Bed Bugs

" Bed bugs are spreading quickly across the world. A recent study by the University of Kentucky and the National Pest Management Association states that we are on the verge of a global pandemic. While there are insecticides, natural products and mechanical methods for treating bedbugs, they are considered to be the most difficult insect to remove from the home. The information provided below describes their biology, habits, signs, how to hire an exterminator and do it  yourself treatment options. There are many techniques available to remove the insects from single family homes, with apartments being more of a problem due to the number of unites that require extermination."   


Bed Bug (Cimex lectularius) Overview

The current epidemic is similar to bedbug epidemics seen since biblical times. It was only in the late 1800's that bed bug control became widespread with the introduction of powerful pesticides such as DDT. This practically eliminated bedbugs as a problem, with most people alive today completely unfamiliar with the problem. When DDT was banned in 1972 and with bedbugs becoming resistant to DDT and other pesticides, the problem started to grow once again.

Dealing with bedbugs is one of the toughest thing a home owner would ever have to do. After all, they puncture the skin (they don't actually bite), and then suck out a blood meal. They do not transmit disease, although they do inject proteins into the skin that in some people, cause an allergic skin reaction. For most people, the bites heal in 2 to 3 days with the most difficult symptom being itch.

All bedbugs feed on the blood of mammals (rodents, bats, dogs, cats, pets) or birds, although they prefer feeding on people. They are adept at hiding in small areas such as cracks or crevices in a bed, the bed frame, around window sills or at the baseboard of the floor. When an infestation is first beginning, it will grow as close to the host as possible with the majority hiding in or around the bed.

Adults can live up to a year without feeding. They prefer to hide in areas that touch both the top and bottom of the insect. They are not able to climb on glass or smooth plastic and prefer wood and paper.

Pesticides that used to be used to kill bedbugs such as DDT are no longer available, and would not work today, since they  show a high level of resistance to the insecticide. In fact, when tested in New York City, only 5% of the insects where killed.

Today's bed bug eradication problem is thought to be spread by travelers who carry them from location to location. This is why they are often found in high human turnover areas such as hotels, college dormitories, and apartment buildings.


BedBug Video - Great Overview from National Geographic

Bed Bugs Description

Bedbugs change in appearance as they move through different life stages. They pass through 5 nymphal life stages, starting as an egg, and then passing through each stage until they become an adult. The nymphs or baby bed bugs look like small versions of the adults. They are almost transparent to light tan in appearance when born and then darken to a brown/red color as an adult. An adult is approximately 1/4 of an inch in size. Eggs are about the size of a poppy seed, are white, pear shaped are about 1/32 inch and hatch in 10 days. 

bed bugs
Picture Bed Bugs are Red/Brown

It is important to treat an infestation early as they can quickly grow in size. Females lay approximately 345 eggs during her 10 month lifespan with approximately 1 to 12 eggs laid per day. Eggs are usually deposited in cracks or on rougher surfaces.  They are sticky and attach to the surface, which is why vacuuming cannot pick them up. The eggs hatch in 6 to 17 days, with baby bedbugs (nymphs) immediately seeking a blood meal.  They need to feed in order to molt and pass into the next life stage.  Depending on the temperature and availability of a host, this can take from 21 days (86F) to 120 days (65F).  Bed bugs live for 12 to 18 months. There can be 3+ generations of the insects in a year. 

Female bedbugs can store the male sperm for 5 to 7 weeks after mating has occurred. They are inseminated when a male slices into the female abdomen (traumatic insemination).   Unfortunately for people, pregnant (fertilized) female bedbugs are more likely to disperse from an infestation, moving to adjacent apartments or hitch a ride to another location.

Bedbugs can survive in freezing temperatures for a minimum of 5 days at 14F, -10C.  It only takes 15 minutes to kill bed bugs at below freezing temperatures of -25.6F (-32C).  In terms of heat, they are killed at 113F (45C).  After 7 minutes at 114.8F (46C) all life stages are killed. They do not move if the temperature is 53.6F (12C).

They cannot fly or jump and can move quickly in the same way an ant moves quickly. Bedbugs can cling to a ceiling and climb walls.

bed bugs lifecyclePictures Bed Bugs At Each Life Stage Before and After Feeding

How long a bedbug can live without feeding depends on the temperature. An adult bedbug can live for 413 days (more than a year!) at 50F (10C). However, they can only live for 65 days without feeding at 80.6F (27C).  If a room temperature is reduced to 1.4F (-17C) for 2 hours, bed bugs in the room will be killed.

