General housecleaning measures, (e.g. vacuuming floors and surfaces), seldom reach where bed bugs hide. For this reason, repetitive vacuuming by occupants may not be worth the effort, especially compared to other important preparatory activities. Targeted vacuuming of bed bugs and infested harborages, however, can help remove some of the bugs before other treatment measures are undertaken. Bed bugs and especially the eggs can be difficult to dislodge. Optimum results will be achieved by moving and scraping the end of the suction wand along infested areas such as seams and fabric folds of beds and sofas, and the perimeter edge of wall-to-wall carpet. Bed bugs can survive the high speed trip down a vacuum, so it’s important to carefully dispose of the vacuum contents in a sealed trash bag afterwards.
Bed bugs were mentioned in ancient Greece as early as 400 BC, and were later mentioned by Aristotle. Pliny's Natural History, first published circa AD 77 in Rome, claimed bed bugs had medicinal value in treating ailments such as snake bites and ear infections. (Belief in the medicinal use of bed bugs persisted until at least the 18th century, when Guettard recommended their use in the treatment of hysteria.)
DIY heat treatments most often just drive bed bugs deep into wall voids and hard-to-reach spaces in a structure. When the heat is turned off, the bugs return to living and sleeping areas. It has no impact at all. But, in worst case scenarios, where desperate people have gone to greater lengths to destroy these tormenting pests, it has resulted in damage to belongings, the death of pets, structural fires, and in tragic cases, a loss of human life.
It takes time and persistence to get rid of bed bugs, and in some cases, the cooperation of landlords, neighbors and others. It can be physically and emotionally exhausting. It can also be expensive when pest control companies are called in. Just remember - bed bugs are more of a nuisance than a health concern and, with vigilance, you can avoid or deal with infestations.
Bed bugs are small, brownish, flattened insects that feed solely on the blood of animals. Although the common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) prefers feeding on humans, it will also bite other warm-blooded animals, including dogs, cats, birds and rodents. It has done so since ancient times; bed bugs are mentioned in medieval European texts and classical Greek writings back to the time of Aristotle.
To begin, strip your bed of all sheets, pillowcases, and other bedding, and seal them in plastic garbage bags to keep bed bugs from escaping and infesting other parts of your home. Take the bags straight to the washing machine, and wash them using the hot water setting. Then, dry the bedding on high heat if their tags allow it. This heat treatment will kill any bed bugs or eggs hiding in your bedding.
Nightstands and dressers may need to be emptied and examined inside and out, and tipped over to inspect the woodwork underneath. Oftentimes the bugs will be hiding in cracks, corners, and recesses. Other common bed bug hiding places include: along and under the edge of wall-to-wall carpeting, especially behind beds and sofas; cracks in wood molding; ceiling-wall junctures; behind wall-mounted pictures, mirrors, outlets and switch plates; under loose wallpaper; clothing and clutter within closets; and inside clocks, phones, televisions and smoke detectors.
We recommend spraying Steri-Fab in areas where live bed bugs are visible. Steri-Fab combines a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide and isopropyl alcohol to kill bed bugs fast on contact. Steri-Fab also acts as a sanitizer. Steri-Fab does not leave any residual, meaning it can be applied virtually anywhere. Simply shake well, then apply to desired treatment areas. Insect mortality is imminent, generally within 10 minutes of spraying.
While your laundry cycle is running, use a vacuum cleaner to remove any bed bugs, shells, fecal droppings, or eggs that might be along the seams of your mattress, pillows, box spring, and along the cracks and crevices in the bed frame, headboard, and footboard. Follow up the vacuuming with a high pressure steamer to penetrate deep inside mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, and footboards to kill bed bugs and eggs on contact.
Bedbugs are small, flat, wingless insects with six legs that, like mosquitoes, feed on blood from animals or people. They range in color from almost white to brown, but they turn rusty red after feeding. The common bedbug doesn't grow much longer than 0.2 inches (0.5 centimeters) and can be seen by the naked eye to the astute observer. Bedbugs get their name because they like to hide in bedding and mattresses.
Bed bugs are highly vulnerable to heat; exposing them to a certain amount of direct heat will kill them instantly, while lower temperatures can kill them in a matter of minutes. This is why many forms of heat treatments are recommended. Some methods, such as steamers and portable heaters, have been proven effective through professional use and are quickly becoming standard issue in holistic treatment arsenals.
Bed bug sprays usually act as an insecticide and repellent. The best kind of bed bug sprays should kill bed bugs on contact and need to be used repeatedly to help eliminate your bug problem. According to the Texas A&M University, bed bug sprays are best used in combination with other bug control methods like natural bed bug powders. This is because bed bugs don’t build up resistance to natural bug powders and products like diatomaceous earth which kills bed bugs as long as the powder is dry.5
If you live in an apartment or condominium, it’s best to alert the property manager. A coordinated bed bug control effort using a pest control company is generally needed in such situations. Bed bugs readily move from apartment to apartment, with many people unaware that they have a problem. If one apartment is infested, adjoining units (left side, right side, above and below) should be assumed to be infested unless shown otherwise through inspection or monitoring. Simply asking tenants whether they have bed bugs is not enough. In one recent study only half of apartment residents whose homes were determined to have bed, bugs knew (or admitted) they had a bed bug problem.
As mentioned earlier, applying insect repellent at bedtime will probably not deter bed bugs from biting. When working in severely infested dwellings, there may be some benefit to spraying tops and bottoms of shoes with DEET-based repellents. Those working in bed bug-infested environments may also want to hot wash or run clothing, etc. through a dryer upon returning home or to the office.
Doctors often misdiagnose those afflicted because it is nearly impossible to tell, if you are experiencing an allergic reaction, what bit you. Often healthcare providers and individuals that have been bitten by a member of the Hemiptera order mistake bites for those of a mosquito. The only way to discern, with complete surety, what your bites are from, is to get a sample of what has bitten you.
"By every metric that we use, it's getting worse and worse," says Coby Schal, an entomologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Health authorities and pest control operators are regularly flooded with calls, and the epidemic may not have yet peaked. And because bedbugs are indoor pests, there are no high or low seasons throughout the year, he adds, only continual bombardment. "It's just the beginning of the problem in the U.S.," Schal says.
I'm a former scientist, using words and an audio recorder as my new research tools to untangle the health and food issues that matter most to consumers. I live in Brooklyn, N.Y., where I cook as much as possible. You can find me in the grocery aisle scrutinizing the fine print of every food item I put into my cart. Follow me on Twitter @juliacalderone.