During the last month I have had the pleasure of traveling around the Southeast to attend training seminars. During this time, I have researched bed bugs to ensure that I don’t bring them home with me.
Bed bug infestations have been on the rise in the United States recently. After they declined during the mid-20th century, many countries are now experiencing large bed bug increases. Their numbers have been on the rise in Europe in the last several years. Scientists say the global economy and ease of world travel led to the recent infestations.
Bed bugs are also beginning to show signs of resistance to the insecticides used to eradicate them. Therefore, identification and sanitation are the best means of preventing an infestation.
How are bed bugs identified?
They are small, flat, wingless insects that can be flesh-colored or blood-red when feeding.
Adult bed bugs are about 3/16-inches long and reddish-brown, with oval-shaped, flattened bodies. They are sometimes mistaken for ticks, cockroaches, carpet beetles, or other household insects.
Immature bed bugs (nymphs) resemble the adults, but are smaller and lighter in color. Bed bugs feed on the blood of animals. They have straw-like mouthparts that insert into skin and suck out blood. Luckily, bed bugs are not known to transmit any diseases. However, some people will have allergic reactions to the bugs’ saliva.
Severe scratching of the bitten area might also result in secondary skin infections. Bed bugs release an anesthetic into the bite wound. Most people are unaware they have been bitten until they notice a bite mark or begin to itch.
Traditionally, bed bugs have been thought of as only being in places with poor sanitation. This is not the case. They can be acquired from even the nicest of hotel rooms.
Bed bugs crawl into and hide in the seams of luggage, clothes, bedding, and furniture. Bed bugs will usually infest the areas on and around the bed. Because they feed on blood, they need to be close to their food source. They can be found in the seams of mattresses and in cracks and crevices of the walls and flooring around the bed. Large infestations will often have a characteristic ‘sweet’ smell.
The best tip for the summer traveler is to avoid acquiring bed bugs. Prevention is always the first and best option. UGA Extension Entomologist Dr. Paul Guillebeau suggests always checking hotel beds for signs of bed bugs. Strip off the sheets and check the seams and cording of the mattress. If you see dark spots, request a different room. Bed bug fecal matter appears as small brown or blood-colored stains on the mattress. Always check the head boards of hotel beds. If possible, take them down off the wall and check the back side. If your hotel room has two beds, resist the urge to use the other bed to store your luggage. This is a good way for bed bugs to crawl into your suitcase and hitch a ride back to your house. Hang up your clothes and store your luggage on a high shelf.
Another tip for avoiding bed bugs is to resist buying used bedding and mattresses. Many thrift and second-hand stores are now refusing to take donated mattresses because of bed bug fears.
If you think you have a bed-bug problem, call a pest control company. Even for experienced pest controllers, bed bugs pose a problem.
As mentioned earlier, bed bugs are becoming resistant to some commercial insecticides. Also, the bugs’ habit of living in tiny crevices makes pesticide application tricky. Bed bugs, along with termites, are a species in which do-it-yourself control is never recommended.