Bed bugs are small insects that feed on human blood. They do not transmit diseases, but their bites can leave itchy red welts on their victims. Adult bed bugs appear reddish-brown and have a flattened, oval shape. They are wingless and look about the size of an apple seed. They are big enough to be seen, but they hide in cracks in furniture, floors, walls, suitcases or clothing.
Most bed bug bites are initially painless, but they may turn into large, itchy skin welts. These wounds do not have a red spot in the center like lea bites. Some people don’t develop welts at all and can carry bugs without knowing it.
Although bed bugs are a nuisance, they are not known to spread disease.
“Although bedbugs don’t usually require serious medical attention, they can cause a great deal of anxiety and restless nights,” said board-certified dermatologist Seemal R. Desai, MD, FAAD, who maintains a private practice in Plano, Texas and serves as clinical assistant professor of dermatology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “The most common sign of bedbugs is having bite marks on your body, which can sometimes turn into itchy welts.”
To help find bedbugs before they find you (and your belongings), Dr. Desai recommends looking for the following signs near places where you sleep:
- A sweet, musty odor: If you notice a sweet, musty odor in your hotel room, cruise ship cabin, or other sleeping area, there may be a heavy bedbug infestation in the room. Bedbugs produce chemicals to help them communicate, although not everyone will notice the smell.
- Specks of blood on bedding, mattresses, or upholstered furniture: Look carefully at your blankets, sheets and mattress pads, and then check the mattress and box spring. Are there specks of blood anywhere, especially near the seams? If so, there could be a bedbug infestation. You should also check for specks of blood on all upholstered furniture, including couches and headboards.
- Exoskeletons: Bedbugs have an outer shell that they shed and leave behind. Do you see shell-like remains on the mattress, mattress pad or beneath couch cushions?
- Tiny, blackish specks: If you see blackish specks on the bedding, mattress, or headboard, it could be bedbug excrement.
- Eggs: After mating, female bedbugs lay white, oval eggs in cracks and crevices. Keep in mind that these will be small, as a bedbug is only about the size of an apple seed.
“Most people who get bedbugs do so while traveling, making it critical to keep an eye out for infestations,” said Dr. Desai. “If you do get bedbugs and have many bites or a bite that looks infected, see a board-certified dermatologist. A dermatologist can treat an infection and help relieve the itch.”
Non-chemical eradication methods like vacuuming, steaming, laundering and sealing mattresses in plastic can help, but these methods usually do not completely eradicate a bed bug population. Also, bed bugs have become resistant to some types of insecticides, making it difficult to get rid of them. For this reason, you will probably need to consult a licensed pest control company, which should:
• Inspect your home to confirm the presence of bed bugs.
• Find and eliminate their hiding places.
• Treat your home with special cleaning and/or pesticides if necessary.
• Make return visits to make sure bed bugs are gone.