Updated: May 25
When I first ‘introduced’ my kids to bed bugs many, many years ago their first reaction was fear, then disgust, then a heartfelt plea that I, “Never show them anything like that again!” From that point on, my son dubbed them “Vampire Bugs.”
And he was right: bed bugs are vampires, of a sort, since they live off the blood of other creatures usually we humans and, like vampires, it’s very hard to kill bed bugs. Fortunately for us, bed bugs do not carry any diseases (that we’re aware of) and whatever infections may arise from their bites are usually because the unfortunate recipient has been scratching the lesions so aggressively that they become septic.
That doesn’t make a bed bug infestation any easier to bear, of course, but at least you’re not going to die of some exotic, untreatable malady because you’ve been a midnight snack!
Alas, the same cannot be said for fleas and ticks, which between them can carry any number of diseases and unpleasant infections. But that’s the subject for another blog, at another time.
How Can You Tell If It’s a Bed Bug?
You’re forgiven if you can’t immediately identify those marks you developed overnight as bed bug bites. Few of us can, fortunately.
According to the CDC bed bugs are:
“Small, flat, parasitic insects that feed solely on the blood of people and animals while they sleep. Bed bugs are reddish-brown in color, wingless, range from 1mm to 7mm (roughly the size of Lincoln’s head on a penny), and can live several months without a blood meal.”
As for bed bug bites, the specialists at the Mayo Clinic explain:
“The sites of bed bug bites usually are:
• Red, often with a darker red spot in the middle
• Arranged in a rough line or in a cluster
• Located on the face, neck, arms and hands.”
They also tell us that “some people have no reaction to bed bug bites, while others experience an allergic reaction that can include severe itching, blisters or hives.”
How Can I Tell Bed Bugs vs Scabies?
Do be prepared for the possibility that what you think are bed bug bites are, in fact, scabies. The latter is triggered by small mites, which are very different. They both feed on human blood, although bed bugs do it on the surface of the skin, whereas scabies burrow underneath. But, unlike the raised, flat red welts that are typical of bed bug bites, scabies looks like grayish-white, raised lines.
In any event, it’s always a good idea to consult your doctor if you have any kind of bite, especially if there’s more than one, as there probably will be with bed bugs or scabies. This is especially true with scabies, since it is highly contagious..
Kill Bed Bugs Where They Live!
Fortunately for the would-be-bed-bug-hunter, these pests don’t usually travel far, although they can, and indeed often do, hitch rides on anything that happens by, including bedding, boxes, clothing, backpacks and suitcases, furniture, even people. And they’re not fussy when it comes to setting up home. Your bedroom, your office, your stores, your gym...any one of them will do very nicely, thank you!
I mentioned your bedroom first because, unfortunately, bed bugs usually stay within eight to ten feet from where their human hosts sleep. I also say ‘usually’, since once these interlopers have invaded your bedroom, they will invariably extend their areas of habitation. Remember, humans are a bed bug’s first choice when it comes to a food source, but they are adaptable and will attach themselves to any warm-blooded host they can, e.g., mice, squirrels, rats, etc.
That means you will have to look in a lot of places to find bed bugs hiding, including:
Bedding, mattresses, box springs, sleeping bags, and cots
Under carpets, rugs, pet sleeping pads and beds
Inside curtains, drapes, venetian blinds and shutters
Cracks in furniture, in walls, and behind peeling wallpaper
Heaps of clothing, cleaning rags, and other discarded fabrics
If you are lucky (or maybe I should say, unlucky) to come across a bed bug they’re fairly easy to identify. They’re about a ¼ inch long about the size of an apple seed with brownish, flat, oval bodies if they’re unfed. If they’ve just fed, they’ll be longer and more balloon-like in appearance.
Keep in mind that bed bugs are mostly active at night, although you may see the odd one out and about during the day if it’s on the prowl for food. They also emit strangely sweet, musty odor, which is hard to miss if you’re the victim of a major infestation.
How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
If you decide to take a do-it-yourself approach to elimination bed bugs, you should be aware that their small size and copious reproduction rates as well as their uncanny knack of being able to hide practically anywhere will make them hard to track down.
I suggest that your immediate course of action is to deploy a fast-working, effective insecticide, such as Sterifab®. It’s not only a very efficient bed bug spray (which will also kill ticks, fleas, mites, roaches and many other invasive pests), but it’s also fast drying, completely clear and won’t damage fabrics or carpets. Plus, Sterifab is one of the only EPA-registered non-residual products that can be used on mattresses and upholstered furniture.
However, the best products cannot guarantee that those bed bugs won’t return, which means that you need to create a check-list of things to do to keep them at bay. Here’s what I suggest:
Get rid of all the clutter in your house ̶ or apartment or office, or whatever the case may be. Bed bugs love piles of paper, clothes, rolled-up rugs, etc to hunker down in.
Invest in mattress encasements for all your beds, including the kids. And make sure they’re the kind that will also protect your box springs.
Annoying as it may be, vacuum all your rooms several times a month. It’s the only way you’re going to keep the bed bugs at bay.
Check ̶ and if necessary, seal up any crack, gaps, or fissures on the exterior of your house. Also make sure that your windows, doors, and screens are fitted properly.
Wash, and dry, all your clothes, sheets, and other bedding at the hottest possible setting, preferably 120 degrees, in order to kill any bed bugs or their eggs.
Hire a pest control professional in necessary.
On the last item, above, you obviously can’t do that for woolens, silks, and other heat-sensitive fabrics, so you may have to resort to dry cleaning. Just make sure you tell the cleaners what it is you’re trying to do. Chances are good that they’ve dealt with this problem before.