This is the first blog of a 3-part series on bed bugs. This feature focuses on identification of bed bugs. The next two blogs will focus on treatment and prevention.
Where are they? Well, there is some great information out there in web-land regarding the various stages of their development to identify how they appear. Bed bugs can show up anywhere -- hospitals, businesses, homes, buses, apartments and hotels are just a few places where bed bugs are being reported. The good news? They can be detected with the human eye. And, they can also be detected by bed bug detection dogs (there are around 100 of these trained dogs in the U.S. according to Wikipedia) which can pinpoint infestations.
From where did they come? Some bed bug history notes they were documented in Germany (11th century), France (13th century), and England (15th century). England did not have bed bugs until the Great Fire of London in 1666, when it is believed bed bugs were brought in on loads of lumber to rebuild the city.
Why is there such a concern in the U.S. today? Bed bug infestations were common before WWII. According to Wikipedia, “with the arrival of potent pesticides, famously DDT in the 1940s, bed bugs almost disappeared in western countries. However, bed bug infestations have resurged in recent years, for reasons which are not clear, but contributing factors may be complacency, increased resistance, and increased international travel.”
One myth that should be cleared up: the presence of bed bugs has nothing to do with hygiene or poor housekeeping practices. A bed bug can hitch a ride on clothing, luggage, furniture, and even pets. And, they can live for up to a year without feeding.
What does a bed bug look like? Aside from bite symptoms, signs include fecal spots, blood smears on sheets, and moults. Bed Bugs are flat, brown, wingless and about 1/4 of an inch. Adult bed bugs are about 3/16-inch long and reddish-brown, with oval, flattened bodies. The following photo shows the growth stages, from egg to adult:
Development stages - Source: National Center for Healthy Housing
Here is some detailed information on how to identify a bed bug from the website: ca.uky.edu/entomology/entfacts/ef636.asp
Bed bugs do not fly, but can move rapidly over floors, walls, ceilings and other surfaces. Female bed bugs lay their eggs in secluded areas, depositing 1, 2 or more eggs per day and hundreds during a lifetime. The eggs are tiny, whitish, and hard to see on most surfaces without magnification (individual eggs are about the size of a dust speck). When first laid, the eggs are sticky, causing them to adhere to surfaces. As they grow, they molt (shed their skin) five times before reaching maturity.
Why are they a problem? A blood meal is needed between each successive molt. Under favorable conditions (70-80°F), the bugs can complete development in as little as a month, producing three or more generations per year. Cooler temperatures or limited access to blood extends the development time. Although the bed bug prefers feeding on humans, it will also bite other warm-blooded animals, including dogs, cats, birds and rodents.
Bed bugs are active mainly at night. During the daytime, they prefer to hide close to where people sleep. Their flattened bodies enable them to fit into tiny crevices — especially those associated with mattresses, box springs, bed frames and headboards. Bed bugs tend to congregate in habitual hiding places; characteristically, these areas are marked by dark spotting and staining, which is the dried excrement of the bugs. Also present will be eggs and eggshells, the brownish molted skins of maturing nymphs and the bugs themselves. Another telltale though less frequent sign is rusty or reddish blood smears on bed sheets or mattresses from crushing an engorged bed bug.
Bed bugs are resilient. Nymphs can survive months without feeding and the adults for more than a year. Infestations therefore are unlikely to diminish by leaving premises unoccupied. Bed bugs prefer to hide close to where they feed. However, if necessary, they will crawl several feet to obtain a blood meal. Initial infestations tend to be around beds, but the bugs eventually may become scattered throughout the bedroom, occupying any crevice or protected location. They also may spread to adjacent rooms or apartments.
Where can bed bugs be found? According to badbedbugs.com, here are some facts: These bugs love to hide in the seams of your mattress, but also may be found in areas such as
- Sofa seams
- Cracks in the bad frame and or head board
- Under chairs, couched, beds and dust covers
- Under rugs, edges of carpets, drawers, baseboards and window casings
- Behind light switches, electrical outlet plates, cracks in plaster
- Televisions, radio clocks and phones
- Backpacks, Sleeping bags, Cloths
- Behind wallpaper, picture frames and other dark areas
This website offers a checklist providing various locations to look for bed bugs in a hotel room, for those who travel regularly for your job or your own recreation. How do I find out about hotels where bed bugs have been reported? What about the apartment complex you live in? Go to http://bedbugregistry.com/ to find out.
For information on bed bug reporting world-wide, go to this link: http://www4.clustrmaps.com/counter/maps.php?url=http://www.ca.uky.edu/entomology/entfacts/ef636.asp
In the next blog, we will review the effects of bed bug bites and how to treat for bed bugs.
Suzanne Coleman is a Senior Risk Control Consultant with Westfield Insurance. She has almost 20 years experience in the insurance industry.