Sleep Tight: How to keep bedbugs from biting
With recent media exposure of bed bug activity impacting travelers worldwide, the public perception of this species tends to draw some concerns over its potential for harming humans and pets.
University of Florida experts at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) weigh in with science-based research on recognizing the species, their impacts on humans and pets, and how to keep them from hitchhiking home with you after traveling.
Let’s begin with a few bites about bed bugs.
“Bed bugs are blood-sucking insects, well adapted to life indoors, especially within homes and apartments. Blood is their only food, and they can extract it from several animals, including those we usually keep as pets,” said Roberto Pereira, a UF/IFAS urban entomologist who conducts research and Extension programs on the biology and control of ants, cockroaches, bed bugs and other insects that live in and around human structures.
They populate very quickly, making it difficult to identify and control, said Pereira, because one female can produce 200 to 500 eggs in her lifetime, laying from 10 to 50 eggs at a time. Also, bed bugs live through five stages, starting from a tiny egg, measuring about 1 mm in length, until they hatch as nymphs measuring about 1.5 mm.
“The key to bed bug prevention and management is vigilance and recognizing all stages of the bed bug,” said Faith Oi, a world-renowned UF/IFAS urban entomologist and the director of UF/IFAS Pest Management University based out of Apopka at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center. “While adults can be as large as 3/16 of an inch, nymphs can be as small as a pen tip. Their appearance changes depending on whether they recently fed or not.”
Bed bugs appear flat and yellowish before they bite a host and consume a blood meal, then become engorged and transform into a deep red color after feeding.
Do bed bugs cause disease in humans or animals?
Bed bugs do not transmit diseases, but they can cause a lot of discomfort because of the itching that results from the bites, said Pereira.
“If the infestation is extreme, and a person is exposed to bed bug bites for a long period of time, that person may develop anemia and symptoms of low blood volume, known as hypovolemia,” he said. “This can lead to other complications, including heart problems that can be dangerous. Fortunately, this occurs very rarely.”
How to keep bed bugs out of your home after travel.
Bed bugs enter homes when we bring them in on items such as luggage, furniture, books, computers, even in the waffled bottom of sneakers. They can travel on trains, planes and automobiles.
To keep bed bugs from joining travels, Oi and Pereira offer consumers these tips:
- When entering a place you may stay overnight, spend a few minutes inspecting surrounding areas for signs of bed bugs.
- Protect your belongings by not keeping them on carpeted areas or sofas for extended periods of time. Before leaving, inspect your belongings.
- When purchasing a used item or product like luggage, pillows or furniture, check seams, folds and crevices. Use a lint roller to pull up anything suspicious.
- After visiting places, check your person, purse and luggage before bringing these into the house.
- Clothing and some other items can be placed in a dryer in the highest heat possible for 20 to 30 minutes to eliminate any potential hitchhikers.
Myths and misconceptions when bed bugs emerge.
Some myths and incorrect perceptions make it into some people’s conversations and on social media about bed bugs and how to treat them. Oi and Pereira summarize what research has discovered, should you cross paths with the critters.
- Foggers are generally ineffective. Bed bugs are significantly resistant to the active ingredients in most insecticide fogging products. Foggers are not the same as fumigants. Fumigants are gasses that can penetrate surfaces. Fog will not penetrate surfaces, so unless the fog directly settles on the bed bug, it will not be exposed or impacted.
- Do I have to throw out my mattress? This measure is not necessary. There are several effective mattress encasements that can protect you against bed bugs once you have treated for bed bugs. Make sure the encasement’s zipper is tight enough to keep any future nymphs from entering or escaping. Make sure the encasement fabric is sturdy enough to keep from tearing with repeated use.
- Don’t panic. If you discover just one adult bed bug, simply crush it and discard, but be on the alert for others. An introduction is one adult bed bug. An infestation means you’ve found more than one and in various stages of the life cycle, including eggs, nymphs and adults.
- Simplify your living environment. Keeping a clutter-free home helps in bed bug management, providing them with fewer places to hide. This makes inspections and treatment more effective if you do encounter a problem. Some people associate bed bug infestations with a lack of good hygiene and good housekeeping, but that is not necessarily the case.
- A vacuum and clothes dryer are your friends. If the infestation is localized, it may be possible to vacuum up the bed bugs. Remember to empty the bag or canister outside. Bed bug infestations are commonly found where you spend most of your time such as a bed and favorite recliner or chair. Vacuum seams of cushions well. Bedding and clothing can be put in a clothes dryer run on high for 20 to 30 minutes to destroy bed bugs.
- Not sure infestation has set in? If bed bugs are found in more than one location, call a professional who has experience in bed bug control. General information to assist in selecting a pest control service can be found in the ASK IFAS article: Homeowner’s Guide to Selecting a Pest Control Service.
- For good measure, there is more. This Ask IFAS article in English and Spanish offers insights on What not to do for bed bugs/ Qué no hacer contra las chinches.