How to Prevent (Avoid) Getting Bed Bugs
Bed Bug Basics
The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius ) doesn't spread infection and isn't considered a public health hazard, but who wants bed bugs? Some folks never know they have been bitten, but most people are allergic and notice something wrong 12 to 24 hours later. The reaction can range from something like a mosquito or flea bite to a wheal to rarely anaphylactic shock.
Most often the biggest danger is scratching the itch and causing a secondary infection that would need a doctor visit for antibiotics. The itch can be treated with antihistamines or cortisone cream. The bite will disappear on its own within two weeks.
It's impossible to tell a bed bug bite from other insect bites by looking at it. The sneaky devil numbs you with his own anesthetic as he feeds on your blood for 5 to 10 minutes usually in the hour before dawn, so you won't know you've been bitten until you get the allergic reaction.
If you suspect bed bugs, check bed clothes and mattress seams and tags and any crevices at least credit card-wide within 8 feet of your bed. Although our featured pest tends to live within 8 feet of his feeding area, he will travel up to 100 feet, following exhaled CO2 and body heat, for a meal. Bed bugs can't jump or fly, but they are fast.
A magnifying glass and a flashlight can be useful in finding these accomplished hiders. Catch them on a piece of clear packing tape which you then affix to an index card for later expert identification.
Adult bed bugs are a 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch (.5 cm) reddish brown flat oval. They have dark stripes that run from side to side and may have a dark central spot if they have fed recently. You can see pictures and learn more than you ever cared to know about dealing with bed bugs including getting rid of them at epa.gov/bedbugs.
Bed bugs are typically found in clusters of adults, nymphs (smaller and lighter), eggs (think sesame seeds), shed skins, and feces (rusty or black spots).
Preventing an Infestation
Hotels are one place you can pick up a bed bug hitchhiker. On arrival, check mattress seams for bed bugs. If you find any, ask for a different room. In any case, keep your suitcase on a metal rack or table away from the bed and off the floor or even in the bathroom. Never unpack clothes into hotel drawers.
Once you get home, wash your clothes in hot water or put dry clothes in a loosely packed dryer on "high" for 20 minutes. Dry cleaning is also effective. Vacuum your suitcase and immediately put the sweeper bag outside in the garbage.
To further protect your home, start by being very wary of used furniture. I called a respected local exterminator this morning who told me all the places he's treated got their bed bugs by way of used furniture. If you must have used furniture, inspect it closely before bringing it into your home. Though bed bugs tend to feed every five days, they can live for over a year without feeding, so have no trouble surviving a brief stay in a second-hand shop.
Apartment dwellers should plug cracks in walls and around pipes, base boards and moldings to prevent bed bugs from entering from neighboring apartments.
A general prevention measure is to encase your mattress, box springs and pillows to keep bed bugs from hiding there. Encasements are readily available at bedding stores and by internet. Inspect incasements weekly for tears.
Having bed bugs is not associated with poor housekeeping or a lack of cleanliness. The posh Upper East Side of Manhattan has a bed bug problem. Though, if you have the little pests, eliminating cluttter helps do away with their hiding places.