Though they’ve increasingly made news in the past few years, Bed bugs have been around and causing problems with people for thousands of years. In fact, the oldest known bed bug fossil was found in an Egyptian archeological dig and dates to about 3,500 years ago. Even the early Greeks and Roman had writings mentioning these pests. In more recent history there had been a major decline in bed bug infestations which many had attributed to the widespread use of pesticides like DDT, the introduction of the vacuum cleaner in the home, and improvements in home building, cleaning and upkeep.
Although these pests seem to have been following humans around for millennia, they are a preventable nuisance if you adhere to tip from the CDC and bed bug information released by the EPA such as regular cleaning of clutter, vacuuming, using monitoring devices, sealing cracks/crevices and correct application of effective chemical and non-chemical pesticides.
Following the EPA’s program of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) will help to ensure the continued safety of you and your family when dealing with the prospect of insect and pest infestations. Your individual state, local or regional government may have their own website devoted to IPM if you’d like to know more on the subject.
It is a common concern of many that bed bugs will carry and/or transmit diseases to humans or lead to an epidemic. Although there have been recent news reports about bedbugs carrying MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), Hepatitis B and other ailments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found no proof bed bugs can transfer diseases to people.
Bed bugs may not transmit disease but infestations do pose significant public health risks. The CDC-EPA Joint Statement on Bed Bug Control makes note that bed bug bites can cause allergic reactions for some people and in rare cases can lead to anaphylaxis. There is also a risk of secondary skin infections including ecthyma, lymphanigitis and impetigo which could arise from the bites. Bed bug infestation can lead to potential mental health risks as well including sleeplessness, insomnia, anxiety and stress related ailments.
It is important to note that when combating a bed bug infestation, you must make sure to check your home and personal effects thoroughly, continue treating and monitoring your home as necessary, allow enough time for any and all pesticides to work, and following up on treatments within an appropriate frame of time. It is possible for pests, including bed bugs, to have resistances to some specific type of pesticides. As such, it is important to find proven effective means of dealing with an infestation.
Bed bugs go through five stages before reaching adulthood. These five stages are known as Nymph stages as bed bugs do not have any larval stages of development. It can take up to four months of feeding and molting before the bed bug reaches adulthood. This molting process is one of the noticeable signs of a bed bug infestation when making visual inspections of a home to assess pest problems. Bed bugs are predominantly nocturnal and very tiny (approx 1/4” long at adulthood) so it can be hard to spot them visually during earlier stages of infestation. Dr. Changlu Wang of Rutgers University (a specialist in insect behavior, resistance, and urban pest management) has performed numerous tests on the efficacy of various bedbug detection systems and early warning systems showing them to be an efficient and important step in prevention.
The lifespan of the bed bug is approximately 10 months to a year, during which time an adult female will lay up to 500 eggs during her life if well fed. Given how hard they are to spot by eye and how many eggs just one female will lay, it is easy to see how an infestation can go from a minor nuisance to a major problem if not prevented or eradicated. A major issue in the transportation leading to bed bug infestation is travel and hotel use. The Bedbug Registry public database is a great source of information when planning a vacation so that you minimize any chance of bringing unwanted pests home with you. Using travel protection products such as suitcase encasements and zippered draw liners will greatly decrease the chances of bed bugs seeking shelter in your clothing and personal items.
Following important guidelines, visual inspection directions, keeping informed of outbreaks and using prevention and detection products will help ensure that your home and family stay safe and free of bed bugs. These pests have been around for thousands of years and will continue to be a part of our lives but that doesn’t mean they need to be an active part of your life. The old adage “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” will ring true by actively maintaining your home, monitoring for those early stages and preventing these pests from ever starting their attack on your home.
Click here to read the Rutgers bed bug fact sheet (English)
Click here to read the Rutgers bed bug fact sheet (Spanish)
Click here to read about bed bug biology