Rodents such as mice will eat bedbugs.

Bed Bug Inspection and BedBug Habits

They usually feed at night when the human host is asleep (most at 3AM). It take about 10 minutes for a  bed bug to feed.  After feeding, they will hide for 1 to 2 weeks, and then seek another blood meal.  Bed Bugs tend to feed after midnight and around 3AM. A single bed bug can take in 3x to 6x their weight, which for an adult female is about 8mls.

They pierce or puncture the skin with a stylet that contains proteins and an anticoagulant (reduces blood clotting) which helps them remove the blood. Feeding lasts for about 3 minutes when developing (nymph stage) and 10 to 15 minutes when an adult. After feeding, they will go back to their hiding place.  They cannot detect a host that is more than 5 feet away.

They will hide in any tight crack or crevice near the host. This is why every inch of a room needs to be inspected.  They will start at the mattress (particularly in seams, tufts, around buttons and under labels), then go into the box spring (look on the outside, and peel back fabric on bottom and inspect inside)., bed frame, and end tables.  As the infestation grows they can hide in window frames, around the backs of pictures, inside night tables, and even electronics such as clock radios.  They will also hide under baseboards and around carpet tacks.  Also inspect head boards and behind electrical and cable outlets.

bed bugs
Bedbug Hiding Places

bed bugs hiding
Hiding Places in Living Room or Den

Bed bug sniffing dogs are highly effective at picking up the scent of any hiding places.

How Bedbugs Get Into a Home

The only way for a bedbug to get into a single family home is to be carried. This usually happens on used items such as furniture or mattresses. New items can also be infested if they were transported in a truck or plane that is infested.

A home's cleanliness or amount of clutter has nothing to do with a home invasion. Travelers and returning college students are often a source of bed bugs.

When a college student returns home check all luggage and wash all clothes immediately in hot water followed by 20 minutes in the dryer.

In an apartment building, bed bugs start in the same way in a single apartment as they do in a home.  In one study, it took 41 months for the insect to spread from 1 apartment to an additional 101 apartments in a 253 apartment building.

bed bugs on suitcase
Bugs in Seam of Suitcase

bed bugs backpack
Bed Bugs Hidden on Backpack

Signs of Bed Bugs


Signs of an infestation include:

  • Bed bug bites: Bites are a sign of having a bed bug or other insect problem. Bites are similar to those of fleas and mosquitoes. However:
    • Bedbug bites are on exposed areas during sleep such. They are often in patterns or groups.  They have clear centers and itch.
    • Flea bites have red centers and are usually on the ankles and lower legs.
    • Mange or mites cause a condition called scabies which appears at the wrist, armpit, waste and buttocks. 
    • Chigger bites occur when the insect gets on clothes when outside.  Bites are often at the ankles, behind the knee and waist.
  • Stained Mattress: The mattress usually shows signs of bedbug feces (brown spots) and blood marks from crushed insects. Eggshells may also be seen and skins shed during molting.   You may also notice dead insects.

    bed bugs mattress spots
    Bedbug Mattress Stains
  • Odor: You may or may not smell a raspberry like odor. Odor usually indicates a larger infestation.
  • Finding Live Bedbugs: You can see the insects with the naked eye. Use a putty knife or other thin object and pull along bed seams to see if you can dislodge any of the insects.

    bed bugs
    Picture Bugs on Mattress
If you live in an apartment and suspect a problem, check with neighbors next door and under and above your unit for similar problems as 1) they may have spread from their apartment to yours and 2) all apartments will need to be treated.

If you do not know if you have a bedbug problem, we suggest using an inexpensive bedbug trap such as a Climbup.  These are placed under each bed leg and if they stay empty, then your home is free of these insects.

Bed Bug Bites

These insects don't actually bite the skin, but puncture it with a stylet. Each feeling lasts approximately 10 minutes. Most people show no skin reaction when bitten, which is why an infestation is often hard to detect until the population of bedbugs becomes larger. Those that do have a skin reaction usually show small round bumps with a clear center. The skin can become inflamed at each bite, called bed bug rash. This can be differentiated from flea bites which usually have a red center.

