Bedbug Feeding
Credit: CDC Image

When you were little, there's a good chance your parents told you, “Don’t let the bedbugs bite!” If you’re anything like me, you may have gone much of your life thinking that bed bugs weren’t real, just crazy bedtime monsters created to ruin your childhood. Then, upon learning that bed bugs are in fact real, you didn’t think you’d ever have a run-in with them. Well, as a former pest controller, I’m here to tell you that bedbugs are very real and the chances of encountering them are increasing all of the time!

Bedbugs were nearly eradicated due to a chemical called DDT, which was banned when it was discovered that DDT is very harmful to the environment. However, with that ban came a second chance for bedbugs, which have come back with a vengeance, due in large part to increased global travel.

In case you are wondering, here are a few physical features that can help you identify bedbugs:

  • Oval shaped and flat bodies
  • Reddish-brown in color and almost translucent before feedings; nearly black after meals
  • Can grow to about ¼ inch long
  • Abdomen that looks banded (segments)

Bedbugs are most active at night, though they will go to work during the day if conditions are right (I witnessed this at an assisted living center where a resident rarely left his bed). These critters have a preference for human blood and can reproduce relatively fast. Bedbug infestations will be accompanied by droppings (blood spots) and small, white eggs.

Another identifying factor comes from the bite patterns. While other insects, like fleas or mosquitoes, will bite randomly, bedbug bites will show up in a linear pattern—where the body first makes contact with the mattress. Bedbugs don’t like to travel farther than they have to for their meal, thus they don’t tend to crawl all over a host.

While there are no known diseases transmitted through bedbug bites, psychological distress can be a major problem. People are often left feeling dirty and helpless when they find out they have a bedbug infestation. This leads me to my next point- bedbug infestations are not reflective of cleanliness! They aren’t picky, as long as there is a meal provided.

So how can one prevent them from hitching a ride home? Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t buy second-hand items like furniture or clothing. Or at the very least, inspect them thoroughly before bringing them home. And by thoroughly, I mean every corner, every seam, and every gap. I’ve seen bedbug nymphs wedged in the face of a screw. That’s a tight space!
  • When checking into a hotel room, place your luggage and other items in the bathtub (bedbugs can’t climb in because of the slick surface). Then inspect around the bed including curtains, lamps and lampshades, under phones, clocks, nightstands and the mattress & frame. When inspecting the mattress, be sure to inspect all folds.
  • Be on the look out for places that have had bedbug activity. Places like movie theaters and auditoriums are good places to pick up bedbugs.
  • If family or friends have had activity, inspect yourself before entering your own home after visiting. It might not be a bad idea to throw your clothes into a washer immediately. Wash and dry with hot temperature settings. (Warning: can damage clothes, so proceed with caution!)

Now if you already suspect that you have bedbugs in your home, I recommend calling a pest management professional to inspect and confirm. They can then recommend a course of action in treating them. There are a variety of treatment options, including chemical and thermal solutions. It is often expensive and a difficult process to get rid of bedbugs, but you’ll be happy you did.