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Bed Bug Basics: Treatment and Prevention

Posted January 21, 2023 by Mike Lewis under Tips

Bed Bug Basics: Treatment and Prevention

What are Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, flat, parasitic insects that feed exclusively on blood. These reddish-brown bugs are roughly the size of an apple seed and become swollen and darkened after feeding.

Bed bugs are often mistaken for other household insects. Some key identification features include:

  • Oval, flat bodies (unless recently fed)
  • Six legs
  • Antennae
  • No wings

They do not fly or jump, but can quickly crawl and hide in tiny cracks and crevices.

Where are Bed Bugs Found?

Bed bugs are experts at hiding. Their flattened bodies allow them to squeeze into tiny spaces like the seams of a mattress, behind headboards, inside bed frames and box springs, behind wallpaper, and inside cracks and crevices.

Some common bed bug hiding places include:

  • Mattresses: Especially along seams and edges, under buttons, and inside holes or tears.
  • Box springs: Within pleats and under fabric coverings.
  • Bed frames: Inside cracks and crevices and under corner support braces.
  • Headboards and footboards: Behind them and inside screw holes.
  • Nightstands and dressers: Inside drawers, cracks, and recessed areas.
  • Couches and chairs: Under cushions, along seams and tufts, and inside folds and crevices.
  • Curtains and blinds: Within pleats and seams.
  • Carpet edges and baseboards: Along edges and seams where they meet walls and floors.
  • Electronic devices: Inside seams, crevices, buttons, and vents.
  • Suitcases and bags: Inside seams, folds, and recessed zipper areas.
  • Walls: Behind wallpaper, light switch plates, posters, pictures, and cracks.

So in summary, bed bugs like dark, confined spaces close to their human hosts. Their flat shape allows them to hide in the smallest of cracks and crevices.

How Do You Get Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are opportunistic bugs that take advantage of human environments. They spread by crawling or hitching covert rides on luggage, clothing, furniture, and more.

Some common ways you can pick up bed bugs include:

  • Traveling – Hotels, hostels, or Airbnbs with bed bug infestations can allow them to hitchhike home with you. Always thoroughly inspect rooms before unpacking.

  • Used furniture & clothing – Bed bugs can lurk inside secondhand furniture and clothing. Carefully inspect all used items.

  • Visiting others – Spending time in other infested homes allows bugs to grab onto your clothes and belongings.

  • Public transport – Buses, trains, taxis and airplanes can harbor bed bugs left behind by others. Inspect seats before sitting.

  • Pests moving between units – In apartments, bed bugs can spread between units through electrical conduits, ventilation systems and cracks.

So in essence, bed bugs spread by crawling or hiding in items that move between locations. Their small size allows them to spread easily and covertly.

Signs of Bed Bugs

Knowing the signs of bed bugs allows for early detection and treatment. Some things that indicate their presence include:

  • Bites – Most bed bug bites appear as small, red, itchy welts on exposed skin. They often occur in zigzag lines or clusters.

  • Blood spots – Finding dark blood spots or smears on your sheets and mattress is a key sign of bed bugs. The spots are feces and blood left behind after feedings.

  • Molted skins – The outer shells bed bugs leave behind after molting are light brown and transparent. Seeing them indicates an active infestation.

  • Odor – Some describe the bed bug scent as “musty” or “sweet.” The smell comes from secretions the bugs emit.

  • Rusty stains – Bed bugs can leave rusty-colored stains on fabric and walls from their blood-filled feces.

Catching an infestation early makes treatment easier. Inspect your sleeping areas thoroughly and look for the above signs if you suspect bed bugs. Contact a pest control professional at the first signs.

Preventing Bed Bugs

While bed bugs can occasionally still sneak in, you can lower your risk by taking these preventative measures:

  • Inspect secondhand items – Thoroughly check all used furniture, clothing, and other items for signs of bed bugs before bringing them home.

  • Seal cracks and crevices – Use caulk to seal crevices along baseboards, window frames, electrical outlets and other potential hideouts.

  • Reduce clutter – Clear away clutter that provides additional hiding spots for bed bugs.

  • Protect mattresses & box springs – Encase them in bed bug proof covers to eliminate access.

  • Isolate and treat luggage – After traveling, wash clothes on hot and inspect bags. Treat bags with products like Nuvan Prostrips.

  • Vacuum frequently – Use a vacuum on floors and furniture to suck up bugs and eggs. Dispose of the bag immediately after.

  • Monitor with traps – Traps like Climbup Interceptors place a moat around furniture legs to catch bugs.

Vigilance and thoroughness are key to keeping bed bugs out. An integrated pest management approach that combines prevention, monitoring, and removal gives the best protection.

Treating Bed Bug Infestations

Treating an established bed bug infestation requires diligence and repeated coordinated efforts. Common treatment methods include:

Heat Treatments

  • Heated equipment – Uses targeted heat (often 120-140°F) applied directly to beds and furniture kills all stages of bed bugs.

  • Whole home heating – Heats an entire home to lethal temperatures to eradicate infestations. Temperature is gradually raised and sustained around 135°F.

  • Very effective non-chemical treatment option, but requires professional equipment and training.

Chemical Sprays

  • Residual sprays – Long-lasting sprays are applied as spot treatments or along baseboards. Bugs crossing treated zones receive a lethal dose.

  • Aerosol contact sprays – Kill bed bugs on contact. Used for direct spray treatments on mattresses, furniture, carpets, and more.

  • Foggers and mists – Fogging agents spread insecticide droplets through the air across large spaces. Help penetrate deep harborages.

  • Chemical resistance is a downside. Products often require repeat applications.

Other Treatment Options

  • Cold/freezing treatments – Extreme cold (below 0°F) applied by professionals kills bed bugs and eggs but does not work reliably.

  • Diatomaceous earth – This abrasive dust damages the waxy coating on bed bug exoskeletons, causing dehydration and death within 72 hours of contact.

  • Traps and monitors – Can be used to capture and track bed bugs and determine if treatments are working.

No single method controls bed bugs alone. An integrated pest management plan that utilizes multiple tools and repeat applications is best. In severe cases, fumigation by pest control experts may be needed.

Tips for Effective Treatment

  • Inspect and identify all infested areas – Systematically look in all hiding spots, cracks and crevices. Use a flashlight and magnifying glass.

  • Isolate infested beds and furniture – Pull items away from walls, cover with encasements, and apply interceptors. This limits spread.

  • Treat directly along edges and seams – Use liquid spray or dust products along seam lines, tufts, edges, and cracks where bed bugs hide.

  • Treat adjacent areas – Treat areas around infested furniture, along walls and baseboards, and under carpets. This creates a protective barrier.

  • Follow up 2 weeks later – Retreat initially infested areas and newly discovered harborages 2 weeks later to kill bugs after eggs hatch.

  • Remove clutter – Eliminate piles of items that provide extra hiding spots for bed bugs.

  • Dispose of heavily infested furniture – If items are severely infested, wrapping in plastic and removing them is better than treating.

  • Be patient – Eradicating bed bugs often takes multiple coordinated treatments over months. Avoid skipping steps that allow populations to rebound.

Completely eliminating a bed bug infestation takes diligence, patience and a thorough working knowledge of bed bug habits. Combining prevention, monitoring, and proven chemical and non-chemical control methods gives the best chance for success.

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