Most people do not show any skin reaction to bites, or show a reaction after repeated episodes.  A recent study shows that 42% of adults over age 65 do not show a bedbug bite skin reactions (Potter 2010).

bed bugs
Picture Bed Bugs Bites on Arm
Typical Allergic Reaction - Will Heal in 3 to 5 Days

Individuals that are more allergic to bites will have a more pronounced skin reaction such as a large red wheal on the arm. The very allergic could see blistering as well. Itching can cause microbes to enter the bite, and result in infection.

bed bugs
Picture Bed Bug Rash and Wheal Reaction

These parasites usually bite areas of the skin that are exposed during sleep including the face, neck, shoulders, hands, lower arms and legs. For some reason, they avoid the bottoms of the feet.

Bite reactions can appear immediately or up to 14 days later.

Bites are seen individually or in patterns, particularly when a leg or arm is resting against a hiding place. Bites all over the body indicate a larger infestation.

bed bug bites
Picture Bedbug Bites on Arm


bed bug bites
Picture Bed Bugs Bites on Leg
Patterns Like this One Probably Cause by Leg Resting Along a Bed Seam where The Insects are Hiding

bed bug blisters
Picture Bed Bug Bites Skin Blisters Due to Allergic Reaction

Treating bed bug bites symptoms such as itch are simply treated with an over the counter topical, preferably one that contains oatmeal such as Aveeno. There are also products sold online that are specifically formulated to provide relief from bedbug itch.

If bedbugs bites do not heal in 2 to 3 days, or if they worsen in appearance with crusts or pus, see a Doctor for treatment of a possible infection. They do not transmit disease.

Some relief may also come from spraying an insect repellent on the skin that is formulated to repel the insects. One product called BedBug Repellent is all natural and claims to repel 98% of bedbugs.

Insects that Look Like Bed Bugs

Bedbugs are often confused with other insects which have a similar appearance.  This includes baby cockroaches, bat bugs, swallow bugs and chimney swift bugs.

To be certain, you can send a sample insect to Identify LLC using this form (pdf download). They charge a $20 fee for this service.

bed bugs vs batbug

Bed Bug Treatment


If you think you have a problem, inspect your bed room and mattress, particularly areas where the family spends the most time.  If you live in an apartment, inform the managing agent or landlord, so that they can coordinate treatment.  Note that most areas do not require landlords to pay for treatment.  If this is the case, offer to split the cost.  Contact your local department of health or state attorney generals office for guidance regarding the law in your area.

Most treatment plans require the use of multiple products.  The exception is heat treatment where an entire room or home is heated to 120F+.  This method is used in more extreme cases due to the high cost (home could cost $2,000).  Insecticide based treatment can cost $900 per room.

Instead most bed bug exterminators will use a combination of chemical and non-chemical approaches (called IPM or integrated pest management). We suggest hiring a professional experienced bedbug exterminator, although small infestations can be handled yourself with the use of an insecticide bedbug kit or organic kit.

How to hire a Bed Bugs Exterminator

We do not recommend that homeowners treat their own home as these are the toughest insects to locate and kill. However, treatment can cost between $1,000 to $2,000 for the typical home, so be sure to get several quotes.

One easy way to start is with a call to the Service Magic (1.877.233.1145) Network. All bed bug exterminators that are members of the network have been pre-screened and are licensed and insured.  The network will provide up to 4 free quotes.

Quotes provided can be compared to local bed bug exterminators you can find by searching our list of bedbug exterminators.

Be sure to ask questions such as:

  • Level of experience
  • Guarantees in writing and for how long (2 to 3 treatments are often needed)
  • Chemical and non chemical approaches
  • References
  • License
  • Cost of in-home inspection
  • Pet and child safety and time required out of home (usually 3 to 4 hrs)
  • What needs to happen before treatment begins
  • Need for mattress and box spring covers
  • Fish tanks - need to turn off pumps

Bed bug exterminators also have access to different types of bed bug pesticides not available to home owners.  They also use techniques such as:

  • Thermal Remediation: Heaters are placed in a sealed room or throughout a home.  The technique is highly effective, but can cost between $2,000 to $6,000.  See the Thermapure or Temp-Air website for an exterminator in your area offering this type of treatment.
  • Freezing Spray: A carbon dioxide spray (dry ice) is used to freeze and kill bed bugs and bed bug eggs.
  • Fumigation: Chemicals such as fikane are either set off in a home, sealed room, or in a portable chamber for treating household items.

Do It Yourself Treatment


Natural Treatment

It is possible to treat an infestation using only natural products and methods.  The step by step instructions below should be followed.  Fundamentally, natural treatment involves the use of a vacuum and steam to knock down or reduce the size of a population.

