morphology of bites is highly variable and bedbugs are impossible to diagnose on bites alone.
It is believed that 1 in 10 people show no signs of biting, often leading to the myth that they only attack certain people. Cases of extreme reaction seem to be on the increase and affect as many as 2 in 10 people. If you have a severe reaction to other insect bites such as fleas and mosquitoes you are more likely to have an extreme reaction to bed bugs. We have also noted increasing anecdotal evidence that once you have been bitten, the environment that you find yourself in can induce a more severe reaction so if possible avoid areas of high pollution or concentrations of irritants that will enter through the open wounds.
Some individuals respond to bedbug infestations with anxiety, stress, and insomnia. Bedbugs are not known to transmit any diseases although some studies have shown that they are capable of carrying infectious material it is believed that their evolutionary path prevents them from transmitting anything person to person.
If an infestation is heavy or prolonged it is advisable to use an Iron containing dietary supplement as anemia or iron deficiency can develop. If you are feeling tired and lethargic this may help significantly.
A bed bug infestation can be recognized by blood stains seeping from wounds or by rusty (sometimes dark) spots of excrement on sheets and mattresses, pajamas, and walls. Fecal spots, eggshells, and shed skins may be found in the vicinity of their hiding places. An offensive, sweet, musty odor from their scent glands may be detected when bedbug infestations are severe. As the smell develops over time you may become accustomed to it and not detect it.
The signs of a bed bug infestation are:
- Live bugs
- Cast skins
- Fecal traces
- Tiny blood spots on your sheets
Bed Bug Prevention
Do not bring infested items into the home. It is important to carefully inspect clothing and baggage of travelers, being on the lookout for bed bugs and their tell-tale fecal spots. Also, inspect all second-hand beds, bedding, and furniture. Identifying the source is one of the key aspects to controlling an infestation. Unless the source is excluded from the property the stock of bed bugs will be continually replenished and the life cycle will continue.
Bed Bug Inspections
A thorough inspection of the premises to locate bedbugs and their harborage sites is necessary so that cleaning efforts and insecticide treatments can be focused. Inspection efforts should concentrate on the mattress, box springs, and bed frame, as well as cracks and crevices that the bed bugs may hide in during the day or when digesting a blood meal. The latter sites include window and door frames, floor cracks, carpet tack boards, baseboards, electrical boxes, furniture, pictures, wall hangings, drapery pleats, loosened wallpaper, cracks in plaster, and ceiling molding’s. Detection is something that you develop an “eye for” with time, particularly in the case of eggs which appear amber in color when fertile and pearlescent white when hatched.
Sanitation measures include frequently vacuuming the mattress and premises, laundering bedding and clothing in hot water, and cleaning and sanitizing dwellings. After vacuuming, immediately place the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag, seal tightly, and discard it in a container outdoors, this prevents captured bedbugs from escaping back into your home. A stiff brush can be used to scrub the mattress seams to dislodge bedbugs and eggs. Discarding the mattress is another option, although a new mattress can quickly become infested if bedbugs are still on the premises so this is often a false economy. It is always best to treat and replace at a later date than face having to keep replacing new items.
Like all issues, early detection ensures that you are able to identify the problem and start dealing with it before it spreads out of control. Proactive monitoring with passive bedbug monitors helps ensure that the issue is identified quickly and can be resolved with minimal disruption and impact on your life.
Control of bed bugs is best achieved by following an integrated pest management (IPM) approach that involves multiple tactics, such as preventive measures, sanitation, and chemicals applied to targeted sites. It is a job where experience is essential to getting rapid results. The fact that most homeowners have rarely encountered bedbugs means that self-treatment may seem cost-effective and simple but the reality is that it's a steep learning curve and can be a gamble with your family's health and safety.