Whether it’s media hype or fact, talk of bed bugs has become top news in recent weeks. When you’re getting ready to crawl under the covers, you might want to know more about this insect that likes to set up its home nestled in your sheets. Thankfully, entomologist Richard Pollack, a research associate with the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, wrote that bed bugs are more of a nuisance than a health hazard even though they are rearing their creepy little heads in hotels, dorm rooms, hospitals and homes.
“The bites can cause distress, a few people have allergic reactions, and scratching can lead to secondary infection, but bed bugs are not known to transmit infectious diseases to humans,” wrote Pollack. “You don’t have to worry about who the bed bug fed on earlier. You’re not likely to contract hepatitis B or C or HIV.”
The bugs are more of a public health hazard than a home environment one. You could certainly bring them home with you if you’ve been exposed though.
Adult bed bugs are wingless oval shaped insects and about one-quarter of an inch long. Their color is nearly white after molting, then ranges from tan to burnt orange. After a blood meal, they’ll appear dark red or black and their bites can cause marks and itching.
• Because bed bugs are flat, they are able to crawl into cracks and crevices in beds, sofas, drawers, and baseboards. They sleep during the day and come out at night to feed – on sleeping individuals.
• You can sleep through their bites but in the morning you will likely find bite marks that look like a mosquito bite.
Not all bites, though are bed bugs:
• If you think your home may be infested, search the bedroom, look in your sheets, mattress, box springs, curtains, loose wallpaper and see if you notice dark-brown or reddish spots – these are fecal spots from the bugs.
• If you find a bug, compare it with a good reference image – look on the Harvard School of Public Health website, or put it in a pill bottle or plastic bag and take it to an expert for positive identification.
• Make certain you have the insect positively identified before going to the expense of hiring a pest control officer.
If you need to call in a professional:
• Because bed bugs are elusive, the pest control person will spend a lot of time with a flashlight looking in all the nooks and crannies in which a bug could hide.
• Remember, just because they’re called bed bugs, they live in places other than beds. Your pest control professional will look at other furniture in your home, walls, curtains and baseboards.
• Treatment depends on how serious the infestation is. It could range from industrial vacuuming to using heat treatments to applying products in various places.
• The person you hire should explain what to do to prevent further infestation.
• Because bed bugs are like termites, they are difficult for an untrained individual to find and you should also expect that your pest control professional will make a return trip for a follow up inspection.
• Don’t apply insecticides to your mattress.
Bed bug history and facts
• Bed bugs have been around since ancient Greek and Roman times.
• What about the song your mother sang you? “Sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite?” While no one is certain where the phrase originated, it could be because “sleep tight” goes back to the days when mattresses were supported by ropes which had to be tightened before crawling into bed.
• It’s likely that bed bugs migrated to North America in the seventeenth century and thrived until the mid-20th century when they were eradicated with pesticides.
Bottom line, if you think you might have bugs in your mattress, follow the steps above, call in the professional and soon you’ll be sleeping tight again!