The tiny pests have been making big headlines all year. Bed bugs. Before you visit relatives or vacation with the kids this holiday season check out The Bed Bug Registry.
The Bed Bug Registry is a free, public database of user-submitted bed bug reports from across the US and Canada. Founded in 2006, the site has collected about 20,000 reports covering 12,000 locations. It gives travelers and renters a reliable and neutral place to report their encounters with bed bugs, so you know where to avoid spending the night.
After World War II, bed bugs were eradicated from most developed nations with the use of DDT. This pesticide has since been banned because it’s toxic to the environment.
The risk of encountering bedbugs increases if you spend time in places with high turnover, such as hotels, hospitals, dorms, military bases, movie theaters, libraries, or homeless shelters. Furniture stores that collect old bedding when they deliver new products have also had issues with bed bugs.
Still, most Americans have still never come across a bed bug.
Bed bugs transport easily in luggage, purses, and coats. You can’t tell whether an apartment building or hotel room has them based on cleanliness – the bugs can thrive anywhere there are cracks and crevices to hide in. All they need is a warm host and plenty of hiding places. Pristine homes and businesses can, and do, harbor bed bugs.
During the day, bed bugs hide in the cracks and crevices of:
- Box springs
- Bed frames
- Under peeling paint or loose wallpaper
- Under carpeting near baseboards
- In upholstered furniture seams
- Under light switch plates or electrical outlets
Bed bugs don’t usually stay on their human hosts after they feed. They can crawl about as fast as a ladybug. They are sometimes confused with ticks.
Some varieties of bedbugs prefer birds or bats so they take up residence in your attic. They will settle for feeding on the family if hungry enough.
Bed bugs are reddish brown, oval and flat – about the size of an apple seed.
If you suspect that you’re being bitten by bed bugs, inspect your home thoroughly. Examine walls and furniture. You may need to perform your inspection at night when bedbugs are active.
Look for these signs in your home:
- Dark specks. Typically found along mattress seams, these specks are bedbug excrement.
- Empty exoskeletons. Each female lays approximately 300 eggs in her lifetime. The eggs hatch in 10 days. The nymph stage lasts 6 weeks, undergoing 5 molts.These empty skins are light brown.
- Bloody smears. You may find small smears of blood on the sheets where you accidentally crushed an engorged bedbug.
It can be difficult to distinguish bedbug bites from other insect bites. Here’s what to look for on your skin when you check yourself or the kids: (see slideshow)
- 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
Some adults and children have no reaction at all to bed bug bites, while others experience an allergic reaction including severe itching, blisters or hives.
The redness and itch associated with bed bug bites usually goes away on their own within a week or two. You might speed your recovery by using:
- A skin cream containing hydrocortisone
- An oral antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
Check with your doctor before administering any remedy to children. If you or your children develop a skin infection from scratching bed bug bites, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.
The Rhode Island Department of Health has more information.
Until a reliable, safe pesticide becomes available, avoiding bed bug encounters will be the only reliable way to ensure they don’t spread into your own home.
Bed bugs can live for months without eating.
If your child’s room is infected, remove curtains, throw rugs, bedding and stuff animals to avoid recontamination after cleaning.
Your best bet may be to hire a professional exterminator, who may use a combination of pesticides and nonchemical treatments.
Nonchemical treatments include:
- Vacuuming. It can physically remove bedbugs from an area. But vacuum cleaners can’t reach all hiding places, and they themselves need to be cleaned.
- Hot water. Washing clothes and other items in water at least 120 F (49 C) can kill bedbugs.
- Clothes dryer. Placing wet or dry items in a clothes dryer set at medium to high heat for 20 minutes will kill bedbugs and their eggs.
- Enclosed vehicle. If it’s summer, you can bag up infested items and leave them in a car parked in the sun with the windows rolled up for a day. The target temperature is at least 120 F (49 C).
- Freezing. Bedbugs are vulnerable to temperatures below 32 F (0 C) but you’d need to leave the items outdoors or in the freezer for several days.
Some professional exterminators use portable devices to produce steam, heat or freezing temperatures to kill bed bugs. In some cases, you may have to throw out heavily infested items such as mattresses or couches.
The Providence Journal has reported bed bugs are on the rise locally as well.
- eMedicine from WebMD