Bed Bugs Treatment & Remedies

Bed Bug First

Since the mid-1990s, bed bugs have become a serious pest around the world, including North America. It is believed the increase in international travel, coupled with the banning of pesticides such as DDT, created the opportunity for bed bugs to spread and multiply.

Bed bugs can infest clean homes just as easily as unsanitary ones. They attach themselves to bedding and clothing, even furniture and luggage. Almost anything that comes into contact with bed bugs can help them spread. They can move between apartments via false ceilings and duct work.


Description

Bed bugs are insects of the order Hemiptera - True Bugs. The main species that affects humans in the US is the common bed bug, Cimex lectularius. Its close relative, the tropical bed bug, Cimex hemipterus, is found in southern states such as Florida.

The adults of both species are reddish brown in color. Their flat shape enables them to hide unseen in minute cracks when not feeding. The females are slightly larger than the males, growing to 0.2 inches long and 0.1 inches wide.

They can ingest up to six times their own weight in blood in one feed, so their abdomens quickly become bloated. Neither sex can fly.

Bed bugs emit pheromones to communicate information about nesting and feeding locations, as well as threats and for reproduction. These pheromones also enable them to congregate and if enough bed bugs are disturbed they may produce a distinctive pungent odor.

Bed bugs defecate regularly and abundantly, resulting in an unpleasant smell and the telltale brown spots on bed sheets.

These pests are remarkably hardy, making them difficult to eradicate. At low temperatures, adults can live for more than a year without feeding.

They can survive a wide range of temperatures, entering a state of semi-hibernation below 60°F. However, extended periods below 14°F or above 113°F will kill them.


Life Cycle

A bed bug starts life as a small white egg. After two weeks, a nymph will hatch which will go through five skin changes before becoming an adult. With each skin change, the shed skin is left behind, which is often an indicator of a bed bug infestation. Nymphs look similar to adults but are lighter in color.

To grow, a nymph must have at least one meal of blood between skin changes. Typically, they will feed daily but can survive for weeks between meals when necessary. If the conditions are right and food plentiful, a bed bug can reach maturity in as little as five weeks although two to three months is more normal.

After the final skin molt, males will seek out females for reproduction. With adequate food, a female can lay three to five eggs a day over a period of several months. In normal circumstances, a bed bug can live for between five months and a year. A female can lay up to 500 eggs in her lifetime.


Feeding habits

Adult bed bugs will usually feed every three to ten days, with nymphs feeding more frequently. It is estimated that it takes between five to ten minutes for a bed bug to complete its feeding.

Bed bugs find their victims by detecting a combination of carbon dioxide and body warmth, but can also be attracted by pheromones produced by other bed bugs. They prefer to feed on exposed areas of skin, such as the neck, face or arms, using a needle-like projection on their head to pierce the victim’s skin.

Blood pressure from the victim forces the blood into the bed bug. As they feed, they inject saliva that contains a mild anticoagulant into the wound.

Once engorged with blood, the pest leaves the victim to find somewhere safe to digest the meal. Bed bugs excrete droppings of blood, which may appear near the feeding site or some distance away.


Bites

For the majority of people bitten by bed bugs, the bites are of little consequence especially if they are few and do not even itch. Bites are often found in groups of three or four, an inch or so apart and frequently in a straight line.

Due to the injection of minute amounts of saliva into the wound, some people develop an allergic reaction. The severity of that reaction varies between individuals. For some, the bite may simply become an itchy red spot. For others, the bite can cause swelling, turn into blisters or even develop pus. Rashes can be caused by over-zealous scratching of the bitten area.


Diseases and effects

Bed bugs are not known to transmit any diseases. There is also no evidence of disease being transmitted from bed bug feces when scratching a bite.

Often, the greatest harm caused by bed bugs is psychological. Deprivation of sleep can have a profound effect on individuals. Coupled with the stigma of a bed bug infestation, these small pests can have a devastating impact on the quality of life of their victims.

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Identifying an Infestation

The first sign of an infestation is usually the bites themselves. The red spots may be confused with mosquito bites, so other confirmation is usually needed.

Small spots of dried blood on the sheets where the victim has been sleeping or along the seams of the mattress are good indicators. Both the top and underside of the mattress should be checked. A search may also reveal shed skins.

Individual bed bugs might be visible in the seams of mattresses, or even in cracks in walls near the bed. Eggs may be found during the search but their small size makes them difficult to spot.

At the first suspicion of bed bugs, many people call in professionals to do an inspection to confirm the pest's presence. The exterminator will determine the extent and severity of the problem and advise on the best course of action.

Interceptors using attractants, such as carbon dioxide or pheromones, are used by professionals to lure bed bugs into a trap. This is a good way to check for pests and removes the need to dismantle furniture to confirm if bed bugs are present.

