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Bed bug bites:how to fight back

Updated on July 27, 2013

The growing problem of bed bugs

My first run-in with bed bugs was as a small child living in the wilds of eastern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Bed bug bites were found on my brother and I, but the irritation of having to vacate our house whilst we got it fumigated, probably transcended that of the bed bug bites themselves. I can't remember if the fumigation worked- we had an exciting wilderness farm to explore, and had far more exciting creatures to consider -such as leopards, who did a circuit of our house at night (see African Genesis) and once we moved to the city we did not have the problem again (probably because we got rid of our farm mattresses).


But the problem, as I have learned, is by no means confined to remote locations in the Third World. Bed bugs are becoming a major, resurgent problem in rich, western nations, after having declined in the mid twentieth century. The problem has become so severe in the USA that there was a "National Bed Bug Symposium" held in Newark, N.J and Seattle, WA in 2009. Apparently bed bug infestations are on the rise in all 50 states. According to industry research, pest management companies have reported a 71% increase in bed bug calls since 2001 and annual sales from pest-control-related products have increased by more than 30% in 2008 from the previous year. The U.S's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently held a National Bed Bug Summit (!) in Washington, D.C. to discuss the growing problem of bed bug infestations for homeowners as well as for hotels, college dormitories, multi-family housing and other forms of accommodation.

In the U.K, Clive Boase, who was in charge of the Pest Management Consultancy in Haverhill, in a report published by the Institute of Biology, London said: "the trend is very worrying. Since the mid-1990s, numbers of reported infestations have almost doubled annually...In parts of London bedbug infestations have risen tenfold since 1996". But it's still unclear why the parasites are returning to cities where they were exterminated a generation ago.

In Australia there has been an increase in the number of bed bug infestations of reportedly near 5,000% since the year 1999!

Bed bug bites star's son

Bed bugs are no respecters of persons

Bed bugs share one attitude with God: they are no respecters of persons. Even celebrities are not immune. The Weeds star, Mary-Louise Parker appeared on the Letterman show in 2009 and talked about a suspected bed bug problem in her family. She was concerned that her son had been bitten - it was his line of three welts in a row that made her suspect bed bugs. However, if bed bugs are present, Parker could also have been bitten, showing no reaction.


Mary-Louise Parker in "Weeds"

Those who do react to bed bug bites may experience three bites in a row, which is how Parker says bed bug bites appear. But people are known to also get single bites, or pairs, or three bites in a triangle shape. There's quite a variety of manifestations. Ms Parker was apparently considering the option of her belongings being fumigated with Vikane gas. Watch the video below.

Mary-Louise Parker on Letterman

In his 2009 interview with Parker, Letterman wondered if they burrowed into people's skin, like ticks, and Parker explained, "They don't burrow into your body but they burrow into your life." Because her son had some bites on his arm, she had hired a company to inspect her home-more specifically, a dog named "Bugsy" sniffed around (if he smells the bedbugs, he sits down apparently).

Difference between bed bugs and bed mites

The definition of bedbugs found in wikipedia here is:"The bedbug (or bed bug) is an insect of the family Cimicidae that lives by hematophagy - feeding on the blood of humans and other warm-blooded hosts. Its name comes from its preferred habitat: mattresses, sofas, and other furniture.[1] Although not strictly nocturnal, bedbugs are mainly active at night".

The most well known type of Bed mite is the House Dust Mite defined in Wikipedia : "Dust mites feed on organic detritus such as flakes of shed human skin and flourish in the stable environment of dwellings. Dust mites feed on organic detritus such as flakes of shed human skin and flourish in the stable environment of dwellings. House dust mites are a common cause of asthma and allergic symptoms."

  • So bed mites do not suck your blood- only eat your dead skin after it falls off your body. Dust Mites are microscopic bugs that primarily live on dead skin cells.
  • Bed Bug Infestation can be dealt with but Dust Mite infestation can only be contained
  • Bed Bugs are most active at night and bite you when you are sleeping but they are not ubiquitous. A Febuary 26 report in the Washington post says: "there are so many false alarms ...In New York, the city housing authority has fielded and checked out more than 2,500 bedbug complaints in the past three years; fewer than 500 turned out to be actual infestations. Even allowing for some overlap...that's as many as two or three callers who don't have bedbugs for each caller who does.". Dust Mites on the other hand are in everyone's house.
  • Bed bugs have only just six legs while the dust mites have eight.
  • Bed bugs are flat and round till engorged with blood;;the dust mites' shape is fully rounded and they feed only off skin scales.
  • Bed bugs have antennas;dust mites do not
  • Bed bugs are plainly visible to the naked eye while the dust mites are almost impossible to see with the naked eye.
  • Bed Bugs are not believed to carry infectious disease -as far as is known up to now. Dust mites often are a factor in asthma conditions, nasal allergies and even eczema.

Where are bed bugs found?

