If you have bed bug bites, it’s the first sure fire sign of a bed bug infestation. Bed Bugs are at an epidemic level in the United States since their near eradication decades ago. Female bed bugs can lay up to 5 eggs a day and can surpass 500 eggs in their lifetime. Throw in their ability to survive without feeding for up to 12 months, and you have one resilient pest that can multiply with speed. In fact, since 2006 it’s estimated that there are over $250 million dollars spent every year specifically on bed bug eradication. Here we will discuss some history of bed bugs, how to identify them, how to treat bed bug bites and options for managing a bed bug infestation.
WHAT ARE BED BUGS?
Bed Bugs are small, flat, oval-shaped insects generally brownish in color. They are about the size of a grain of rice but can swell when they have fed. Bed bugs consume the blood of humans or animals as their food source and can drink up to 6 times their own body weight in a single feeding. While they do bite their host through an elongated beak when feeding, the host will generally not feel any pain. This may also have to do with the fact that Bed Bugs hide during the day, and are most susceptible to feed in the middle of the night when you are in REM sleep and less likely to be woken. Mattresses, Box Springs, and Bedding make ideal nesting places for bed bugs as they provide numerous hiding places and a food source at their optimal feeding time.
Bed Bugs cannot fly but are quick to hide in any crevice or small hiding space. They can also move quickly across floors and walls making it nearly impossible to catch them. They multiply quickly and constantly having the ability to lay up to 500 eggs over a 12 month period. What can start out as a small number can quickly manifest into an infestation by the thousands. The insects will shed the skins in the areas they hide and can give off a musty odor. If you feel you may have bed bugs, getting an early diagnosis and treatment is key.
Bed Bugs are not an indicator of a dirty or unsanitary home. Many of the world’s most immaculate hotels are constantly fighting bed bug problems. People who travel can transport bed bugs from the location of an infestation to their home via luggage and clothing. It’s also very common for used mattresses and furniture to be the culprit of a bed bug problem.
The recent growth in bed bugs may be attributed to the EPA forbidding the use of a pesticide called Propoxur indoors. Propoxur was an effective treatment of the insects as it continued to kill them for up to 5 days. However, concerns about the toxicity levels, and humans ability to absorb it through eating, breathing, and skin contact, made it too risky to continue using. Finding new chemical treatments that have the same level of success can take time.
BED BUG BITES
The difficulty with bed bug bites is that their look and severity can differ from person to person. The saliva left behind from the initial bite can cause severe itching and irritation. However, the irritation or allergic reactions from the bites generally do not present themselves until 7-10 days have passed. The look of the bites can take many forms. A single bite can be slightly raised which will make it look very similar to a mosquito bite. They may be in close proximity which makes it look like a single, uniformed area of irritation. They can also be clustered together as separate, small pinkish bumps. Amazingly, there are many who show no adverse effects from the bites at all. The irritation or welting is directly caused by an allergic reaction of which many people do not suffer.
A bed bug bite is not the cause of any disease directly, however, because they feed on the blood of animals such as rodents, dogs, and cats, it is possible for them to be carriers of any disease those animals may have. This includes MRSA, yellow fever, typhus, and others. When going to see a physician about a bed bug bite, it can be very common for a misdiagnosis. Bed Bug bites can look very similar to the bites of mosquitos, fleas, carpet beetles, and more. The only way to completely verify what type of bite it is would be to get a sample of the insect that has caused the bite.
To treat a bed bug bite, the first step is to wash the area with warm soap and water. The itching can be tamed with a calamine lotion or bentonite clay. You can also take an over the counter antihistamine as needed. If you feel you are suffering a severe allergic reaction or are having trouble breathing, immediately consult the help of a doctor or emergency room visit. Antibiotics or epinephrine can be administered to combat the allergic reaction.
DIAGNOSING BED BUGS
Having bed bug bites or itchiness when you wake up is likely your first indicator of an infestation, but what else can you look for? Bed bugs shed their skins leaving behind the remnants which remain visible and can be easily identified. The egg shells are also left behind once they hatch, however, a bed bug egg is very small so they may be harder to see with the naked eye. Small blood spots may be visible on your sheets and bedding from the bites you incur throughout the night. There may also be dark or rusty spots from actual bed bug fecal matter.
Diagnosing exactly where your infestation is, and in how many rooms is extremely important. If you treat one room, and they exist in another you haven’t treated, they will simply spread again. In the past, certified exterminators would come into your home to do a visual assessment of each room to identify the areas that needed treatment. However, the success rate of a human finding and visually identifying all problem areas left a less than desirable success rate. It also took a long time. Unidentified areas during an inspection can end up costing the home or facility owner thousands of dollars in re-treatment.
K9’s are a new method to sniff out the exact locations of a bed bug infestation. The same dogs that are used to sniff out drugs and weapons can be trained to detect bed bugs. These dogs can search an entire room in only a few minutes whereas this same inspection by a human may take hours. Once the dogs detect an area of concern, it is vital for the handler to make a visual confirmation of the bugs. If you are looking for a local extermination service, we recommend using one that specializes specifically in bed bugs and has certified bed bug inspection dogs.
