Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite!

Ron Barger RN/BSN PHN

Langlade County Health Department

When my grandma would tuck me in at night, she would tell me “snuggle-up tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite”. I would laugh at this bit of silliness with no real appreciation of what a bed bug was or if they really even existed. Grandma was just being funny, and I loved her for it. Now that I am all grown-up, I do know that bed beds are real and definitely not fun for anyone unfortunate to have an infestation. This article will provide some insight into bed bugs and how to manage an infestation.

The reports of bed bug infestations in the United States have been on the rise in the past several years. Throughout the country, luxury hotels, shopping centers, college dorms, and apartments and homes have reported incidents of bed bug infestation. Langlade County has not escaped either, as reports of local cases have been on the rise.

Bed bugs are small, flat insects that feed on the blood of sleeping people and animals. They are reddish-brown in color, wingless, and range from 1 to 7 millimeters in length. They can live for several months without a blood meal and up to 10 months overall.  Infestations of these insects usually occur around or near the areas where people sleep or spend a significant amount of time. These areas include motels, apartments, hotels, nursing homes, hospitals, dorm rooms, and houses. Bed Bugs are transported from infested areas to non-infested areas when they cling onto someone’s clothing, crawl into luggage, furniture or bedding that is then brought into the home.

Bed bugs are experts at hiding. They hide during the day in places such as seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, night stands, upholstered furniture, cracks or crevices, behind wallpaper, and under any clutter or objects around the sleeping area. Their small flat bodies allow them to fit into the smallest of spaces and they can remain in place for long periods of time, even without a blood meal. Bed bugs typically live within 8 feet of where people sleep.

A bed bug bite is usually painless and rarely awakens the sleeping person. The bite can produce large, itchy welts on the skin. Welts from bed bug bites do not have a red spot in the center (those welts are more characteristic of flea bites). Although bed bugs may be a nuisance to people, they are not known to spread disease; however the bite can cause allergic reactions in some people.

If you suspect that you may have an infestation, it is important to clean areas where bed bugs hide. The following steps are suggested:

  • Thoroughly clean all bedding, linens, curtains, rugs, carpets, and clothes. Washing items in hot water and drying them on the highest dryer setting will kill bed bugs.  For those items that may be harmed by washing and drying at high temperatures, soak in warm water with lots of laundry soap for several hours before rinsing
  • Wipe away or vacuum all dust from the bed frame, nearby furniture, floors and carpets. Vacuum mattresses carefully. After vacuuming, immediately place the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag, seal it tightly, and throw the bag away in an outdoor container.
  • If you find bed bugs on the mattress, buy a waterproof zippered mattress cover. These covers often say “allergen rated”, or “for dust mites.” Scrub the mattress seams with a stiff brush to dislodge bed bugs and any eggs. Then enclose the mattress in the cover for at least one year. This will trap any remaining bed bugs inside the cover, killing them.
  • Throw away and replace an infested box spring if necessary.
  • Remove all clutter from bedrooms and any other furniture that people may sleep or nap upon. Place this clutter into a plastic garbage bag, seal it tightly, and throw it away. If you need to save it, make sure it stays sealed for a year.
  • Repair any cracks in plaster and all loosened wallpaper, especially in bedrooms.

 

Besides a thorough cleaning, insecticides can be used to get rid of bed bugs but care must be taken. Use only insecticides labeled for household use because some insecticides can damage or stain your furniture, wallpaper, etc. Use care when applying insecticides, especially around children, the elderly, immune-compromised people, and anyone else who may be sensitive to insecticides. It is not recommended that mattresses be sprayed down with insecticide unless the label on the insecticide or mattress indicates that this is safe. Always follow label directions carefully. Use only pesticide products specifically labeled for bed bugs. These products may be available at drug, hardware or home improvement stores.

Bed bugs can be difficult to get rid of because they hide so well. If two weeks have passed since you first tried to rid your home of bed bugs and you still notice signs of bed bugs, repeat the above steps. For heavy infestations contact a pest control service.

Some infestations can be prevented by washing clothing and bedding immediately after returning from a trip. Inspect all used beds, sofas, or upholstered chairs and bedding for signs of bed bugs before bringing them into your home. Never bring discarded bed frames, mattresses, box springs, or upholstered furniture into your home.

Back when I was a child, if I had known then what I know now about bed bugs, that they were indeed real, and that they do bite, then I probably would have had nightmares. Grandma had a way of making everything alright, even bed bugs. With the winter season fast approaching, my grandma’s advice to “snuggle-up tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite” is once again timely advice. For more information on how to identify and eradicate bed bugs, you can contact the Langlade County Health Department (715-627-6250) or a licensed pest control company.

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