Every night our parents would tell us, “Good night, sleep tight…. and don’t let the bed bugs bite.” As a young child I wasn’t too sure how to combat a bed bug assault, and as an adult, I don’t feel we’re any more equipped. Home, hotels and even places of work get infested. So let’s break down this little critter.
What is a bed bug?
Bed bugs, most commonly Cimex lectularius, are insects that grow no larger than an apple seed.
Their life span on average is 4-6 months, although some can be dormant over a year.
Females may lay anywhere from 250-500 eggs in her lifetime, sometimes as often as 1-5 a day. The eggs hatch between 6-10 days and the baby nymphs are hungry and ready to feed when born. They will become adult bed bugs in approximately 7 weeks.
Bed bugs prefer warm blood meals and take 5-10 minutes to feed.
As they feed they may change shape and turn from a brownish color to red.
Image from Do My Own Pest Control
Do bed bug bites hurt?
Usually you do not feel a bed bug bite as it’s feeding. The bed bug injects a local anesthetic and anticoagulant so you don’t itch and bleed as it feeds. Once it leaves your skin, your immune system starts to wall off the germs that were introduced and tries to heal the bite damage. This may result in inflammation and itching.
Where do bed bugs hide?
Bed bugs can be found in virtually any setting where humans hang out. These include hotels, cruise ships, dormitories, apartments, homes, etc. They specifically like to hide in any of the following:
- box springs
- bed frames
- torn wallpaper
- picture frames
How can I tell if there is a bed bug infestation?
Bed bugs will leave their exoskeletons when they molt and many times excrement.
Where do bed bugs most commonly infest?
Each January, Orkin releases their “Top 50 Bed Bug Cities” list. In 2018, the top cities were:
2. Washington, D.C.
4. Los Angeles (+2)
5. Columbus, Ohio
6. Cincinnati (+2)
8. New York (-4)
9. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose
10. Dallas-Fort Worth (+5)
13. Atlanta (+3)
14. Cleveland-Akron-Canton, Ohio (-1)
15. Raleigh-Durham, N.C. (-3)
16. Richmond-Petersburg, Va. (-5)
18. Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News, Va. (+2)
19. Charlotte, N.C. (-3)
20. Buffalo, N.Y. (-2)
21. Knoxville, Tenn.
22. Nashville, Tenn. (+1)
23. Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek, Mich. (+4)
25. Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C.-Asheville, N.C.
26. Champaign-Springfield-Decatur, Ill. (+4)
27. Phoenix (-1)
28. Denver (-6)
30. Hartford-New Haven, Conn. (+1)
31. Charleston-Huntington, W.Va. (+5)
32. Boston (-4)
33. Syracuse, N.Y. (+7)
34. Dayton, Ohio (-2)
35. St. Louis (+2)
36. Seattle (-2)
37. Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (+9)
38. Flint-Saginaw-Bay City, M.I. (new to list)
39. Omaha, N.E. (-6)
40. Cedar Rapids-Waterloo-Dubuque, Iowa (-2)
41. San Diego (new to list)
42. Lexington, Ky. (+1)
43. Honolulu, Hawaii (+5)
44. Louisville, Ky. (-3)
45. Las Vegas (+4)
46. Greensboro-High Point-Winston Salem, N.C. (-4)
47. New Orleans (new to list)
48. Myrtle Beach-Florence, S.C. (-9)
49. Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla. (-14)
50. Albany-Schenectady-Troy, N.Y. (new to list)
Are bed bug bites dangerous?
Usually the bites are benign. One may, however, have an allergic reaction or get a secondary bacterial infection so bites should be managed as below.
How do you treat a bed bug bite?
Firstly, make sure your tetanus vaccination is up to date.
Secondly, when you notice the bites, wash them with soap and water as bed bugs carry dirt and other disease.
Thirdly, consult your medical provider if you have multiple bites, severe itching, pain, or feel sick.
Your medical provider may recommend hydrocortisone creams, anti-histamines and antinflammatories.
How do you avoid getting bed bugs?
- Inspect your home or hotel room for bedbugs by looking under mattresses, pillows, the sheets, behind the headboard and around where you will be sitting and sleeping.
- Keep all clothes off the floor. Suitcases should be placed on counter tops.
- Avoid clutter and tuck sheets tightly under the mattress. Yep that’s why hotels make the beds that way.
- Vacuum thoroughly around beds, mattresses, legs of furniture, corners, crevices, rugs and upholstered furniture.
- Wash bedding and clothes you think might be exposed in hot water.
- Consider having a pest control professional come out and take care of business.
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, and iHeart Radio.
She is also a Board Certified Family Physician and Assistant Professor at Touro University Nevada