Bed bugs are small, (think Lincoln’s head on a penny), flat, brick-colored, wingless parasites that dine on animal and human blood. (They can survive several months at a time without a meal!) Avid travelers, they show up world-wide where people sleep, and don’t discriminate between lodgings (that includes five-star hotels — and the cleanest of homes.) Bed bugs hitch a ride and hide, which means they can stow away in luggage that you bring back home. In a bedroom, they’re known to journey more than 100 feet in one night, even though they tend to live within eight feet of where people snooze. Dirt is not so much a factor, but what they do like are areas behind wallpaper, bed frames and box springs, mattress seams, cracks, crevices, and clutter.
The good news is that bed bugs don’t spread disease, but the bad news is that they can cause itching, leading to sleepless nights. If bitten (bite marks can take up to 14 days before they’re visible), scratching can also increase one’s chance of getting a secondary infection, or an allergic reaction that can range from minor (like swelling) to severe anaphylaxis, which requires immediate medical attention (but that’s rare).
Bed bug signs/symptoms:
- Finding bugs (or their remains after molting) in mattress folds or sheets
- Rust-colored blood spots left on the bed or furniture
- Small body bite marks
- Sweet, musty odor
Battling bed bugs:
- Use a mattress protector to keep bed bugs out.
- Inspect your mattress, box spring, and sheets often.
- Wash bed sheets once a week in hot water.
- Vacuum out luggage once back home. Wash travel clothes asap — separate from other laundry.
- Clear clutter; avoid clothes pile up by laundering, folding, and storing right away.
- If bitten, avoid scratching. Apply an antiseptic to the bitten area, and (barring any drug interaction, with your doctor’s advice) take an antihistamine. Seek medical help immediately if your bite reaction is severe (like unusual swelling or shortness of breath).
While non-chemical methods, plus professional pesticides are options to help eliminate bed bugs (www.epa.gov has several options and resources), the best prevention against bed bugs is regular inspection. Don’t invite these guys along for the ride in the first place.
By Lisa Miceli Feliciano