Once a clever ditty spoken by parents across America, “Sleep tight; don’t let the bed bugs bite!” has become a true statement for people everywhere. Bed bugs seem to be popping up all over the place, and it’s only getting worse. But what do we really know about them?
Don’t bed bugs only seek out dirty houses?
First of all, let me dispel the myth that bed bugs are like cockroaches and only hang out around dirty homes, rooms, and people. They are an equal opportunity pest, and they don’t care if you live in a five million dollar mansion that’s cleaner than the Smithsonian. What they do care about is blood, which all people everywhere readily supply. And yes, more people means more blood. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that there is a higher incidence of bed bugs in places where lots of people are, such as dorms, hotels, apartment buildings, and the like. They can be transferred on your clothing or luggage, so someone who has them can bring them to a house that doesn’t, and you can bring them home after walking through a place that does.
What do they look like?
Bed bugs are flat and shaped like an apple seed. They look a little bit like ticks, but adults are usually about a quarter of an inch long. They are reddish-brown, and can move as fast as a ladybug. When fully engorged with blood, they appear dark red. Bed bugs molt, or shed their outer layer, five times in their lives. The shell they leave behind is light tan.
I don’t see them crawling in my bed, so I must not have them, right?
Contrary to popular belief, beds aren’t the only place bed bugs hang out. They tend to hide during the day, preferring to feed on you when you are sleeping. Among other places, they can hide in your dresser drawers, in picture frames, in your closet, behind peeling paint or wallpaper, and in electrical outlets. Bed bugs also have a nasty habit of infesting couches and sofas in the living room.
So how do I know if I have them?
Most people don’t realize they have bed bugs until they wake up with bites on their bodies. These bites usually appear in lines or clusters, and can be anywhere on the body. For some people, the bites aren’t a bother at all. But others have allergic reactions to them, similar to mosquito and gnat bites, and the bite site gets red and itchy. If you prefer to be proactive, you can check your bed out right now. Look for brown specks on your sheets, which signal bed bug poo. You may also see red or brown streaks, which indicate blood from a bug you probably squished without even knowing it. Keep this in mind when you check into a hotel room. If you see any of these signs, notify the front desk, and request a new room.
Can bed bugs transmit diseases like mosquitoes and ticks can?
As far as anyone can tell, bed bugs do not transmit diseases from person to person. This means that if you get bit by one, it doesn’t matter if the last person it fed on had any infections, even HIV. This may be the only bit of good news about this bad bug.
How do I get rid of them?
You have probably heard that washing your sheets and clothes with really hot water and drying them on high will cure the problem, but that’s not true. Yes, it definitely helps, but it won’t make the bed bugs go away completely. Depending on the severity of the problem, and the way your furniture is put together, you may have to get rid of your mattress and/or couches. I know that sounds drastic, but sometimes it’s necessary. Only a pest control professional can help you decide what can stay and what can go. He or she can also perform a thorough inspection of your home, and provide appropriate services. This may include mattress covers or applying pesticides.
Is it safe to use pesticides in my home?
If used properly, the benefits of the pesticides outweigh the risks. Notice that I said “if used properly.” What does that mean? That means don’t run out to The Home Depot or wherever it is you buy your citronella candles, grab a bottle of bug-be-gone, and think you can take care of this yourself. Pesticides are serious business, but pest control professionals are trained for this kind of thing. Remember, just because you have access to a scalpel, doesn’t make you qualified to perform surgery. Give your exterminator a call, they will be happy to help.
The bottom line is this… Bed bugs are a real problem, but you can safeguard your family by doing routine checks of the beds and other furniture. If you find them, don’t waste time being embarrassed. They are so prevalent, there isn’t much of a stigma attached to them anymore. Call your exterminator right away, so you can get back to sleeping tight.
Check out these other Bed Bug Articles:
15 Worst Cities With Bed Bugs
Bed Bugs Shut Down Another New York Store