If you grew up with the bedtime rhyme "Sleep tight and don't let the bed bugs bite," you may have thought bed bugs were as fictional as the boogeyman. Learning that they were real probably sent shivers up your spine. For millions of Americans bed bugs are all too real. According to the American Pest Management Association (APMA) 20 percent of Americans have either had a bed bug infestation in their own home or know someone who has been exposed to bed bugs either in a hotel or at home. If you worry about getting bed bugs in your home, you probably have many questions. Learning what bed bugs are, how to spot them and what to do if you find them in your home may put your mind at ease.
What are bed bugs?
The scientific name for this tiny insect is Cimex lectularius. The adults are 3/16-inch long and have an oval, reddish-brown body, but the immature bed bug is much smaller. When they first hatch, the nymphs are the size of the head of pin. Bed bugs feed on human blood, but may feed off other mammals, such as your cat or dog, too.
Where do bed bugs live?
Bed bugs hide in dark places, like the crevices of the mattress and box spring, during the day and come out to feed at night. They commonly live in areas where people sleep, such as beds, sofas and overstuffed chairs. If the infestation is not controlled, they may spread to other areas of the home. Pest World explains that bed bugs have been reported in a variety of usual places, including a casket with a deceased person, a 911 Call Center and the vent above a bathtub.
Can you catch bed bugs from someone?
Bed bugs are typically spread when a person visits a location with bed bugs and the tiny insects hitch a ride in their luggage or on pillows and blankets. Clothing that has been lying on the bed or sofa may also become infested with bed bugs. Bed bugs do not live on people and typically are not spread from person to person, unless clothing or bedding is shared.
How do you know if you have bed bugs?
Bed bugs come out at night to feed. While the bite doesn't hurt, it can make you feel itchy. If you feel itchy at night or early in the morning without another cause, you may have bed bugs. Fortunately they leave behind some telltale signs to watch for.
- Tiny dark spots on the mattress or box spring. These spots are dried bed bug excrement.
- Rusty or red stains on the sheets. These spots are actually minute amounts of blood from squished bed bugs.
- Light colored shed skins. Bed bugs molt several times as they grow to adulthood and leave behind their old skin.
- Bugs or eggs in crevices and folds of the mattress or box spring.
- A sweet, musty odor.
Are bed bugs harmful?
While some people may be allergic to bed bugs, the CDC claims bed bugs themselves do not pose a health or medical hazard. They do not spread disease and their bite is not poisonous. Bed bugs bites can cause itching and may interrupt normal sleep. Most people find the thought of bugs in their bed disturbing which may lead to the inability to sleep or anxiety at bedtime.
How do you get rid of bed bugs?
According to the EPA, there are several pesticides approved for use against bed bugs. If you decide to use a pesticide to eliminate bed bugs from your home, look for one that is specifically labeled for use with bed bugs and follow the instructions carefully. With careful monitoring and consistent follow up, you may be able to rid your home of bed bugs yourself. However, they are difficult to control, especially if the infestation is great. If you live in an apartment or housing complex where you cannot control the surrounding living space, the job is more challenging and works best if the entire complex is treated at the same time. If you attempts to get rid of bed bugs are not successful, call an exterminator as they have more options at their disposal.