So where are bed bugs found?:

  • in empty homes (since they can live for months without feeding)
  • in any part of the house e.g in small cracks in your furniture
  • in corners of your dresser or bedroom cupboards
  • in wallpaper
  • curtains
  • behind picture frames
  • and mainly in areas where you sleep e.g beds and mattresses and bed frames

Small bedbugs or nymphs and adults generally feed at night and hide in crevices during the day. People have been known to pick up bed bugs in theaters or on public transport. They also can bring them into their home on their clothes, bedding, luggage, or firewood

What causes bed bugs to spread ?

There is some evidence that unclean and cluttered-up houses can attract bed bugs;bad sanitation results in higher infestation and bed bugs can be found where animals and humans come in to proximity e.g bird nests which are close to homes and since the bugs feed on warm blooded animals, they can move from there into houses. Perhaps this was the case with our farmhouse in Rhodesia.

But you can live in a very up-market tidy house (as I am sure Mary-Louise Parker does) and still have bed-bugs. why is that? An answer is that bed bugs are hitchhikers par excellence.

Bed bugs:global hitchhikers

They love places where lots of people live. They jump on things like suitcases, so when you are in a hotel or motel it might be wise to keep them and your clothes away from the bed! Check the headboard and mattress for bed bugs. They leave tiny reddish or black streaks on sheets. If you notice any when checking into a hostel or hotel room, consider asking the desk clerk for a new room. When you get home, open and store travel cases away from the bedroom.

Michael Hann in an article in the British Guardian newspaper in 2009 says:

"Call a professional extermination firm, and check its credentials. Many pest-control companies have diversified into bedbug control without any expertise

Don't try to kill the bugs yourself: last year an American woman blew up her home by lighting several insecticide "foggers" simultaneously...caused her gas supply to ignite. Don't use an aerosol-based insecticide, either: you'll kill some, but the fit ones will simply flee to another room.

Don't throw away your furniture. The chances are that you will spread the bugs through your home.

Don't flee the infested room. The bedbugs want food and warmth: if you go, they'll follow.

talk to your neighbours. It's possible your bugs have come from them, or that you have given them yours...(the average infestation is around 100).

Don't panic. Bedbugs don't carry diseases, and their presence does not make you unclean"


Bed bugs: How to fight back(1)

HEPA vacs, Cleaning, Pest control, natural products

The first plan in answering the question "How to kill bed bugs?" is to get a plan of attack. Get information. The way you do things in and round the house will probably need to change and this will require some sort of coordinated, well-thought-out plan.

Cleaning comes first. Since pesticides are not overly effective in killing them, to get rid of these irritating bugs, you first need to vacuum the mattress and box spring. This will suck up any bugs or eggs that are still on the surface. After vacuuming the surface, (A HEPA vacuum cleaner is the best, because you don't want to disperse the bugs or dust mite particles.)

A HEPA Vacuum Cleaner captures over 99 % of allergy particles in its filter. Other vacuum cleaners will allow allergy particles to escape and scatter into the air while vacuuming. HEPA Vacuum Cleaners come in a variety of types, from an upright HEPA Vacuum Cleaner to Canister HEPA Vacuum Cleaners to Handheld Cordless HEPA Vacuum Cleaners. Make sure to wipe your bed frame with rubbing alcohol to kill the bugs. Next, use a steam cleaner to clean the mattress and the box.In addition, get a mattress cover that entirely encloses the mattress (cloth is more comfortable and more secure). It should be designed to keep bed bugs out. Put one on the mattress and one on the box springs. If there are critters inside, the bed bugs will not be able to have a bite on you and will die within 18 months. For more info see

Once you've done this, eliminate any stray adult bugs you might see. If possible, buy neem oil This is effective against bed bugs, but not an infestation. Neem oil kills bed bugs, but is also a repellent. So all the bed bugs will usually do is run and hide from it for a while, and the insecticidal action only lasts for a week or so. Unfortunately the same is true for most other sprays. If it is a repellent as well, and many insecticides are, it won't eliminate the problem.

Infested areas should be vacuumed carefully with a brush attachment. Afterwards, get rid of the vacuum bag and check the brush attachment for bed bugs

Dry clean your clothing but let the dry cleaner know it may carry bed bugs, and make sure that the bags you bring them back to your house in are air-sealed, as most dry cleaner bags aren't.

Decide whether you are going to use a Pest Control operator but ensure he is licensed and that he has a clear understanding of bed bug infestations as opposed to other types of infestation. Bag and seal your clothing before the exterminator comes. Note:bed bugs usually require two or more visits from a professional firm. The exterminator should come back two weeks after the first treatment, and if you see bugs in the ensuing two weeks after the second visit, get him back, until two weeks pass and you see no live bugs, and experience no bites. The eggs take time to hatch and the sprays do not kill the bugs, so check for new bugs (this happens within two weeks). Follow the professional advice you are given to the letter.

Then the mattress needs to be totally sealed with a special cover or thrown out.