Some pest controllers use specially trained dogs to detect bed bugs. The accuracy of a dog inspection is normally far higher than an unaided human inspection.


Treatments

Depending on the extent of the infestation, homeowners may decide to tackle the problem themselves or engage the services of an exterminator.

Due to the secretive nature of bed bugs and their resistance to several chemicals, more than one method of control is normally recommended for total eradication. It only takes one adult female to survive for the problem to reoccur several weeks or months later.

There are certain actions the homeowner can take. These may solve the problem completely or at least reduce the cost of professional treatment.


Do-It-Yourself Treatments

Launder all clothing and bed linen from the affected rooms at no less than 120°F and tumble dry at an equally hot setting. As bed bugs can easily fall off, care is needed when moving items from an infected room.

Articles of clothing that cannot be subjected to high temperatures can be placed with insecticide strips in plastic bags which are sealed for several weeks. The drawers and cupboards in affected rooms should be emptied, and all items removed, bagged and treated in the same way.

An alternative to bagging articles is to put them in any large chest freezer that can be set to 0°F. To be effective, the articles should be kept frozen for several days.

Treat mattresses with a suitable insecticide spray, paying special attention to seams and creases. After treatment, place them inside sealed bed bug proof covers.

Bed bugs can hide in cracks, corners and under woodwork. A thorough vacuuming can reduce the number of bugs and eggs. Remove the bag from the vacuum after use, place in a sealed plastic bag and dispose of immediately.

Many types of DIY bed bug kits are available. The growing resistance of bed bugs to certain insecticides makes it necessary to choose the right one for a given area. Fog bombs are rarely effective.

Passive interceptor traps are easy to use. They are placed between a bed bug’s resting place and the victim, for example at the bottom of or around the legs of a bed. A sticky substance traps any pests on their way to feed.

Food grade diatomaceous earth, also known as DE, is a safe form of control which kills bed bugs by damaging their outer shell. The powder can be scattered under a bed and is especially useful in less accessible places where it remains effective for several months.


Professional Treatments

Heat Treatment

Heat treatment is an effective removal method because bed bugs die when exposed to temperatures above 113°F.

Typically, mobile convection heaters are used to heat an affected room to above 120°F for several hours. Sensors are used to ensure all nooks and crannies reach the required temperature.

Household goods that may be damaged by the heat, such as books and plastics, must be removed from the room and treated separately.

Steam Treatment

The heat from steam treatment penetrates deep into fabrics to kill bed bugs and eggs without leaving harmful residues.

To be effective, the steamer must reach a higher temperature than is typically achievable in domestic appliances. It is possible to hire bed bug steamers but they are better handled by professionals.

Steam is not as effective as heat treatment and is best used in conjunction with other methods.

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Freezing Treatment

Freezing bed bugs is another efficient form of removal. Pest controllers use a carbon dioxide (CO2) spray which produces a dry ice ‘snow’ at roughly -80°F. As the ‘snow’ lands, the CO2 evaporates creating a rapid heat exchange. The resulting freezing temperature kills the bed bugs and their eggs immediately.

Fabrics or furnishings in the room will not be affected and even electrical goods can remain in place. No residue is left by the evaporating CO2.

Insecticides

As bed bugs are now resistant to certain pyrethroid-based insecticides, exterminators will suggest suitable alternatives.

Some bed bugs can detect insecticides and will leave the area to avoid them. Having the ability to survive for months without food, they can hide until all traces of the chemicals have gone only to re-appear and infect the home again.

In most cases, insecticides will be combined with other treatments.

Fumigation

Fumigation involves covering the home with a tarpaulin and pumping in a fumigant, such as Vikane gas. This is a disruptive process as the inhabitants need to leave the premises for at least two days.

The advantages of fumigation are that it has a high success rate and other pests are also killed. There is no residue, so it is safe to re-enter the dwelling once the gas has cleared.


Prevention

The best way to avoid a bed bug infestation is to exercise caution when traveling.

On arriving at a hotel room, place luggage somewhere bed bugs are unlikely to hide, such as in the bathtub. Inspect the bedding carefully for brown blotches or other signs of bed bugs.

On returning home, all clothing should be laundered at a suitably high temperature.

When accepting second-hand furniture carefully inspect it or check it has been treated.


Costs

Costs vary greatly depending on the type of treatment and the size of the property. The geographic location also has a big impact on price. It is wise to get three quotes from experienced exterminators and check what warranties are given.

An inspection may cost from $50 to $200. If a canine inspection is involved it can add $400.

A basic, single treatment for an average house will be about $1,500. Several treatments may be required.

Fumigation prices normally range from $4 to $7.50 per square feet.

Heat, steam and freezing treatment may be priced from $1,000 to $4,000 depending on the number of rooms involved.

Finally, do-it-yourself kits can start from as little as $20.