Bed bugs are parasites that feed on human and animal blood. They exist on virtually every continent on the planet and are found everywhere, from 5* hotels and upmarket apartments to low-budget motels and family homes. Nobody is immune to a bed bug infestation and once you have a problem, bed bugs can be surprisingly tough to eradicate.
In fact, bed bugs are a growing problem and in recent years, bed bugs have become resistant to common pesticides. Fortunately, insecticides are not the only option at your disposal if you have bed bugs.
What are Bed Bugs?
The Latin name for bed bugs is Cimex lectularius. Bed bugs look a bit like fleas. They are small (approximately 4-5mm long), flat, and wingless parasites. They feed on blood, but can exist without any food for several months.
We like to think that bed bugs are a human problem, but in fact, they are just as happy to snack on your dog or cat. They don’t like fur, but can quite easily find an opening on a pet’s underbelly or around their nose or ears. Bed bugs are also a problem for poultry farmers and they have even been found on bats. However, this may not be terribly reassuring if you have a bed bug infestation.
Where do Bed Bugs Come From?
Bed bugs have been around for millennia, but they have been popping up in the history books since the 1600s. At the beginning of the last century, bed bugs were very common and many homes had them. The use of insecticides such as DDT greatly reduced their numbers, but since DDT and other pesticides were banned for environmental reasons, the bed bug population has exploded.
The rise in human traffic has enabled bed bugs to spread far and wide. They are commonly found in hotels, prisons, public transport, and public spaces. Bed bugs and their eggs travel in our clothes, our luggage, and in the holds of planes and trains.
Because bed bugs are so common in hotels and public transport systems, it’s very easy to pick up a few hitchhikers when you travel at home and abroad. All it takes is a few stray bed bugs hiding inside your suitcase and your bedroom is immediately infected. In addition, if you don’t spot the signs and take action to eradicate your new houseguests, it won’t be long before the local bed bug population is thriving.
The Bed Bug Life Cycle
Bed bugs are highly efficient little creatures. A female bed bug can lay up to eight eggs a day. Eggs hatch after 10 days and the young ‘nymphs’ molt five times, requiring a blood meal each time. Under optimal conditions (plenty of food and hot temperatures), a newly hatched bed bug will reach maturity in 21 days. If food is scarce or it’s very cold, a nymph will not reach maturity for several months and may even die.
The Natural Bed Bug Habitat
Most bed bugs are shy, retiring insects. They dislike being in the spotlight and will naturally gravitate to places where they can hide out of sight. Bed bugs need to stay close to their host, so they are typically found in bed bases, mattresses, and secreted in furniture close to the bed. They are attracted to our warmth and the CO that we emit.
The Signs of a Bed Bug Infestation
Bed bugs are nocturnal. Many people are blissfully unaware they have bed bugs because they don’t suffer any reaction to the bites and they sleep through the night. Elderly people, in particular, are less sensitive to bed bugs, so it’s common for nursing homes to be infested.
Visible bites are the most obvious sign of bed bug infestation, but unless you suffer an allergic reaction, you will likely attribute the bites to midges, mosquitoes, or even fleas.
Bed bugs molt during their life cycle, so they leave a lot of exoskeletons behind. Look inside your bed base for dried out husks. You may even spot live bed bugs in the folds of your mattress or under the sheets. The best time to look for bed bugs is at night, as this is when they are most active.
Check your mattress for signs of bed bug fecal matter. It will look like small rust spots.
A strange, sweet and musty odor is another telltale sign you may have a bed bug colony in your mattress or bed base. Bed bugs, in common with many other insects, emit pheromones when they are disturbed. At low concentrations, this odor is said to be similar to the scent of coriander, but in serious infestations, the odor is deeply unpleasant.
Bed bugs hide away until it gets dark and their host is fast asleep. The best way to see if you have a bed bug problem is to grab a torch and shine the light in the crevices around your bed, behind the headboard, under the mattress, and around the mattress seams. Look for bugs on the move and any evidence of shed bed bug skins.
In smaller bed bug infestations, bugs won’t be obvious, but if there is a serious infestation, you may see bed bugs out and about during the day. The more bed bugs there are, the less shy they become. After all, there is safety in numbers!
Getting a new mattress every 4-6 years helps decrease the likelihood of bed bugs getting out of control. If you think it might be time for a new mattress, check out LAYLA SLEEP.
Health Problems Caused by Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are nasty, but they rarely cause any long-term health problems aside from insomnia. Around 10% of people suffer no ill effects from bed bug bites so they will enjoy a good night’s sleep. However, in the majority of cases, the affected person will wake up with itchy, swollen bites that cause irritation for several days. In a few cases, bed bug bites can cause horrific allergic reactions, with the unfortunate person ending up covered in large, painful welts.
Living with bed bugs will almost certainly affect your sleep. Just the thought of things crawling over you at night is enough to keep most people awake. Added to that, itching and scratching all night will also make it hard to sleep.
Antihistamines will help to control the itching if you are having trouble sleeping at night. You can also treat individual bed bug bites with antiseptic cream to prevent infection.
Eradicating Bed Bugs the Natural Way
Bed bugs can be difficult to treat because they hide away in tiny cracks. If a bed bug is hidden away, it may be missed when a treatment program is carried out, which defeats the object of the exercise.
Steam – Bed bugs can’t survive steam, so use a steam cleaner to blast your bed and mattress with hot steam. Steam will penetrate through a mattress and into cracks and crevices. The downside is that it leaves water behind, which is not ideal in a bed.
Dry Ice – Dry ice will also kill bed bugs and unlike steam, it leaves no residue or moisture. However, it won’t penetrate as far as steam, so you may not kill all of the bed bugs living in your bed.
Diatomaceous Earth – Diatomaceous earth is a natural material made from ground up fossilized diatoms, which were once tiny aquatic organisms. Diatomaceous earth is a 100% natural substance. It is completely safe to use and if you buy food-grade diatomaceous earth, you can even eat it. Diatomaceous earth is very useful in treating bed bug infestations if you don’t want to use chemical treatments. It acts as a barrier against bed bugs, which prevents them from spreading any further.
Diatomaceous earth also kills bed bugs by harming their exoskeleton and causing them to dehydrate. The downside to using diatomaceous earth is that it won’t work instantly. Once you apply a fine dusting of diatomaceous earth over your bed and the surrounding areas, it can take up to 17 days for it to have a noticeable effect. If you are suffering badly from a major bed bug infestation, you may not want to wait that long. In this instance, it is a good idea to call a pest control company such as Go-Forth Pest Control of Charlotte.
Treating a Serious Bed Bug Infestation
Serious bed bug infestations require a scorched earth approach. You can’t afford to let even one single bed bug survive, as if you do, you will be right back to square one within a few weeks.
Professional pest control firms will use a combination of insecticides to kill the bed bugs and their eggs. The infested bed should be removed and disposed of and the room treated with insecticides. Bed bugs are now resistant to some strains of popular insecticide, so more than one treatment may be necessary.
Prevention is always better than the cure with bed bugs. Once a bed bug infestation takes hold, it can be difficult to eradicate. Be on your guard and always inspect hotel rooms before you unpack your belongings. If you spot any telltale signs of bed bugs, ask to move to a different room or consider switching to another hotel.