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Bed bugs: Identification, Prevention, and Control

Ilia ApolinarisApr 5, 2018

The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius), a wingless parasitic insect, has been around for centuries, instilling fear, disgust, and discomfort in the mind of every sleeper. They most likely traveled to the New World with the colonists, as ships were known to be overrun with the bugs. Bed bugs continued their rampage to the point that during the early 1900s most Americans knew someone who had been bitten by the nasty critters or were bitten themselves. It wasn’t until the 1950s when bed bugs all but disappeared from American homes after being nearly eradicated with the insecticide DDT. But guess what? They’re back—and not just in America, but all over the world!

The resurgence of bed bugs can be attributed to many reasons, some of which include inexpensive world travel, bringing second-hand items into your home without inspecting them first, and people’s general lack of awareness. Therein lies the problem. Not treating bed bugs in time can lead to an infestation. While some experts attribute the comeback to pesticide-resistant bed bugs, others attribute it to not using enough or stronger pesticides to kill them. Regardless, with those pesky critters rallying to feast on our blood once again, people are starting to think more about how to identify, prevent, and control bed bugs.

To help you figure out how to keep these blood-sucking critters from ruining your sleep and your life, we’ve done a bit of research. It turns out that the best way to fight against bed bugs is by implementing an Integrated Pest­ Management (IPM) plan. The IPM method is geared towards the identification, prevention, and elimination of pests through the use of nonchemical tools or the judicious use of pesticides when the non-chemical approach does not work. If chemical pesticides are needed, professionals will choose pesticides that cause the least damage to humans, pets, and the environment.

What can you do to keep bed bugs out of your home? There are some changes you can make to keep the bugs at bay.

1. Never bring second-hand items into your home without examining them first.

2. Use encasements for mattresses and box springs. Not only do encasements block bed bugs, but they also help relieve asthma and protect your mattress from accidental spills.

3. Use light-colored sheets to make detection easier.

4. Make or buy bed bug traps or interceptors. Placing these traps under each leg of your bed or other furniture will make it impossible for bed bugs to crawl up. You can find a DIY published by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences here.

5. Declutter your home and seal cracks and gaps in walls and furniture, making it impossible for bugs to hide.

6. Always vacuum your luggage when returning from a trip to get rid of any stowaway bugs.

7. Bring a flashlight when staying in a hotel to check your room for bed bugs. Pull back the sheets and examine the mattress and seams for any telltale signs.

8. Inspect your home periodically – if you do get bed bugs, it’s going to be easier and less expensive to eradicate them if you spot them early.

If you suspect that you have been bitten or find dark spots on your bed, it’s time to look for bed bugs in the spots they're known to hide out. Use a flashlight and a magnifying glass to examine the cracks and gaps in bed frames, floors, walls, furniture, and mattresses. The nasty critters tend to wedge themselves into anything near where people sleep.

But, what are you looking for, exactly? Bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed when in their adult stage. They are long, brown, and flat or balloon-like if they've recently fed. Young bugs are smaller and translucent. To spot them, you will most likely need a magnifying glass unless they have recently fed, too. Their eggs are white and about the size of a pinhead. If you need pictures of bed bugs to help you identify them, you can do a quick online image search.

If bed bugs are present in your home, treating and eradicating them is the next step. Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to kill, as mentioned earlier, which can definitely make matters worse. Your best bet is to hire a pest management professional (PMP) who can assess the level of infestation and evaluate the right course of action. The PMP will implement an integrated pest management plan specifically designed for your property and level of infestation.

The treatment of the affected room or rooms must start by thoroughly cleaning the area and vacuuming it to remove the bugs and eggs. A HEPA filter vacuum or one specifically designed for pest control is recommended. Once the area is cleaned, the next step is to seal cracks and crevices in your furniture, floors, or walls to eliminate the places where bed bugs hide. Your PMP will then proceed to use steam, high heat, or cold treatments to kill the bugs. They will also use traps or interceptors to keep the remaining bed bugs from climbing onto your bed and other furniture.

Wash sheets, pillowcases, blankets, and bed skirts and dry them for at least 30 minutes at the highest setting. If you have items that cannot be washed, you should put them in resealable bags and freeze them at a temperature of 0o Fahrenheit for a minimum of four days. Another option is to use fumigation strips which can be placed in bags with the non-washable items. Your PMP will most likely have them at hand. Make sure to follow the indications and dispose of the strips as directed. You should also use a mattress and box spring cover or encasement to trap remaining bed bugs and keep them away from you. If they can’t feed, they will eventually die.

There is, however, the possibility that the initial non-chemical treatment will not be enough to eliminate the bed bug infestation in your home. If this is the case, the next step is the application of a chemical pesticide. This should be done only after all other treatment options have failed, and it should be applied by a licensed professional to ensure its correct and safe use.

Prior to application, the PMP should give you all the information about the pesticides that will be used in your home and any necessary instructions. For your safety, it is of the utmost importance that you understand and follow all the instructions to the letter. In order to completely eradicate bed bugs, the initial treatment should be followed up by at least two extra visits, during which any bed bugs that were missed in the initial service visit will be targeted.

After all bed bugs have been eliminated, you must continue to maintain vigilance to ensure that the bed bugs are truly gone. Follow all steps listed above to keep them from returning. It’s up to you to keep your home bed bug free.