Control of Bed Bugs

Information supplied by: The Brilliant Laundry Group Ltd

Bed bugs are parasites that preferentially feed on humans. They are a persistent pest and have developed a number of highly evolved abilities to remain close to humans.

Bed bugs have been documented as pests since the 17th century although they have been around for much longer and most likely followed man out of the caves millennia ago. Bed bugs were common in the UK prior to World War II, after which widespread use of synthetic insecticides such as DDT greatly reduced their numbers.  At one stage in the 1930's 25% of all homes in the UK were infested!

The past decade, bed bugs have begun making a comeback across the world.  Although they are not considered to be a major pest or health hazard they can be highly unpleasant to live with and can cause a severe lack of sleep. International travel and commerce are thought to facilitate the spread because eggs, young, and adult bed bugs are all readily transported in luggage, clothing, bedding, and furniture. Bed bugs can infest aircraft, ships, trains, and buses.  Many recent cases that we have worked on have been traced back to travel where the source was identified to be the return journey rather than an infested room.

Bed bugs are most frequently found in dwellings with a high rate of occupant turnover, such as hotels, motels, hostels, dormitories, shelters, apartment complexes, tenements, and prisons. Such infestations are not usually a reflection of poor hygiene or bad housekeeping but that a previous occupant had come into contact with them at some stage.

Adult bed bugs are brown to reddish-brown, oval-shaped, flattened, and about 3/16 inch to 1/5 inch long. Their flat shape enables them to readily hide in cracks and crevices. In some cases colonies have been found in places where it is difficult to insert a sheet of paper.

Female bed bugs lay from one to twelve eggs per day, and the eggs are deposited on rough surfaces or in crack and crevices. The eggs are coated with a sticky substance so they adhere to the substrate. Eggs hatch in around 10 days, and nymphs can immediately begin to feed. They require a blood meal in order to molt and develop into the next stage. Bed bugs reach maturity after five molts. Developmental time (egg to adult) is affected by temperature and takes about 21 days at 86° F to 120 days at 65° F. The nymphal period is greatly prolonged when food is scarce. The adult's lifespan may encompass 12-18 months and they are known to be able to survive for 12 months between feeds.

Bed bugs are fast moving insects that are nocturnal blood-feeders using a barbed spike to dig a hole in the skin by repeatedly hammering at the surface. Nymphs may become engorged with blood within three minutes, whereas a full-grown bed bug usually feeds for ten to fifteen minutes. They then crawl away to a hiding place to digest the meal, which may take 3 or 4 days.

Bed bugs hide during the day in dark protected sites, preferring fabric, wood, and paper surfaces. They usually occur in fairly close proximity to the host, although they can travel far distances. Bed bugs can often be found in tufts, seams, and folds of mattresses, later spreading to crevices in the bedstead. In heavier infestations, they also may occupy hiding places further from the bed. They may hide in window and door frames, electrical boxes, floor cracks, baseboards, furniture, and under the tack board of wall-to-wall carpeting. Bed bugs often crawl upward to hide in pictures, wall hangings, drapery pleats, loosened wallpaper, cracks in plaster, and ceiling mouldings.

The bite is painless at the time but will typically causes the skin to become irritated and inflamed. Individuals differ greatly in both the extent and timing of their response to a bite. A small, hard, swollen, white welt may develop at the site of each bite which can occur in rows or batches of three or four. This is accompanied by severe itching that lasts for several hours to days.   In rare cases an allergic reaction may follow - in such cases seek medical attention immediately. The morphology of bites is highly variable and bed bugs are almost impossible to diagnose on bites alone.

It is believed that 1 in 10 people show no signs of biting, often leading to the myth that they only attack certain people. Cases of extreme reaction seem to be on the increase and affect as many as 2 in 10 people. If you have a severe reaction to other insect bites such as fleas and mosquitoes you are more likely to have an extreme reaction to bed bugs. We have also noted increasing anecdotal evidence that once you have been bitten, the environment that you find yourself in can induce a more severe reaction so if possible avoid areas of high pollution or concentrations of irritants that will enter through the open wounds.

Some individuals respond to bed bug infestations with anxiety, stress, and insomnia. Bed bugs are not known to transmit disease beyond a localised area. There is some scientific evidence linking bed bugs to Hepatitis infections but this requires a Hepatitis carrier to be in close proximity to an uninfected person and for them both to be bitten by the same insect. These reports have recently been brought into scientific doubt. Bed bugs have a highly developed biology and for complex reasons they are unlikely to be disease carrying.

If an infestation is heavy or prolonged it is advisable to use an Iron containing dietary supplement as anaemia or iron deficiency can develop. If you are feeling tired and lethargic this may help significantly.

There is some evidence that prescribed anti histamines can help reduce the effects but it is essential that you explain to your GP that the problem is bed bugs related as the symptoms can be mistaken for more serious complaints such as scabies although they are in no way related. We advise our clients that they should show the evidence newsletter in the Helpful Advice section to their GP.

A bed bug infestation can be recognized by blood stains from crushed bugs or by rusty (sometimes dark) spots of excrement on sheets and mattresses, bed clothes, and walls. Faecal spots, eggshells, and shed skins may be found in the vicinity of their hiding places. An offensive, sweet, musty odour from their scent glands may be detected when bed bug infestations are severe. As the smell develops over time you may become accustomed to

Control of bed bugs is best achieved by following an integrated pest management (IPM) approach that involves multiple tactics, such as preventive measures, sanitation, and chemicals applied to targeted sites. Severe infestations should only be handled by a licensed pest management professional.

Do not bring infested items into the home. It is important to carefully inspect clothing and baggage of travellers, being on the lookout for bed bugs and their tell-tale faecal spots. Also, inspect all second-hand beds, bedding, and furniture. Identifying the source is one of the key aspects to controlling an infestation. Unless the source is excluded from the property the stock of bed bugs will be continually replenished and the life cycle will continue.

A thorough inspection of the premises to locate bed bugs and their harbourage sites is necessary so that cleaning efforts and insecticide treatments can be focused. Inspection efforts should concentrate on the mattress, box springs, and bed frame, as well as cracks and crevices that the bed bugs may hide in during the day or when digesting a blood meal. The latter sites include window and door frames, floor cracks, carpet tack boards, baseboards, electrical boxes, furniture, pictures, wall hangings, drapery pleats, loosened wallpaper, cracks in plaster, and ceiling mouldings. Detection is something that you develop an "eye for" with time, particularly in the case of eggs which appear amber in colour when fertile and pearlescent white when hatched.

Sanitation measures include frequently vacuuming the mattress and premises, laundering bedding and clothing in hot water, and cleaning and sanitizing dwellings. After vacuuming, immediately place the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag, seal tightly, and discard in a container outdoors, this prevents captured bed bugs from escaping back into your home. A stiff brush can be used to scrub the mattress seams to dislodge bed bugs and eggs. Discarding the mattress is another option, although a new mattress can quickly become infested if bed bugs are still on the premises.   It is always best to treat and replace at a later date than face having to keep replacing new items.


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