What Causes Bed Bug Infestations, And What Should You Do if You Have Bed Bugs?
Talking about bed bugs is, let’s be honest, a bit of a taboo — and because (almost) nobody would voluntarily share that they are in the process of tackling a bed bug infestation in their home, it is all too easy to form the wrong impression about these frightening pests. Yet, research has shown that most Americans are at least a little scared of bed bugs, and more specifically ending up with a bed bug problem themselves.
Whether you suspect that you could have bed bugs on your property already, or you would simply like to prepare yourself for the possibility of a bed bug infestation, it is always useful to learn more about these bugs. What causes bed bug infestations — and what can you do to prevent them? When you are covered in red marks or you believe you could have bed bugs already, how can you differentiate bed bugs from other pests, and what steps should you take if you are fairly certain that you have bed bugs in your home?
What Are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are a family of small, flat, parasitic insects that feed on the blood of humans and animals. The two types of bed bugs most commonly found in residential homes are Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus, which only feed on warm-blooded animals (including, potentially, your cat or your dog) and prefer humans. These pests can live in any area populated by people; besides North America, they are also found across South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
To be able to identify bed bugs within your home, a hotel, or on your luggage, it helps to know as much about them as possible. Here is a look at the physical characteristics and life cycle of bed bugs:
The fact that bed bugs are perfectly adapted to thrive in areas where people live makes it tricky to deal with an infestation. These insects are able to squeeze into tight spaces where you cannot get to them, even if you use a bug bomb in a bid to eliminate the infestation. Although they much prefer dark conditions, and almost always feed at night, keeping your lights on as you sleep certainly will not stop bed bugs from venturing out in search of their next meal. Bed bugs more easily mate in humid and warm conditions, but can survive in any temperature range besides prolonged freezing temperatures or high heat above 120 ºF. What’s more, vacating your home for a time will not solve a bed bug infestation you may have, as bed bugs can survive long periods of fasting without any trouble.
How Do Bed Bugs Impact Your Health?
Bed bugs are not, fortunately, known to spread any infectious diseases at present. That does not mean that these much-hated pests do not pose a danger to human health, however — far from it.
Almost everyone who is bitten by a bed bug will develop a localized skin reaction in the form of redness and itching, and multiple bites can cause more severe reactions. These milder reactions can be treated at home by using an antiseptic cream and an antihistamine.
Many people are also allergic to bed bugs, in which case symptoms ranging from hives to breathing difficulties and even (potentially-fatal) anaphylatic shock can follow. Furthermore, bed bug bites can become infected, necessitating medical attention.
The impact a bed bug infestation can have on a person’s mental health should not be underestimated, either. The stigma of such an infestation is joined by fear and disgust as people live with the knowledge that they will serve as a meal for these tiny parasites. Bed bug bites can be itchy and painful, and it is not uncommon to become sleep deprived or develop insomnia when a bed bug infestation is present in the home due to a combination of physical discomfort and mental distress.
Who Is at Risk of Developing a Bed Bug Infestation?
Many people associate bed bugs with poor hygiene and poverty, and may think that they reduce their risk of developing a bed bug infestation through immaculate housekeeping. This is, unfortunately, not true. Bed bugs care neither about your socioeconomic status nor about your level of cleanliness — unlike pests like rodents and cockroaches, they do not feed on your food scraps, but on you.
The scary reality is that almost anyone could find themselves confronting bed bugs within their home. However, some risk factors that make a bed bug infestation more likely include:
How Can You Prevent a Bed Bug Infestation In Your Home?
While no preventative action plan will guarantee that you will never have to deal with a bed bug infestation in your home, taking proactive steps can certainly decrease your risk.
The steps you can take within your home focus on reducing the risk that bed bugs will enter, as well as making conditions less hospitable for these pests. You can use mattress covers for all bedding in your home to reduce potential hiding spaces for bed bugs, and remove clutter around your bed. Choose sheets, blankets, and duvet covers with light colors such as white and beige to increase your chance of being able to spot the presence of bed bugs quickly if they have already invaded.
You can choose not to purchase second-hand goods that may harbor bed bugs — including not only more obvious products such as mattresses, couches, and upholstered chairs, but also suitcases, baby strollers, carpets, and even clothes.
If you live in multi-family housing, it is crucial to seal any cracks that connect your home with other units, like around electrical outlets and baseboards, to the best of your ability. Where applicable, discuss your options with your landlord or building management, as they are likely to have a bed bug policy in place already.
Especially cautious people living in areas known to have high bed bug infestation rates should additionally consider routinely inspecting their clothes for bed bugs when they arrive home, and laundering them right away regardless of whether any bugs are spotted.
Should you currently be house hunting, it is also crucial to inspect any new home you are considering moving into for bed bugs before you close the deal — this is one pest you most certainly do not want to inherent from a previous occupant!
While traveling, you can reduce your risk of encountering bed bugs and subsequently inadvertently bringing them home by:
What Are the Signs that You May Have a Bed Bug Problem in Your Home?
By routinely looking for signs of a bed bug infestation, you increase your chances of identifying bed bugs early, before the problem becomes severe — in turn making it easier to eliminate this pest from your home. The red flags that may indicate that you have a bed bug infestation include:
What Can You Do to Eliminate a Bed Bug Infestation?
Once a bed bug infestation has been confirmed by a professional pest control company, you can begin taking steps to remediate the problem. Many people will want to know if they can eliminate bed bugs on their own, using a Do-it-Yourself approach, instead of hiring professionals. Others will assume that, once they call in a pest management company, they will not need to actively be involved in the process.
The fact is that bed bugs are challenging to get rid of, even with the help of pest management professionals — and the most effective way to eliminate bed bugs is one that makes use of all possible resources. The Environmental Protection Agency calls this integrated pest management, and it requires everyone involved to play their own part.
The most successful bed bug management plan includes multiple steps:
How Do You Differentiate Between Bed Bugs and Other Infestations?
Some people — especially those who are terrified of bed bugs — may immediately assume that they have a bed bug infestation when they notice some of the possible signs. Their suspicions may prove to be right when they call a professional pest management company in, but the pest they are dealing with could just as easily prove to be of an entirely different nature. Bed bug infestations lead to some of the same physical symptoms and environmental signs as others, after all.
Some people think that they have bed bugs when they are instead dealing with:
Mold would be yet another possibility. Not all mold infestations are visible, as mold can accumulate in hidden spaces such as basements, attics, and crawl spaces. Even if you cannot see mold, you will very often be able to smell it — and just like bed bugs, mold produces a musty odor.
A mold infestation can cause a variety of health complications. Typical allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, a runny nose, and itchy, red, and irritated eyes would be the most common. Some people also develop a so-called mold rash when they are exposed to mold spores that have contaminated their air. A mold rash often manifests in the form of small, red, and raised blemishes that may leak fluid from their center. Some people will inevitably suspect a bed bug bite was the cause.
If, instead of bed bugs, you are dealing with another pest, your pest management company will uncover the true culprit and deal with it. Pest control professionals are not trained to look for mold, however — for that, you need a mold inspector. As an independent nationwide mold inspection company, MI&T can definitively rule mold in or out. Our mold inspectors perform an in-depth visual mold inspection that is followed up by taking air samples. After the air samples are lab analyzed, your full mold inspection report informs you what types of mold may be present on your property, and how severe the infestation is. Equipped with this information, you will know what steps should be taken to remediate any mold infestation.
When you know that something in your home is causing uncomfortable symptoms but you are not sure what it could be, isn’t it best to cover all your bases?