What is the Bed Bug?
Bed Bugs are tiny, oval-shaped, brownish parasitic insects that feed exclusively on the blood of humans or domestic animals.
Because they are very small, have nocturnal habits, and hide in bed mattresses, they can go unnoticed for a long time, as their bite can be easily confused with that of mosquitoes or fleas.
There are several types of Bed Bugs, but the species that most affect humans are Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus.
These Bed Bugs are found all over the world and can infest any place in which people can rest. They tend to be most common in apartment buildings or any type of facility that hosts multiple people, such as homeless shelters, dormitories, hotels, public transportation, or entertainment venues such as movie theaters or theaters.
The Bed Bug is a very small insect, about the size of an apple seed, and about 5 to 7 mm long. Its shape is usually oval and flattened, but it becomes more cylindrical soon after it feeds on the host’s blood.
Bed Bugs are insects that feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals, including humans; they are attracted to the heat and carbon dioxide produced by our bodies. Bites are most common at night, when a person is sleeping or standing still for a long time.
Bed Bugs rarely inhabit the top surface of beds or chairs. Instead, they hide in cracks or crevices in mattresses and pillows, bedposts, folds in curtains, carpets, baseboards, or behind wallpaper or peeling paint. In these hiding places the females usually lay their eggs, which hatch after 4 to 10 days. As the infestation progresses, the Bed Bugs spread to other corners of the room, as well as to adjacent rooms.
Bed Bugs are hardy insects that can survive temperatures between -10°C and 45°C and can go up to a year without feeding. They have no preference for clean or dirty environments. All they need is a hiding place and a warm-blooded host. Having bed bugs, therefore, is not a sign of poor personal or household hygiene.
Bed Bugs usually cause a series of bites in a row and usually prefer exposed areas of the skin, such as the face, neck, arms, and hands. A full blood meal lasts approximately 5 to 10 minutes and usually goes unnoticed by the host. It is only after some time, usually the next morning, that the lesions start to show, and the person realizes that they have been bitten. Occasionally, a Bed Bug bite reaction can take up to 10 days to appear, which makes diagnosis quite difficult, especially if the patient has been bitten away from home.
Reactions to Bed Bug bites vary; some people experience few or no symptoms, while others experience a more intense, itchy reaction. The bites are usually multiple, small (2 to 5 mm) and reddish, with a darker point in the center. Multiple bites that form a line are typical, but are not always present. Without treatment, they usually take 3 to 6 weeks to disappear. If there is a Bed Bug infestation, the patient may have dozens of bites all over his or her body.
Although Bed Bugs do not transmit any diseases, the bites can cause great inconvenience, especially of psychological origin. People living in Bed Bug-infested areas often experience significant levels of stress and anxiety, generated by the itching and the knowledge that there are Bed Bugs in their beds that will bite them at night.
Tips on the presence of Bed Bugs
It is not always easy to distinguish Bed Bug bites from those caused by mosquitoes, fleas, or scabies. Some clues, however are usually present. These are
- Bites that always appear when the patient wakes up and take many days to disappear.
- Multiple bites forming a line.
- Blood spots all over the bed, which can occur when Bed Bugs are accidentally crushed by their body weight right after they have fed.
- Unpleasant musty smells throughout the room, which are produced by the Bed Bugs.
- Small black stains on your mattress, caused by Bed Bug feces (as in the previous picture).
- Shells of Bed Bug skin all over your bed, which are left behind as the Bed Bugs grow.
Obviously, if you see the bed bug somewhere in your room, the diagnosis is made, even if you have no relevant skin lesions.
Bed bug bites resolve spontaneously, even without treatment. However, if the itching is significant, low-potency topical corticosteroids, such as 0.1% triamcinolone, and/or oral antihistamines usually relieve symptoms. These treatments, however, are symptomatic only. If the infestation is not controlled, new bites will keep coming.
Patients should maintain good hygiene and avoid excessive scratching of the lesions so that they do not become contaminated with skin bacteria.
How to eliminate Bed Bugs
The most effective way to eliminate the bed bug is through professional help, with pest control teams. Eradicating this insect is quite difficult and you should resist the temptation to try to solve the problem yourself. Do not try to apply pesticides or other chemical control measures on your own. Bed Bug elimination requires trained and experienced professionals.
A few measures, however, can help reduce the infestation while the professional team is not here:
- Wash bedding, sheets, curtains and personal clothing in hot water for at least 20-30 minutes.
- Dry clothes and sheets in the dryer at maximum temperature (Bed Bugs usually die at temperatures above 50°C)
- Put stuffed animals, shoes and other items that cannot be washed in the dryer and run on high heat for about 30 minutes.
- Use a stiff-bristled brush to scrub the mattress seams to remove Bed Bugs and their eggs.
- Vacuum the bed and surrounding areas frequently. After vacuuming, immediately put the vacuum bag in a plastic bag and put it in the open air.
- If possible, clean the mattress thoroughly with hot steam.
- After cleaning, cover the mattress with a zippered cover to prevent any Bed Bugs (or eggs) that may have remained from escaping. Since Bed Bugs can live for up to a year without feeding, keep this cover on for more than 12 months.
- Actively look for Bed Bugs in the seams and underneath mattresses, behind headboards, in cracks and crevices in the mattress support.
- Get rid of unnecessary items that may harbor the Bed Bugs, such as furniture or old bedding.
- If you suspect that Bed Bugs may have been brought into the house after some travel, look well inside the suitcases and try to keep them out of the house. Never store travel bags near your bed.
Measures that are NOT effective against bed bugs:
- Sleep with the light on.
- Use repellents for mosquitoes or other insects.
- Use insecticides that are not specific to Bed Bugs.
- Use aromatic essences or other home-made products made from natural products.
- Do not wrap clothes in plastic bags and place in the sun. It is unlikely that the temperature will get hot enough to kill all the bugs.
- Bed Bugs – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Bed Bugs: Get Them Out and Keep Them Out – United States Environmental Protection Agency.
- Bedbug Infestation – American Family Physician.
- Stop Bed Bugs Safely – The New York City Department of Heath and Mental Hygiene.
- Bedbugs – UpToDate.