HealthLinkBC File #95, March 2013
- What is a bed bug?
- Are bed bugs a health concern?
- What are the symptoms of a skin infection?
- What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?
- How do I know I have bed bugs?
- How can bed bugs be prevented?
- How can I get rid of bed bugs?
- For More Information
What is a bed bug?
The common bed bug is a small, reddish-brown insect. Bed bugs are oval shaped with flattened bodies. The size of a bed bug is 5 to 7 mm long or 3/8 of an inch. They are usually no bigger than a lady bug.
Bed bugs feed on the blood of humans and animals to survive. Unlike some parasites, such as fleas or lice, bed bugs do not live on their hosts but only visit them to feed. Bed bugs are most active at night. A bed bug bite is similar to a mosquito bite. It is painless and may result in a small, red, itchy bump. However, many people have no reaction at all.
Bed bugs cannot fly and prefer to hide close to their hosts when not feeding. Bed bugs can live for up to a year without feeding. They can be found in homes, apartments, hotels, shelters, and student dormitories. Bed bugs can also hide on clothing or in luggage when you travel. These can be brought to places like your home or hotel.
Are bed bugs a health concern?
There is no evidence that bed bugs spread disease to people. They are more of a nuisance than a health concern. However, public health officials remain concerned about bed bugs because of the possibility of secondary infections. There is a risk that you could get an infection when you scratch the area of the bite.
The reaction from the bite usually goes away within hours or days without treatment. Applying an antiseptic lotion or antibiotic cream to the area can help prevent infection and ease symptoms.
In addition to skin irritations, bed bug infestations may cause some people anxiety, stress and insomnia.
What are the symptoms of a skin infection?
Symptoms of an infection can include:
- Pain, swelling, redness, or warmth around the area;
- Red streaks extending from the area;
- Pus draining from the area;
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin; or
- Fever or chills with no other known cause.
If you have symptoms, contact your health care provider or call 8-1-1 to speak to a registered nurse.
What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?
While some people do not react at all to bed bug bites, others may have allergic reactions, such as small local skin reactions. In rare cases, some people may have severe allergic reactions.
Allergic sensitivity in a person may increase the more they are bit.
If your symptoms cause concern or get worse, see your health care provider.
How do I know I have bed bugs?
If you notice that you have bite marks on your body, especially around your face, neck, upper body, arms and hands, you may have bed bugs. To know for sure that you have bed bugs you can look for the following signs:
- Dark spotting and staining on your sheets, mattress, pillow, carpets, and clothing. The staining is from their excrement and blood from crushed insects when feeding.
- Molted skins, excrement and eggshells where bed bugs hide. In severe cases, you may notice an offensive, sweet, musty odour from their scent glands.
Although bed bugs can move quickly, try to find and collect one for identification. Correct identification of the bug will help to determine the most effective treatment.
During the day, bed bugs tend to hide close to where they feed – for example, where people sleep. Bed bugs do not have nests, but they do tend to gather and hide in certain places.
Finding the areas where bed bugs hide also helps confirm areas in your home that need treatment. You should check or inspect the following areas:
- All furniture, especially bedroom furniture, including mattresses and box springs. Take the furniture apart for closer inspection and possible treatment if necessary.
- Under and behind furniture such as chairs, couches and dressers. It may be necessary to remove the dust covers on chairs and couches. Pull drawers out of dressers and check the inside. Check under lamps on nightstands.
- Cracks and crevices along baseboards and walls.
- Torn or loose wallpaper, decorative borders, and behind paintings and pictures.
Contact a pest control professional or your local health authority if you think there are bed bugs in your home.
How can bed bugs be prevented?
The best way to prevent bed bugs is to keep them out of your home in the first place. To prevent bed bugs from entering your home:
- Do not bring infested items into your home. Closely check or inspect your luggage and clothing and the luggage and clothing of your guests, especially after travel to other countries. Infestations can often be traced to international travel in Asia, South/Central America, Africa, and Europe.
- When travelling, check the place you are staying, such as your hotel room, for signs of bedbugs. Look for blood spots, feces, and molted skins, especially on mattress seams. Place your luggage in a sealable plastic bag to prevent bed bug entry and store it off the floor, such as in the bathtub, hung in the closet, or on a luggage stand, until the unit is checked.
- Regularly clean your home, including vacuuming your mattress, and cleaning up clutter to reduce the number of places bed bugs can hide. Although regular housecleaning can help prevent bed bugs, even the cleanest homes and hotels can become infested.
- Check second-hand furniture and bedding for bed bugs before you bring them into your home.
- Ensure cracks and crevices in the exterior of your home are repaired.
- Install or repair screens to prevent birds, bats or rodents from entering your home and serving as hosts for bed bugs.
How can I get rid of bed bugs?
There are non-chemical and chemical options for treating bed bug infestations. Often, both types of treatments will be required to successfully remove bedbugs.
Non-chemical ways to treat bed bugs include:
- Vacuum all possible places with bed bugs, including the mattress, box spring, and bed. Use a scrub brush to remove bed bugs and eggs from the seams of mattresses. Empty the vacuum cleaner into a sealed plastic bag and throw out immediately in a lidded garbage can. Wash nozzles and brushes in hot water with detergent.
- Wash dirty bedding and clothing in hot water (60°C/140°F) and laundry detergent and/or dry your clean clothes, stuffed animals and small non-washable items in a clothes dryer for at least 30 minutes at a hot temperature setting greater than 40°C/104°F.
- Items that cannot be washed with hot water or put in the dryer, can be steam cleaned. Bed bugs die at 50°C/122°F and steam cleaners generally produce steam at a temperature of at least 100°C/212°F. Dry steam or low vapour steamers are better because they leave behind less moisture. Steam will only kill the bedbugs that it touches, so move the steam cleaner slowly to maximize depth. Avoid excess moisture, which could lead to mould.
Chemical ways to treat bed bugs include:
- Spray, liquid, and dust products are available at retail stores. It is very important to ensure the products are registered specifically for bed bugs. Directions for use of chemical products should be followed carefully.
- Health Canada regulates pesticides in Canada. Before buying any pesticide, check the label to see if it has a Pest Control Products (PCP) registration number. If it does not have a PCP registration number, do not buy or use it.
- Trained and qualified pesticide professionals should be consulted for applying chemical treatments.
Pest control professionals:
- Assistance from trained pest management professionals is recommended for identifying bed bug infestations, and for providing treatment options and monitoring treatment effectiveness.
- Building owners should check municipal by-laws before trying to treat infestations on their own.
- Pest control companies often use chemical insecticides. More than 1 application will likely be necessary.
For More Information
For more information on how to get rid of bed bugs, visit the Health Canada web page "How do I get rid of bedbugs?" at www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/pest/part/protect-proteger/bedbugs-punaises-lit/rid-elimine-eng.php
To find a licensed pest control company in your area visit the Canadian Pest Management Association website at www.pestworldcanada.net/cpma/.
For more HealthLinkBC File topics, visit www.HealthLinkBC.ca/healthfiles/ or your local public health unit.
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