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Bed Bug Basics

Updated on February 24, 2014

Bites

My leg, showing multiple bed bug bites.
My leg, showing multiple bed bug bites.

Signs of an Infestation

There are a number of simple ways to check for an infestation. Although adult bed bugs are big enough to see (about the size of an apple seed), these nocturnal nuisances are expert hiders, and you may not see an actual bug until months after they've been introduced to the site. Fortunately, they leave clues that indicate their presence.

1. Blood stains.

  • Why? Bed bugs live on a diet solely consisting of blood and after feeding, they swell up (not unlike a mosquito). Oftentimes, they get crushed during the night and leave blood stains on sheets.
  • Location. These are not difficult to spot since they occur where the person they bit is sleeping: on top of the fitted sheet, on pillows, etc.

2. Tiny black spots.

  • Why? This is the bugs' fecal matter. The spots are very tiny: smaller than a dot from the tip of a pen.
  • Location. Although the bugs find effective hiding spots themselves, fecal matter can usually be found on the bottom of the box spring or on the baseboard behind the bed. You'd have to look closely, but if you're looking, it is noticeable.

3. Bites.

  • Why? Bed bugs leave bites that look similar to hives.
  • Location. They often bite a number of times in one area of the body before traveling to another, so bites often occur in patches of 2-5 bites. What's important to note is not everyone experiences the bites. Some people don't react to the bites and therefore don't show signs, and sometimes the bugs only bite one person if a couple sleeps in the bed.

4. Dogs.

  • Why? If you have seen any or all of the three signs above, you can call an extermination service to confirm your suspicions. Some services use canines to sniff out the infestation site(s). The dogs have an impressive accuracy rate and smell radius.

Lucy, the dog brought in to find the infestation sites in our apartment.
Lucy, the dog brought in to find the infestation sites in our apartment.

Treatment Poll

Have you experienced a bed bug infestation? How did you treat it?

See results

Treatment Options

Three words: hire an expert. If you attempt a home treatment, you will likely end up spending more time and money. Exterminators offer the following options:

1. Thermal remediation. The infested home is heated to approximately 140 degrees, since the bugs can't survive heat above 120 degrees.

Pros:

  • Less preparation. You'll need to remove anything flammable or anything that could melt during the treatment, but everything else can stay as is.
  • More convenient. Treatment takes place in one day.

Cons:

  • Susceptible to cold weather. While rare, if the treatment takes place with subzero temperatures outside, there is a chance not every nook and cranny of your home will get heated properly.
  • Duration of effectivity. The treatment is only effective while heated, as opposed to chemical treatment, which continues to be effective weeks after treatment.
  • Cost. Heat treatment typically costs more than chemical treatments.

2. Chemical treatment. Exterminators apply a variety of chemicals to the infested areas and all places where bed bugs may travel to hide (e.g. baseboards, cracks in the walls, outlets, dressers, etc.). Typically, exterminators treat the infestation multiple times over the span of a few weeks. For us, we received three total treatments over the span of three weeks.

Pros:

  • Cost. Chemical treatments typically cost less than heat treatments.
  • Duration of effectivity. Unlike heat treatments, chemicals treatments continue to work weeks after the treatment, so if any bugs survive the treatment, they will die if walking over any surface treated with chemicals.

Cons:

  • Preparation. Prepping for a chemical treatment is a lot of work. You must dry all your clothes and linens (which heats bugs to a temperature they can't survive) and put in plastic garbage bags. Everything in your home needs to be moved to the middle of each room so all closets and baseboards are accessible.
  • Less convenient. Typically, more than one chemical treatment is necessary to exterminate the infestation. For an average infestation, about three treatments should be expected. This means linens and clothes must be dried after each treatment and prep needs to be done multiple times.

One of the eight heaters used during thermal remediation.
One of the eight heaters used during thermal remediation.

Prevention Measures

Awareness truly is key. There is no way to guarantee an infestation will never happen to you, but being aware and knowing what to look for will help your odds. Here are a few tips to prevent an infestation in your home:

  • Travel. When you stay in a hotel or hostel, check the bed for signs of an infestation. If you find anything, notify the staff immediately and demand a room change. Do not place luggage on the bed or floor. Instead, bring plastic bags to place luggage in, or keep luggage in the bath tub when not in use. Upon returning home, vacuum luggage thoroughly and wash and dry all clothes.
  • New mattresses. When getting a new mattress delivered, ask what their policy is on returning old mattresses. If they return old mattresses in the same truck they deliver new ones, they risk introducing bed bugs.
  • Bed bug covers. Purchase bed bug covers for your box spring and mattress. This gives bugs fewer places to hide and they are easier to spot.
  • Bed bug registry. This is a national registry of bed bug reports in apartments and hotels. Before booking your hotel, check here! http://www.bedbugregistry.com

Key Takeaways

  • Signs of an infestation. This is your most important takeaway. Know what to look for in your own home and when you travel.
  • Treatment options. Absolutely hire an expert, and talk to them about which treatment option is better for you.
  • Prevention. Now that you know the signs of an infestation, make sure to check when you travel.

Comments

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    • KShafer profile image
      Author

      Kelly Shafer 3 years ago from Milwaukee, WI

      Thank you, CrisSp. I agree, better to look silly than bring a bug home with you! Thank you for stopping by!

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 3 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Oh goodness, this is one topic that makes me itch just by reading it. Hate bugs! I travel a lot and every time I check in to places, I make sure that I check everywhere specially the beds for any possible presence of these very minute creatures. Never mind if I look like a psycho scrutinizing every corner of the room. Lol! I'd die just for the thought of it! Not kidding!

      Thank you for sharing this great, useful hub with us. You have my vote because this indeed, is very useful.

      P.S. Never knew about mattress' return policy until after reading this. I will keep that in mind for future purchase.

    • KShafer profile image
      Author

      Kelly Shafer 3 years ago from Milwaukee, WI

      Thank you, Alphadogg16! I appreciate the kind words. I've heard about the bed bug Infested but am too nervous to watch it myself! :)

    • Alphadogg16 profile image

      Kevin W 3 years ago from Texas

      Nice hub KShafer, I've never experienced bed bugs & really didn't think there was a such thing until I started watching the show "Infested" on animal planet. I'll make it a point to carry Lysol when I travel. Thumbs up on your hub.

    • KShafer profile image
      Author

      Kelly Shafer 3 years ago from Milwaukee, WI

      Thank you msdora and word55! I appreciate your tips, too. You are right, it's extremely important to inspect clothes and furniture. I will probably avoid second-hand furniture from now on. A note on management: we do live in an apartment, but the landlord made it very clear it was our responsibility to handle, not his. Additionally, renters insurance doesn't cover bed bugs, so it is extremely costly. As of now (and we're still not sure we're in the clear) we've spent nearly $3000 on the whole ordeal. Thank you both for your kindness! Hubbers are the best!

    • word55 profile image

      Word 3 years ago from Chicago

      Hi KShafer and thanks for sharing MsDora. Fortunately, I've never experienced bed bugs but I had a friend that moved into an apartment, 8 months ago that was infested with them. She had similar bites on her leg. Well, I travel a bit so, I carry a can of Lysol and another strong disinfectant and spray the hotel/resort room. I also be sure to get non-smoking facilities. As for in the home, it is important to be aware of clothing and furniture brought inside the house. Everything should be thoroughly inspected and cleaned. If this happens in an apartment or apt complex then management should have your place cleaned out right away. Thanks so much for sharing. Just think, good thing bed bugs are not like poisonous mosquitos.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      This is a very comprehensive article on bed bug basics; from prevention, to signs, to treatment. Thank you for this valuable presentation.