Bed bugs can thrive in a variety of locations, including homes, hospitals, delivery trucks, and dorms. Human blood is the food of choice for these parasites, and signs of bed bug infestation can flourish for months unbeknownst to the host.
Although unable to transmit pathogens to humans, bed bugs can cause skin irritation and soreness, as well as obvious mental and emotional stress. The best defense against this sly pest is identification and detection.
What is a Bed Bug?
Bed bugs are nocturnal parasites that typically prey on human hosts while they sleep. A numbing and anticoagulant agent found in bed bugs saliva allows the human host to remain undisturbed while the parasite feeds.
Adults typically measure ¼-inch long and are wingless with a flat head and brown in color.
During the day, these parasites lay dormant in tiny cracks and crevasses throughout a home or property. It is only at night when they rise to feed on the blood of unsuspecting humans.
Females can lay up to 500 eggs in their lifetime and can store male sperm for up to six weeks. Pregnant females are commonly transported to new sites by unknowing human hosts.
This practice has earned these parasites the title of “the ultimate hitchhiker”. Once established, adult bed bugs can live six to seven months without a blood meal, and can survive without humans by attacking rodents and birds.
Because bed bugs can easily find refuge in the smallest nook of a home, detection is often very difficult. To complicate matters, many homeowners may not realize they have an infestation for months, as these parasites feed only while their host sleeps.
Early infestations often go ignored and it is only when the infestation is overwhelming that a professional is finally sought.
Early detection is always the cheapest and most successful solution. Specialized bed bug-detecting canines are used for early infestation detection. These hounds can detect an infestation as small as a single insect.
Sticky traps and other monitoring devices present cheaper, yet less effective alternatives.
Although the most efficient method of eradication is with a pest control professional, there are basic steps that homeowners can take to optimize their chances of complete eradication.
When these parasites are found, the first reaction of many homeowners is to immediately purchase an insecticide. However, unlike cockroaches and other pests, insecticides do not easily stick to bed bugs.
Rather, the first step should be the physical removal of as many bed bugs as possible. This means vacuuming all carpets and furnishings in the affected area.
When finished, take the vacuum bag and seal it in a plastic container, then freeze it for at least a week before disposal.
Next, wash all clothes and sheets with a borax additive and dry on high heat. Be sure to inspect all places where clothes are stored (dresser, laundry basket, etc.) for pests.
With such a cryptic critter on the rise, it is important to stay protected. Regularly washing your bedding, and being wary of any temporary skin irritation or rashes are basic guidelines in the battle against these parasites.
However, without the help of an expert, it is virtually impossible to be sure one’s home is free from this pest.