A natural spray such as Bug Patrol will kill remaining insects and eggs on contact. This product is made from plant extracts that are known to kill these insects.  Instead of using pesticides to provide lasting protection, fossil dust is used instead.  Fossil dust is made from ground up natural fossils, and will cling to and kill the insects as they walk the dust field. 

Other steps such as filling or repairing cracks and crevices with caulk can minimize the number of hiding places, making it easier to locate and kill the insects.  Mattress and Box Spring Covers will trap and starve any insects and eggs you might have missed.  Bedbug Mattress covers can be as simple as a zippered vinyl covering to premium versions that have cotton tops that also protect against dust mites.

To save money, a combination of the products needed can be purchased in a natural bedbug kit.

Individual items that cannot be washed in hot water, or placed in a dryer, can be treated in a portable heat chamber such as a PackTite.

Insecticide Based Treatment

Bedbugs in certain cities such as New York are starting to show resistance to many types of insecticides. The good news is that there are some pesticide based products that are 100% effective.  Approaches for extermination include the mattress safe knock down spray Sterifab (phenothrin w/ isopropanol). A knock down spray such as Sterifab, which kills the insects and eggs on contact, should be used with a spray that provides lasting protection such as Phantom

Note, that New York residents cannot buy Phantom, and should use Bedlam (phenothrin w/ pyrodone) instead. Bedlam will provide residual protection for about 7 days, and Phantom will provide protection for 2 to 3 weeks, enough to disrupt the insect's life cycle.

Insecticide based treatment should also begin with the use of vacuuming all surfaces and the used of steam after vacuuming. The use of bedbug dust/fossil dust or diatomaceous earth at the last stage of treatment can also be of help to provide lasting protection.

Other insecticides that can provide lasting protection in a room include Demand CS (lamba-cyhalothrin) and Suspend SC (deltamethrin). Given the choice, we would go with Phantom (chlorfenapyr).given the recent research which shows no resistance. Phantom takes up to 10 days to work, requiring the use of a knock down spray along with this product. 

To save money, bedbug kits are available that contain all needed products.

Other items that can be of help include:

  • Mattress and Box Spring Covers: Covers, such as a  mattress cover, box spring cover and pillow cover is an important part treatment.  It traps any bugs and eggs inside both, and in up to 12 months, starves the insects.  Some people like to buy covers as part of a total protection plan, which will prevent a mattress and box spring from becoming infested.  Note is it more important to cover the box spring, as this often has more hiding places for bed bugs than the mattress.
  • Traps: There are many kinds of traps on the market. One in particular, the Climbup Interceptor is an inexpensive low tech option, which traps bed bugs as they attempt to climb toward the host.  

Controlling Bed Bugs - Home Treatment Instructions

When  these treatment instructions as a guide. Always follow the manufacturers instructions first.

Be sure to inspect and treat all hiding places including:

  • Inspect the bed
    • Mattress
    • Box Spring
    • Bed Frame
    • Head board
  • Cracks and Crevices
  • Night stand
  • Window Frames
  • Door Frames
  • Floor cracks
  • Carpet Board Tacks
  • Baseboards
  • Electrical outlets
  • Cable outlets
  • Furniture (inside and out, under drawers)
  • Under lamps and inside electronics
  • Wall hangings
  • drapery pleats
  • Ripped wallpaper and seams
  • Inside plaster cracks
  • Along ceiling molding
  • Around door hinges and knobs

Step by Step Instructions:


  1. Set up a safe area outside of the room to be treated"  This can be a hallway or bathroom.  This area will hold items after treatment.
  2. Fold sheets and linens on bed: Place into a plastic bag and carry to washing machine. Wash on hot temperature followed by 20 minutes in dryer.
  3. Vacuum Room: Vacuum room thoroughly. Use crevice tool along baseboards.  When treatment is complete bag and remove dust bag from home.

    • Vacuum carpets, rugs, floor
    • Crevice tool along baseboards
    • Vacuum blinds, curtains
    • Vacuum inside drawers
    • Vacuum behind wall units
    • Vacuum upholstery
  4. Treat Baseboards: If you have a hand steamer, go around perimeter with steam. When dry, use a bed bug knock down spray around the perimeter of the room to kill any hiding insects and eggs (Sterifab or natural spray such as Bug Patrol). Follow this by spraying a residual spray  such as Phantom or Bedlam. After spray dries, apply dust product.  This will catch any insects that you may dislodge while treating items such as the mattress. 