Once you have cleaned everything, if you want to avoid pesticides, consider using a natural product like diatomaceous earth (see link for this product at end of this lens). Apply the diatomaceous earth along the corners, carpet straight edges, mattress seems, anywhere that bed bugs may hide or have to walk through to get to you.

And then you can use neem oil on yourself for extra protection

Bed bugs do not like sunlight and will avoid it- so bring it to them! Once you've done your bed-bug elimination steps and the cleaning, air and beat your mattresses in the sun every so often. Note: Bed bugs are most active mornings just before sunrise, when most of us are still in bed.

HEPA Vacuum cleaners-add one to your bed bug arsenal

Eureka Sanitaire True HEPA Commercial Vacuum Cleaner

Eureka Sanitaire SC5815A TRUE HEPA Upright Vacuum Cleaner

Miele S4 Galaxy S4780 Orion Canister HEPA Vacuum Cleaner - Free Shipping

Bed bug bites:how to fight back (2)

Steamers and steam cleaning

One of the ways we mentioned above to deal with an infested mattress is to steam-clean it.

Bed bugs were pretty common in the U.S. before World War II and became rare after widespread use of the pesticide DDT began in the 1940s and 1950s. Some people still opt for the pesticide option but my advice is to leave that in the hands of a trained Pest Control operator because pesticides in the house can cause you worse ailments than bed bug bites !

The advantage of steam cleaning is that it is a natural and chemical-free method of cleaning. But there are some warnings you should note : since water temperature needs to rise to 100 Degrees Celsius before becoming steam, you could easily burn yourself ! So, yes, ensure, the steam is hot enough, and avoid excess moisture which could lead to mould, but don't fry yourself.

Fill the steamer with water whilst it is unplugged and don't open the top when it is plugged in.

After you fill up the jug with water you're going to have give the water the specified time to turn into steam. Give it time to heat itself and don't go poking around the nozzle trying to figure out why it doesn't work. Generally, follow the instructions of your particular model

Some well-rated steam cleaners are included in this lens. See below.

If you can't afford a big top-range one, get a hand-held. If you can' afford that, consider taking the mattress out regularly, airing it in the SUN and beating it with a vengeance! You can get bed-bug traps too for the legs of your beds -see the Plexo voting list of products in this lens.

WhiteWing Steamer - Vapor Steam Cleaner
WhiteWing Steamer - Vapor Steam Cleaner

Voted "Best value mid-range single tank cleaner"

Haan MS-30 Multi-Purpose Steam Cleaner
Haan MS-30 Multi-Purpose Steam Cleaner

Compact; any type of cleaning task. Reaches 212 Degrees F.

Haan Allpro Handheld Steam Cleaner with Attachments
Haan Allpro Handheld Steam Cleaner with Attachments

Reaches 212 Degrees fahrenheit. Nice hand-held.


Get this natural pest eradicator

Diatomaceous Earth Crawling Insect Killer 1 lb: HY

"New York is crawling with bed bugs"

And now for something else: check out this Radio New Zealand audio cast:

Sniffing out bed bugs"

For U.K/Europe customers

Dyson DC14 Vacuum Cleaner

Prevention of Bed Bugs

From the foregoing, it goes without saying that Prevention really is better than cure.

To prevent future bed bug infestations, get your mattresses wrapped in zip-up bed encasements available from allergy supply companies, with duct tape over the zipper. Mattresses can also be wrapped and sealed in plastic film.

Think twice about picking up second-hand furniture, bedding, mattresses or beds from garage sales! Inspect and clean them before bringing them home. When you travel, inspect the mattress and headboard in the hotel room, do not bring your pillow from home, and keep your travel cases maybe in the bath or a metal-legged chair away from the bed.

European customers: Bed Bug Guard -Double

Click Here for Bed Bug Guard (U.K or Europe)

Protect-A-Bed AllerZip Mattress cover

for European customers

Protect-A-Bed AllerZip Mattress cover-Single Size

Neem Oil:Europe/U.K customers

Dear Reader - Please consider rating this lens if you found it helpful, and contact me or leave feedback on the guest book with suggestions.

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      You can also get some bed bug kits online that have everything you need, like this one:

    • lisasboutique profile image


      8 years ago

      Gosh never knew bed bugs were so easy to be transferred from person to person. They seem like they love people, so getting rid of them will be interesting - sure hope we never have them:)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      thanks for sharing, valuable squidoo lenses are really rare

    • covenantguy lm profile imageAUTHOR

      covenantguy lm 

      8 years ago

      @Demaw: good on yer

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      thanks for the great info on those nasty little critters

    • covenantguy lm profile imageAUTHOR

      covenantguy lm 

      9 years ago

      @Demaw: DId you find a cotton mattress cover? If so, tell us about it!

    • Demaw profile image


      9 years ago

      I need to do preventive measures for my mattress, I really do like the plastic mattress cover so I will try to find a thick cotton type. 5*


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