Don't Let The Bed Bugs Bite
Feeling like talk of bed bugs is getting too close to home? You're not alone.
Both Chicago and Indianapolis made the list of top 10 cities for bed bug treatment problems. These tiny bugs are not just an annoyance; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) all consider bed bugs public health pests that can cause public health issues.
What are these bugs and what do you need to look for – whether at home or while traveling?
What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?
When adults, bed bugs look like reddish brown, wingless bugs. They are roughly the size of an apple seed. Adult bed bug bodies are more flat and oval-shaped if not recently fed and more elongated if they have fed recently.
Young bed bugs look translucent or whitish-yellow in color and can be nearly invisible to the naked eye because of coloring and size, if the bed bugs have not fed recently.
Where Do Bed Bugs Come From?
Bed bugs are found worldwide, and infestations can occur in areas where people sleep, including dorm rooms, cruise ships, trains and five-star hotels or resorts. The presence of bed bugs isn't related to cleanliness of living conditions where they are found. Bed bugs can hide in mattresses, cracks or clutter; if the width of a credit card could fit, a bed bug could fit as well.
What Do Bed Bug Bites Look Like?
To the untrained eye, bed bug bites can be confused with other bug bites.
"Bed bug bites can be extremely difficult to distinguish from other insect bites; however several clues can suggest the presence of bed bugs," said Torra Jones, MD, a Franciscan Physician Network board-certified family medicine physician, and Medical Director of Franciscan ExpressCare and Franciscan Physician Network Walk-in Clinic Tinley Park.
Small, itchy red bumps on the face, neck, arms, hands or other exposed body parts is a very noticeable sign of having a bed bug problem.
"Particularly if they form a row or a line on the skin, that should raise suspicion for the possibility of bed bug bites," said Dr. Jones.
Even though itchy red bumps are a common sign of bed bugs, not all people have this kind of reaction to bed bug bites. Bite marks from bed bugs can take up to 14 days to appear.
The National Pesticide Information Center suggests that if you find possible bed bug bite marks on your skin, don't sleep in another part of the house because bed bugs could follow you and spread.
Most bed bug bites are not considered to spread disease, however an allergic reaction to bed bug bites warrants medical attention.
What Are The Signs Of Bed Bugs?
Signs of bed bugs can be hard to detect at first. According to the EPA, looking for physical signs of bed bugs is an accurate way to identify a possible infestation of bed bugs.
Stains on the bedding
Reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses appear due to the bed bugs being crushed. Bed bugs may get squashed at night, and this can lead to blood sports on the bed, clothes or skin.
Bed bugs sometimes will leave fecal stain, especially if they are in large numbers. These spots will look dark and rusty-colored. They can also leave fecal stains on walls and under wallpaper which will result in dark spots on the wall.
Bed bug shells
According to the EPA, bed bug eggs and eggshells are tiny (about 1mm) and pale-yellow skins that nymphs shed as they grow larger. These can be found in your mattress, headboard, between couch cushions and underneath furniture.
- Survey the room for signs of an infestation. Be on the lookout for tiny, ink-colored stains on mattress seams, in soft furniture and behind headboards.
- Look in bed bug hiding spots: the mattress, box spring and other furniture, as well as behind baseboards, pictures and even torn wallpaper.
- Elevate luggage away from the bed and wall when traveling.
- Examine your luggage carefully while repacking and once you return home from a trip.
- Place all dryer-safe clothing from your luggage in the dryer for at least 15 minutes at the highest setting after you return home.
How Do I Treat Bed Bug Bites?
If you discover that you have bed bugs, it is likely that you or someone in your home has bed bug bites, which may cause you to need to see a doctor.
"For any patient that is presenting with symptoms of bed bug bites for several days, they should seek medical care for a full examination by a trained, licensed medical professional," Dr. Jones said. This can include a primary care doctor, an urgent care facility or a dermatologist.
Dr. Jones stated that there is no clinical test for the definitive diagnosis of bed bug bites, it is all based on history, appearance of the bites on examination, and the inspection of sleep quarters.
"If the suspicion is high and the physical characteristics are present along with the history, treating the bed bugs, includes caring for the bite and itch," Dr. Jones said.
Bed bug bites typically heal naturally, but Dr. Jones said her office prescribes or recommends a topical skin cream containing hydrocortisone or an oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl, or prescription strength medication. "This helps relieve the irritation and inflammation from the itch," she said.
Dr. Jones recommends keeping the skin clean and dry and try not to scratch the bites. "If a secondary skin infection develops from scratching, an antibiotic may need to be prescribed," she said.
How Do I Prevent Bed Bug Bites?
The only way to prevent bed bug bites is to get rid of bed bugs.
How Can You Get Rid Of Bed Bugs?
If you have discovered that you have bed bugs, you must control the infestation and get rid of the bed bugs. It may be a long process requiring time and patience. There are both chemical and non-chemical approaches to treating your home for bed bugs are available. The EPA has registered more than 300 products for use against bed bugs and most of these can be used by consumers.
Treating bed bugs is very complex and the success will depend of different factors and can take weeks to months.
Dr. Jones recommends cleaning the home can help reduce the infestation of bed bugs until an exterminator can come in.
"Vacuum and seal up any cracks, wash clothing in very hot water and on hot dry cycles, freeze articles that may have been used as hiding places for the bed bugs," she said.
By Ariel Anderson
Social Media Specialist