    bed bugs spray
    Treat Baseboard with an Aerosol Spray
  5. Treat Mattress: Vacuum all seams and tufts and under labels with crevice tool.  Use a putty knife or other thin object to dislodge any hiding insects. Steam all places on both sides of mattress where they can hide.  Follow by using a knock down spray. When done, move the mattress to safe area.

    bed bugs mattress treatment
    Treat Mattress with a Mattress Safe Spray Such as Sterifab
  6. Empty Night Table Drawers on Box Spring: Empty contents of night tables on box spring and inspect items.  Choices are to wash items in hot water followed by 20 minutes in the dryer, treating with the mattress safe spray, or freezing items for 2 weeks in the freezer. You can also place items in plastic snap lid containers for a year.  All approaches will kill bedbugs. Put contents after treatment into a snap lid container or large Ziploc bag after treatment.
  7. Treat Box Spring: Use the same steps you used to treat the mattress. Treat both the outside and inside (remove or peel back fabric cover on bottom). Most to safe area when done.
  8. Treat the bed frame and head board: Treat the bed frame with the vacuum, steam and then both the knock down and residual spray.  Do the same for the head board.
  9. Treat the End Tables and Objects on Table: Treat the inside and outside of furniture with both sprays. Test to ensure that they will not stain. Inspect inside any lamps, particularly along the bottom.

    bed bugs furniture
    Treat the Inside and Outside of Furniture. Be sure to Treat Inside Tracks that Hold Drawers.
  10. Steam the Carpet: If you have carpet, treat along the baseboards with both sprays (test for color staining).  Use a carpet steamer if you can. As an option, add a disinfectant made to kill parasites to the cleaning fluid such as PuraCleenRX.
  11. Cover the Mattress and Box Spring: After the spray is dry,  place dust into seams and tufts of mattress and box spring.  Apply a thin layer of dust inside box spring as well. Cover the mattress, box spring and pillows in bed bug labeled covers.  When done, return to bed frame.

    bed bug dust
    Apply Dust to Seams for Lasting Protection
  12. 12. Place Climbup Interceptors under each bed leg: Place an interceptor under each bed leg. If the traps stay clear, then the bedbug infestation is gone. You can also use inexpensive traps or double sided tape on each bed leg.

Do not be surprised if treatment requires 2 to 3 attempts.  You can always call in an exterminator if do it yourself efforts fail, just don't wait too long as infestations can quickly grow in size.

Prevention

Never bring clothes or objects into a home that may have been infested.  Avoid any used furniture, mattresses or other objects that may be exposed to bed bugs.

In an apartment, eliminate areas where the insects can cross from one apartment into another. One solution is to apply caulk along baseboards.

Anyplace where people sleep such as a hotel is a potential site of an infestation. When checking into a hotel check for bed bugs on the mattress, head board (look behind it) and box spring.  Do not place your luggage on the floor, opting for any provided luggage racks.

Inspect luggage before bringing it into a home.  If you are a frequent traveler, you may want to invest in a PackTite, which is a heat chamber that can hold a suitcase and heat all contents to the required temperature.  It is 100% effective and will ensure that you do not bring home any bed bug hitchhikers in your luggage.  

Tip: Spray luggage with a Luggage Spray before leaving home for 6 weeks of protection.

Always be on the look out for signs. One idea is to check your mattress for bed bug fecal stains, skins, dead bed bugs or blood stains every time you change the sheets. White sheets make it easier to see bed bug marks. 

Also check used items such as antique furniture, and particularly library books that are borrowed in areas known for having a bed bug problem.

If you visit a friend with bedbugs, meet them away from their home.  If you do visit, remove clothes in your entry way or outside the home in a garage. Seal bag with tape or place clothes into a Ziploc Big Bag.

Killing Bed bugs in the  Washing Machine and Dryer

Clothes that are washed at 60C (140F) will kill baby bugs, adults and eggs.  Placing clothes in a dryer on hot (104F, over 40C) for 30 minutes will also kill bedbugs and eggs.  Soaking clothes alone will kill bed bugs but not the eggs.

They can also be killed at 1.4F or -17C in freezing temperatures, if left for 2 hours.  Other studies show 5 lbs of laundry take 8 hours to exterminate the insects and eggs at .4F (-18C).

BedBugs and Pets

Any mammal can act as a host for these insects. In terms of dogs and cats, they can be protected with popular spot ons such as Frontline and Advantage.

References:


Penn State
College of Agricultural Sciences, Cooperative Extension
Department of Entomology
Steven B. Jacobs

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet
Entomology

WoodGreen Community Services
Toronto

Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite
William Quarles

 

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