BED BUG TREATMENT OPTIONS
Heat Treatment: Bed Bugs can be killed using extreme cold or heat. At a temperature range of 120 F – 150 F, bed bugs in all of their life stages (eggs, nymphs, and adults) will be killed. The goal is to bring the areas or items of infestation up to this kill zone temperature for an elongated period of time (2-3 hours). Anything below 14 F will also kill bed bugs, but getting your treatment area to maintain that extremely cold temperature for a time that is needed to kill all bugs has proven difficult. Heat treatment is also a natural solution that uses absolutely no chemicals. There’s no need to pre-treat anything with bug sprays, powders, or harmful pesticides.
Exterminators who specialize in bed bugs have commercial grade equipment that they can bring into your home and treat any room. For the most effective results, the extermination service will use a certified K9 to identify all areas of infestation with visual confirmation by the handler, and then utilize the heat treatment in all flagged areas. This solution is extremely effective but can be costly.
There are heat treatment products that can be sold directly to consumers for home use. ZappBug has 3 heater sizes to fit any of your infestation problems. These heaters all have a temperature range of 120 F – 150 F and have proven to kill all bugs.
ZappBug Heater is the smallest heater you can buy, and the most affordable. The unit is only 37.5″ x 23″ x 23″, easy to transport, and can be assembled by one person in under 10 minutes. The ZappBug Heater is designed to operate in residential or commercial locations using a separate 120v, 1500w power source. It operates unattended with a built-in timer that automatically shuts off the unit when the heating cycle has completed. The Heater is perfect for clothes, bedding, shoes, electronics, Children’s toys, books, files, papers, small luggage, and most other household items. Set it up, load it with items, and turn it on!
ZappBug Oven 2 is a step up from the ZappBug Heater in size but has all of the same features. This unit is 21.3 pounds, and 39.5″ x 39.5″ x 28″. Even though it is bigger in size, it is still easy enough for 1 person to put together in a short period of time. Instead of using a single power source, the Oven will require two separate circuits, one for each 1500 watt heater. This unit will allow you to treat luggage or furniture that is up to 39 inches wide, or it can treat smaller items in a single cycle.
ZappBug Room has the largest capacity of any portable bed bug heating system on the market today. Measuring 80″ x 11″ x 57.5″! You will be hard pressed to find an item that won’t fit in the ZappBug Room. This unit requires 4 separate 120v, 1500w power sources, and comes with all necessary extension cables. The Room is still easy enough for one person to construct and can be broken down and stored in minimal space in customized carrying bags. This unit can fit many items at once to reduce your time spent killing bed bugs, or it can tackle larger items like mattresses, couches, tables, chairs, and more.
Insecticides: The EPA currently has registered more than 300 products for use against bed bugs. The majority of these can be used by consumers, but there are a few registered for use by specially trained professionals. While there are liquids, powders, and other forms that can be used by yourself, we highly recommend using a professional service. When chemicals are applied from the homeowner, the risk of handling it incorrectly, or missing areas of treatment are high. This will result in more applications or calling the professional service anyways. All of these products fall into seven chemical classes of pesticides:
- Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids: These are the most commonly used compounds for indoor pest control. Pyrethrins are botanical whereas Pyrethroids are synthetic that act like Pyrethrins. Bed Bugs have become more resistant to these treatment options over the years.
- Desiccants: Items like Diatomaceous Earth and Boric Acid fall in this category. Desiccants dehydrate the bugs by removing their protective coating until they die. Bed bugs are also incapable of forming a resistance to them.
- Biochemicals: Neem Oil is the only Biochemical approved for use against bed bugs. Neem Oil is a naturally occurring pesticide found in seeds from the neem tree. Azadirachtin is the most active ingredient which reduces the insect’s ability to feed, and acts as a repellent.
- Pyrrole’s: Chlorfenapyr is the only pyrrole pesticide currently registered for use against bed bugs. The compound is a pro-insecticide meaning its biological activity depends on its activation to another chemical.
- Neonicotinoids: A new class of insecticides chemically related to nicotine which acts on certain kinds of receptors in the nerve synapse. They are very toxic to invertebrates, like insects, and are a good alternative when the bug has shown resistance to other pesticides.
- Insect Growth Regulators: Growth regulators alter an insect’s development into adulthood never allowing them to reach their full destructive capability.
Mattress, Box Spring, and Pillow Protectors: If you have yet to have a bed bug infestation, or have successfully treated an existing one, it is a very good idea to protect your mattress and box spring with lab certified protectors. There are many mattress and box spring protectors on the market that offer a variety of options including waterproofing, cooling technology, air flow, and more. These products will completely encase the mattress and box spring from all sides restricting access to bed bugs, dust mites, allergens, liquids, and bacteria. This is a very cost friendly way to eliminate a bed bug problem before it ever happens.
Bed Bugs have the potential to become a nuisance for every home, hotel, and office building in the country. Look for early warning signs such as bed bug bites, shells, and blood speckling on your sheets and act quickly. Find support from trained professionals using the latest methods in bed bug detection and treatment quickly, and protect yourself from further bed bug infestations.