How to treat bed bug bites and other bed bug FAQsBy Dr. Jorge Parada
- National Pest Management Association
Sunday, April 21, 2013
bugs remain a problematic pest across the United States,
beyond just bed bug bites. In fact, one out of five Americans
had a bed bug infestation in their home or knows someone
who has encountered bed bugs. Reflecting the increasing problem
with bed bugs,
a survey of pest management professionals found that prior
to 2000 only 25 percent had encountered bed bug infestations, but
in 2013 an amazing 99.6 percent of U.S. based professional pest
management companies encountered bed bug infestations. Bed bugs are
found in places beyond homes and
hotels, such as hospitals, schools, doctors' offices,
public transportation, college dorms, day cares, offices and any
other places where humans live or gather.
Is it bed bug season?
Bed bugs are active in summer and winter and are not considered
"seasonal" in the same sense that mosquitoes, ticks and stinging
insects are. Still, many consider bed bugs to be a greater problem
in the warmer months, however it is not the bed bugs that are more
active in the summer months - the humans are. In warmer weather we
typically travel more, often sleeping in hotels and motels, using
various modes of transportation, and thereby increasing our risk of
exposure to bed bugs. The bed bugs themselves are year-round
Bed bugs feed on blood like
mosquitoes and ticks. Can bed bugs also transmit diseases like
malaria, West Nile or Lyme disease?
Becoming a victim of a bed bug infestation is certainly
devastating, but the public can rest easy knowing that these pests
are not known to transmit any diseases. While it is true that some
pathogens have been detected in and on bed bugs including hepatitis
B, and exotic organisms such as Trypanosoma cruzi (cause of Chagas
Disease, rarely found in the United States) or Wolbachia
species, unlike mosquitoes and ticks, bed bugs have not been
associated with disease transmission.
If bed bugs don't transmit
disease, how come there are cases of people developing MRSA as a
result of bed bug bites?
Bed bugs do not transmit MRSA. Although there have been reports
of persons developing methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus
(MRSA) infections, such as boils or abscesses associated with bed
bug bites, it turns out the bed bugs really weren't directly at
fault. Rather, the cases of MRSA infections associated with bed bug
bites are actually an example of scratching leading to minor skin
trauma and subsequent secondary bacterial infections. In these
cases, people who are carriers of MRSA scratch at the itchy bite
sites and provide a port of entry for the MRSA (which was already
present on their skin) to get in and under the skin and cause the
secondary infection. While it can be blamed for some other bed bug
symptoms like itching and red welts, the bed bug cannot be blamed
for the infection.
Can bed bugs drive you crazy or
turn you into a recluse?
Some people experience anxiety, sleeplessness and unease as
symptoms of having had bed bugs. Let's face it, bed bug
infestations are understandably significant psychosocial stressors,
and some people may experience sleeplessness as they worry about
bugs biting them or their family members. Not surprisingly, people
have been known to self-isolate, avoiding family and friends out of
concern for spreading the infestation, or (if word gets out that
they have bed bugs) they may be avoided by friends or others in the
community, or find they have problems at work. As a result,
victims of bed bug infestations may experience moderate to severe
levels of stress, anxiety and depression. In severe cases, these
persons should seek counseling and treatment as required.
How will I recognize a bed bug
when I see one?
Bed bugs have flat oval
bodies, six legs, are reddish-brown in color and are similar in
size to a dog tick - many have described the adults as resembling a
flat apple seed. Adult bed bugs are approximately 1/4 inch long,
while nymphs (juveniles) may be as small 1/16 of an inch. With
feeding, they enlarge or engorge with blood. The adults turn from a
brownish to reddish color, while the translucent nymphs may become
bright red during the feeding process.
If I don't see bed bugs does
that mean I don't have a bed bug problem?
Just because you can't see bed bugs, does not mean that they are
not still there. Bed bugs are rarely seen in the day, out in the
open or on the surface of beds or chairs. They have been described
as champions of hide-and-seek. So, it is not uncommon to miss the
bed bugs altogether. Bed bugs love to hide in the cracks and
crevices associated with mattresses, cushions, bed frames and other
structures, which is why it is very important to look for telltale
symptoms of bed bugs and signs of an infestation, such as shed
skins and specks of blood or feces on linens, furniture, mattresses
and other areas where the bugs might be hiding.
The weather is warmer and I have
all kinds of insect bites - how do I know if I have bed bug
Bed bug bites can look a lot like other insect bites. Some clues
that can suggest the presence of bed bugs include finding red,
itchy bites upon awakening - especially if the bites line up in a
row on the skin. Bed bugs typically bite at night on exposed areas
of skin, so the bites are most commonly found on the face, neck,
hands and arms. Although some people develop a bite reaction
immediately, others may take two to three days before a reaction
becomes noticeable, and not all people have obvious bed bug bite
symptoms. A bed bug bite can appear as a tiny puncture wound
without a surrounding reaction, and can easily be missed. In fact,
30 percent of individuals living in bed bug-infested dwellings
report a lack of bites or skin reactions. This appears to be more
common amongst the elderly. On the other hand, other people have
exuberant reactions, with large, red, raised and itchy welts. This
is especially true if one becomes sensitized to bed bug bites, so
that with repeated bites there is an increased risk of an
exaggerated reaction to bed bug bites.
In infestations with persistent, repeated exposures, bed bug
bites may appear in crops. Also, since bed bug bites usually take
three to six weeks to heal, as long as the infestation is still
present, new bites may accumulate even as the older ones start to
resolve. Thus, people may have various bite reactions in various
stages of evolution at the same time.
Why didn't I wake up or even
notice when the bed bugs were biting me?
Bed bugs typically feed at night when we are sleeping. Even
though these pests commonly feed for 5 minutes, the bite itself is
painless and usually goes undetected at the time. In fact, bed bugs
inject an anticoagulant (a blood thinner) as they feed, which makes
feeding easier for the bed bug and also less detectable to you.
Although you may not see the bed bugs, or feel their bites, they
know when you are around. Bed bugs are attracted to warmth and
carbon dioxide. So, if you are alive, warm, and breathing - then
you are broadcasting loudly and clearly to all nearby bed bugs that
"dinner is served!"
What should I do if I have bed
Bed bug bites do not typically require treatment. It is best to
clean the bite site(s) with soap and water and avoid scratching so
as to prevent secondary infection. Progressive swelling, warmth,
tenderness and sometimes (albeit rarely) fever may be signs of
secondary infection, which should be managed with antibiotics as
appropriate. Much more common are complaints of itching. For how to
treat bed bug bites that cause severe itching, topical steroid
creams or oral antihistamines may offer relief from itching and
thus decrease the risk of infecting the bite site.
How do I get rid of bed
When it comes to controlling bed bugs, "do it yourself" should
not be anyone's motto. Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to
eradicate - 76 percent of pest professionals say they are the most
difficult pest to control. As such, people who suspect a bed
bug infestation should turn to a qualified
pest professional with expertise in treating these pests.
The pest professional will evaluate the extent of an infestation
and recommend the best course of treatment. In fact, the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorses that
appropriate control of a bed bug infestation requires an
experienced pest management professional and recommends that
victims be advised against attempting to control measures
For more information on bed bugs, watch the video below or check
out our All
Things Bed Bugs hub.
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