Identifying, Treating, and Preventing Bed Bug Infestations

Bed bug infestations are an increasing problem across North America. If you fear you have an infestation or have been exposed to one, you are not alone, and there are solutions. It’s important to first identify if you indeed have bed bugs, or possibly another type of parasite such as fleas. Once you confirm you have bed bugs, you might wonder how you were exposed or if they are a health risk, but most importantly, you need to know what steps you should take to get rid of them, and how you can prevent their return. With help and the proper information, you can identify and eliminate bed bugs from your home or work environment.

What do bed bug bites look like?

Although individual reactions can vary, bed bug bites often appear as raised, inflamed bumps on exposed areas of skin such as the arms, legs, or upper body. The welts may be initially confused for mosquito bites or a rash, but bed bugs bites are often found in clusters or trails created by the insect moving between feeding intervals. Other signs of infestation include blood spotting on bedding or the bed frame and mattress — small, rusty spots caused by feeding — and shed skins from molting. Bed bugs themselves usually stay hidden during the day, but adults are small, flat, flightless insects about the size of an apple seed. They are dark brown or reddish-brown in color, and may be mistaken as ticks or immature cockroaches.

How do bed bugs travel, and where do bed bugs come from?

Adult bed bugs can travel on clothing, but they most often stow away in luggage, backpacks, bedding, or used furniture. As their name suggests, bed bugs are often found in and around beds because they prefer to stay close to a food source, but they can also squeeze into crevices in dressers, along the edges of baseboards and carpets, even behind electrical outlets, and they may be found anywhere where frequent visitor turnover is common. Hotel rooms are not the only places bed bugs may transfer hosts — theaters, buses, and grocery stores may be sources of an infestation.

What are the health risks of bed bugs in my home or workplace?

Bed bugs are not known to transmit disease, but an infestation can cause other negative effects like anxiety, sleeplessness, and chronic itching. Some individuals have had allergic reactions to bed bug bites, and scratching at bites can lead to secondary infections. The risk of infection is especially dangerous to individuals with compromised immune systems. While bed bugs have been associated with cluttered or unsanitary conditions, they can thrive anywhere. Bed bugs are drawn to body heat and carbon dioxide, not dirt, and are not necessarily a sign of an unclean environment.

What can I do if I think I’ve been exposed to bed bugs?

Wash and dry your clothes on the highest heat setting as soon as you arrive home, if not before. Find a flat, non-carpeted surface where you can unpack luggage while inspecting for signs of bed bugs, and transfer your items into sealed plastic bags. Steam clean or vacuum freeze luggage if possible, and purchase a bed bug-proof mattress cover. To prevent bed bug infestations, try to store work, school, or travel items separately, and don’t store luggage under your bed. When away from home, keep your clothing and personal items inside your luggage instead of moving them into drawers or closets, and keep your bags on a luggage rack away from the walls, never open on your bed. At home, reduce clutter that bed bugs can use to hide in, and vacuum carpets regularly.

How do I get rid of bed bugs?

If you suspect you have bed bugs, contact a pest management professional right away. Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to get rid of, in part because — until recently — infestations haven’t been common in the United States since World War II, and many people never learned preventative measures or how to recognize signs of infestation. Bed bugs are also hardy insects and resistant to many common pesticides. Bed bug eggs in particular are very resilient, and an infestation will persist unless all life stages have been eliminated. While working with a pest management professional, restrict contact with the area you suspect to be the source of infestation until all bed bug treatments have been completed. Attempts to treat the area yourself may result in bed bugs spreading to other areas of the home. With cooperation and careful, proper treatment, it is possible to remove bed bugs from your home or workplace.