How to treat bed bug bites and other bed bug FAQsBy Dr. Jorge Parada
- National Pest Management Association
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Bed bugs remain a
problematic pest across the United States. In fact, one out of five
had a bed bug infestation in their home or knows someone who
has encountered bed bugs. Reflecting the increasing problem with
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. The bed bug can be blamed for the itch, but
not for the infection.
Can bed bugs drive you
crazy or turn you into a recluse?
Some people experience anxiety, sleeplessness and unease as a
result 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
signs of a bed bug 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 signs of bites.
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 bug bites?
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 severe
itching, topical steroid creams or oral antihistamines may offer
relief from itching and thus decrease the risk of infecting the
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 themselves.
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