Bed bug infestations continue to be a problem for people all over the US. It has been said “There is no shame in getting bed bugs, only shame in keeping them.” This is true, as even the finest hotels and cleanest homes can get bed bugs. Until the advent and frequent use of synthetic insecticides starting in the 1940s bed bugs were a very common pest worldwide.
Luckily, bed bugs have never been shown to transmit diseases when they bite us. However, most people’s skin will react to the bites as their immune system becomes sensitized to the insect’s saliva. Skin reactions can vary widely with one person in a bed exhibiting almost no reaction to the bites and their spouse getting large, red itchy wheals marks on their skin. This can sometimes delay diagnosis as it seems to defy logic that only one out of two persons will be suffering from bed bug bites while asleep in the same bed.
How do you know if you have bed bugs? An itchy, red mark on one’s skin is not enough to diagnose a bed bug infestation as there are many things that can cause that symptom. Bed bugs are small, adults are only about the size of an apple seed and when they aren’t full of blood can fit into cracks the thickness of a credit card. The immature ones are much smaller and start out of the egg less than a 1/16 of an inch long. Since the bed bugs are mostly active at night, you will want a good flashlight, a magnifying glass and a strong helper to thoroughly check the bed and all adjacent furniture, carpeting and wall-paper. Most bed bug infestations start in the bedroom. If they are well established there, the bed bugs can spread to wherever people are found at night so couches and easy chairs can also become infested. If specimens are found they should be identified by a professional to determine if they are bed, bat, or swallow bugs. All three are closely related pest insects and look similar to an untrained eye but the control measures for bat and swallow bugs are different from bed bugs. Specimens in a small crush proof container can be submitted to the UW extension service system for positive identification. Another tell-tale sign of bed bug presence is their excrement which is noticeable as tiny dark brown or black dots on bed sheets and other places of the pests’ hiding.
If bed bugs are found in your inspection, getting the services of a licensed professional pest control company will be the best course of action. They can use products and/or treatments such as heater and steam cleaners not available to the average homeowner. Getting references from the exterminators, a written bed bug control plan, and bids for every extermination job is important. If you decide on the do-it-yourself route, under no circumstance should you use pesticides that are not labeled for bed bug control. Recently, deaths of tourists in SE Asia have been attributed to the off label use of a cheap, potent insecticide applied illegally inside of hotel rooms to control tropical bed bugs.
You can decrease your odds of bringing home bed bugs when you travel if you check the likely hiding places in your hotel room for bed bugs. Keep your luggage and belongings stored off of the bed and floor even if you find no visible evidence of bed bugs. Make it a standard practice to immediately launder or put travel clothes and soft luggage, that can withstand it, in the clothes dryer at high heat for 15 minutes on your return home.
There are many good sources of information on the internet about bed bugs. Prof. Michael Potter of the University of Kentucky is a recognized authority on bed bugs and has excellent information posted. http://www.ca.uky.edu/entomology/entfacts/ef636.asp
Other non-commercial extension service web sites hosted by universities offer a lot of unbiased information on pest control to the public.