How to Control Bed Bugs so They Can’t Bite You

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Posted on September 6th, 2010 by Sharon Gripp in Consumers, General

Kelly Over is our guest blogger for this week and last week and has been working part-time for our program on various projects. Looking ahead to starting her senior year as a Penn State Agricultural Business Management undergraduate student, Kelly got to thinking about this topic as all the students start moving back to college.

Last week, we introduced the bed bug epidemic to you, shared a National Pest Management Association study on pest management companies’ increase in bed bug related calls, and reviewed  the appearance of bed bugs.

So, did you check your sheets last week?

The bed isn’t the only place a bed bug might reside. Bed bugs tend to live in areas where humans might rest, sleep, or sit for long periods of time. “They can be found behind baseboards, wallpaper, upholstery, and in furniture crevices. Bed bugs are also known to survive in temporary or alternative habitats, such as backpacks and under the seats in cars, buses, or trains.”1 Of course, they might reside in box springs, mattresses, or any other part of the bed, hence the name “bed bug.”

Most research cites that increased travel and movement can partially attribute to the bed bug problem. Although bed bugs will not directly journey on human skin, they will travel on clothing, luggage, bags, and other items. With increased urbanization, the infestation is able to spread more quickly since more people are living closer together. Another popular myth is that a bed bug infestation is the result of terrible housekeeping or poor hygiene. Rather, bed bugs can be found anywhere, regardless of income or social status.

Inspect and Investigate: The First Step in Controlling Bed Bugs

I’m sure the real question on your mind is “How to do I prevent the bed bugs from biting?” Like any pest problem, the first step of IPM is to inspect and investigate. Bed bugs typically bunch together in favorable areas although that doesn’t mean that bed bugs won’t live on their own. Remember that bed bugs tend to stay in places where people sleep so look around everything in your bedroom: bed frames, mattresses, furniture, behind picture frames and clock, and even under carpet edges. Another very noticeable sign of bed bugs in the bedroom could be spots on sheets and other bedding. While feeding, beg bugs will sometimes deposit fecal matter (composed of digested blood).

Bed bugs can be difficult to spot, as the creature is rather small and able to fit into tight cracks. If the infestation is severe, the bed bug population will be much more obvious to spot when inspecting. Regardless of the size of the infestation, the University of Minnesota outlines what to do if you find bed bugs during inspection:2

“If at any time a bed bug is found; discontinue inspection and initiate control activity. Do not continue with the inspection alone, as bed bugs will move from their hiding places once disturbed. Further inspections must be accompanied by control measures.”

I Have Bed Bugs, What now?

If you have an infestation, what can be done to control it? It is recommended to hire a professional pest control company for assistance. A pest control company will provide a complete IPM approach including vacuuming and steam cleaning (mechanical controls), as well as insecticide applications (chemical controls.) Not only are the pest management companies becoming more experienced with bed bug treatments (as noted by the increased amount of applications in the National Pest Management Survey in last week’s blog), but the certain commercial pesticide products used for control are not available in over-the-counter products for consumers to purchase.

Follow These Prevention Tips

The following practices can also be used to help prevent a bed bug infestation:

  • Do not pick up other people’s mattresses, beds, or other furniture. As tempting as a free box springs or desk sitting on the curb might be, remember that bed bugs can be basically be found on any piece of furniture that was in the same room as the infestation. If you must have it, be sure to thoroughly inspect the piece of furniture or have a pest management professional do so before bringing it home.
  • When traveling, be sure to inspect luggage when arriving, changing, or leaving destinations. Bring a large plastic trash bag on your trip to store your suitcase at the hotel. Also be sure to check your hotel room for signs of bed bugs.
  • If you feel that your belongings have been infested with bed bugs during travel, separate infested items and place in plastic bags before leaving your travel site. “The key is to contain all items suspected of carrying bed bugs in plastic bags until the items can be laundered, washed by hand, heated, or frozen.”3
  • When returning home from travel, vacuum suitcase.
  • Conduct regular inspections for signs of bed bugs in areas where your pets stay.

Is There Any Good News?

If you are now still squirming in your seat about bed bugs, one “good” thing (and I did put good in quotes!) about these creatures is that they currently do not transmit any diseases to humans. “The Centers for Disease Control has hesitated to call the bed bug problem an epidemic because they do not spread disease.”4 Still, it is certain that the “supposed” bed bug epidemic does need to be monitored and controlled by sharing the proper information through education about bed bugs.

After all, your mother was right. You don’t want to let the bed bugs bite.

Until next time,
Be Safe!

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1. National Pest Management Association Inc. “Bed Bugs: National Pest Management Association Pest Guide” (http://www.pestworld.org/bedbugs).

2. University of Minnesota Extension. “Prevention and Control of Bed Bugs in Residences” (http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/housingandclothing/dk1022.html).

3. University of Minnesota Extension. “Help! I stayed at a place that had bed bugs! What can I do to prevent bringing them home?” (http://www.ipmctoc.umn.edu/Travellers_prevent_hitchhiking_bedbugs.pdf).

4. ResearchPennState. “Probing Question: Why Are Bed Bugs on the Rise?” (http://www.rps.psu.edu/probing/bedbugs.html)