Experts at the Mayo Clinic report that bed bugs have been with us for quite a long time, but were mostly eradicated in Western nations after World War II. International travel has upped the ante for the bed bug’s return on the world stage. Bed bugs are similar to head lice in that they are “blood-sucking ectoparasites,” according to officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As such, they don’t necessarily carry disease but they can cause big trouble. Indeed, bed bugs pose an enormous public health problem.
When a Bed Bug Bites
Health officials caution that bed bugs carry a number of negative physical, mental and economic consequences. Bed bug bites can result in mild to severe allergic reactions to the bites, even death in very rare cases.
Mayo Clinic and other health care experts report that the swelling, redness and itch associated with bedbug bites goes away on their own within a week or two of being bitten by bed bugs. During this time, you can address these bites with skin cream containing hydrocortisone and/or taking an oral antihistamine, such Benadryl. If you develop a skin infection, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic for you.
Avoiding Bed Bugs and Bed Bug Busters Once in the Home
What can you do about bed bugs? Find out how you can protect yourself from these nasty invasive critters or, once your home is infested, what to do about it. Appropriate bed bug counter-measures include:
Bed Bug Buster 1. Avoid bed bugs. Steer clear of places that have high turnover of guests. Hotels, motels, hospitals, college dormitories, and homeless shelters are among the places that report increasing incidence of bed bug infestation. So are military barracks. If you must frequent these high-human-traffic areas, inspect a room before staying in it. Take adequate precautions to avoid bringing bed bugs back home with you. Inspect your gear and equipment carefully. Keep traveling bags off the bed and furniture when you return home.
Bed Bug Buster 2. Take measures to keep bed bugs out. Don’t bring second hand mattresses or upholstered furniture into your home. If you must, inspect and vacuum them carefully. Or, cover mattresses and box springs in plastic. Check out the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) Bed Bug Hub for additional bed bug prevention tips.
Bed Bug Buster 3. Carefully inspect your home for bed bugs. If you suspect bed bug infestation, thoroughly examine crevices in walls, mattresses and furniture. Nighttime is the best time for this inspection while bed bugs are most active. Signs of bed bug infestation? According to experts at CDC and Mayo Clinic, these include:
Finding dark specks along mattress seams.
Happening upon empty exoskeletons.
Finding bloody smears, the result of bed bugs getting crushed in the night.
Noticing a sweet, musty odor in the bed.
Bed Bug Buster 4. Call for professional help. Bed bugs are very difficult to eradicate from your home. A variety of methods, chemical and non-chemical may be called for. You may have to ditch the couch and mattresses that are infested. Whatever needs to be done, let the pros guide your bed bug eradication effort.
Bed Bug Buster 5. Don’t panic. Like anything else, a good plan will go a long way in helping you avoid bed bugs and eradicate them, once your home is infested.
Joint Statement on Bed Bug Control in the United States from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Diseases and Conditions, Mayo Clinic
What you need to know about bed bugs
‘Educating yourself can be helpful and reassuring,’ says Dr. Harold Harlan
National Pest Management Association
Anderson A, Leffler K. Bed bug infestation in the news: a picture of an emerging public health problem in the United States.Journal of Environmental Health. 2008;70(9):24-7, 52-3.
Hwang SW, Svoboda TJ et al. Bed bug infestations in an urban environment.Emerging Infectious Diseases, April 2005. See http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol11no04/04-1126.htm
Pinto LJ, Cooper RA, Kraft SK. Bed bug handbook: the complete guide to bed bugs and their control. Mechanicsville, MD: Pinto and Associates, Inc.; 2007.