Bedbugs have feasted on
sleeping humans for thousands of years. After World War II, they were
eradicated from most developed nations with the use of DDT. This
pesticide has since been banned because it's so toxic to the
Spurred perhaps by increases in international travel, bedbugs are
becoming a problem once again. The risk of encountering bedbugs
increases if you spend time in places with high turnovers of night-time
guests — such as hotels, hospitals or homeless shelters.
Bedbugs are reddish brown, oval and flat, about the size of an apple
seed. During the day, they hide in the cracks and crevices of beds, box
springs, headboards and bed frames. It's a daunting task to eliminate
bedbugs from your home. Professional help is recommended.
It can be difficult to distinguish bedbug bites from other insect bites. In general, the sites of bedbug bites usually are:
* Red, often with a darker red spot in the middle
* Arranged in a rough line or in a cluster
* Located on the face, neck, arms and hands
Some people have no reaction at all to bedbug bites, while others
experience an allergic reaction that can include severe itching,
blisters or hives.
When to see a doctor
If you experience allergic reactions or severe skin reactions to your bedbug bites, see your doctor for professional treatment.
The resurgence of bedbugs in developed countries may be linked to:
* Increased international travel
* Changes in pest control practices
* Insecticide resistance
A female bedbug can lay more than 200 eggs in her lifetime, which
typically lasts for about 10 months. Newly hatched bedbugs are nearly
colorless, so they are hard to spot. They shed their skin five times as
they grow, and need a blood meal for each molt.
Where do they hide?
During the day, bedbugs hide in the cracks and crevices of:
* Box springs
* Bed frames
They also can be found:
* Under peeling paint and loose wallpaper
* Under carpeting near baseboards
* In upholstered furniture seams
* Under light switch plates or electrical outlets
How do they spread?
Bedbugs don't usually stay on their human hosts after their meal, but
they might take refuge in clothes or luggage left nearby on the floor.
If you're traveling and bedbugs get into your luggage, you might bring
them home with you.
While bedbugs may hitchhike on your belongings, they also can crawl
about as fast as a ladybug. So they can easily travel between floors and
rooms in hotels or apartment complexes.
Some varieties of bedbugs prefer to feed on birds or bats, so they may
take up residence in your attics or eaves. If their preferred prey
migrates south, these bedbugs will settle for feeding on the humans in
Sign of uncleanliness?
Bedbugs don't care if their environment is clean or dirty. All they need
is a warm host and plenty of hiding places. Even pristine homes and
hotels can harbor bedbugs.
Bedbugs are more common in crowded lodgings that experience high turnover in occupancy, such as:
* Apartment complexes
* Homeless shelters
* Military barracks
* Refugee camps
By feeding on infected people, bedbugs can be infected with some
bloodborne diseases. However, there is no evidence that bedbugs can
transmit these diseases to other people.
Preparing for your appointment
Most bedbug bites require no medical treatment. You may want to consult
your family doctor if you experience an allergic reaction to the bites
or if you develop a skin infection after scratching the bites.
What you can do
You may want to prepare a list that includes:
* A detailed description of your symptoms
* History of recent international travel
* History of recent hotel stays
* All the drugs and supplements you take
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor will carefully examine your bite sites and ask questions
about the types of insects you might have been exposed to recently.
Tests and diagnosis
If you suspect that you're being bitten by bedbugs, immediately inspect
your home for the insects. Thoroughly examine crevices in walls,
mattresses and furniture. You may need to perform your inspection at
night when bedbugs are active.
Look for these signs:
* Dark specks. Typically found along mattress seams, these specks are bedbug excrement.
* Empty exoskeletons. Bedbugs molt five times before becoming adults. These empty skins are light brown.
* Bloody smears. You may find small smears of blood on the sheets where you accidentally crushed an engorged bedbug.
Treatments and drugs
The redness and itch associated with bedbug bites usually goes away on
their own within a week or two. You might speed your recovery by using:
* A skin cream containing hydrocortisone
* An oral antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
If you develop a skin infection from scratching bedbug bites, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.
Treating your home
Once your symptoms are treated, you must tackle the underlying
infestation. This can be difficult because bedbugs hide so well and can
live for months without eating. Your best bet may be to hire a
professional exterminator, who may use a combination of pesticides and
Nonchemical treatments may include:
* Vacuuming. A thorough vacuuming of cracks and crevices can
physically remove bedbugs from an area. But vacuum cleaners can't reach
all hiding places.
* Hot water. Washing clothes and other items in water at least 120 F (49 C) can kill bedbugs.
* Clothes dryer. Placing wet or dry items in a clothes dryer set at
medium to high heat for 20 minutes will kill bedbugs and their eggs.
* Enclosed vehicle. If it's summer, you can bag up infested items
and leave them in a car parked in the sun with the windows rolled up for
a day. The target temperature is at least 120 F (49 C).
* Freezing. Bedbugs are also vulnerable to temperatures below 32 F
(0 C) but you'd need to leave the items outdoors or in the freezer for
Some professional exterminators use portable devices to produce steam,
heat or freezing temperatures to kill bedbugs. In some cases, you may
have to throw out heavily infested items such as mattresses or couches.
* Cover up. Because bedbugs don't tend to burrow under clothing, you
may be able to avoid bites by wearing pajamas that cover as much skin
* Bug spray. Insect repellents designed to protect against mosquitos or ticks aren't very effective against bedbugs.
* Mosquito netting. Some studies indicate that bed nets impregnated
with the pesticide permethrin may help protect sleepers against bedbug
bites. However, this practice may be helping bedbugs develop resistance
to this pesticide.
* Secondhand items. Inspect used mattresses or upholstered furniture carefully before bringing them into your home.
* Hotel precautions. Check mattress seams for bedbug excrement and
place your luggage on tables or dressers instead of on the floor.
* Birds and bats. Eliminate any neighboring bird and bat habitats
that may serve as a refuge for bedbugs, especially following an