Growing up, the phrase “sleep
tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite” was just a sweet rhyme parents said to
their kids when tucking them into bed. Recent infestations of bedbugs in even
the cleanest hotels, homes, and shopping outlets turned the phrase into a
devastating reality. Ever since the random breakout nationally in 2009, people have
been on high alert, checking mattresses and furniture for signs of these
irritating, hard-to-control pests. While there are about 90 different species
of bed bugs, only three are actually known to feed on humans (Goddard, 2009).
The most common species of bed bug is C. lectularius. It is the cause of almost
all infestations in the United States. Bed bugs are a public health topic
because it causes physical and mental health effects from prolonged
infestations, such as sleep deprivation, fatigue, distress, shame, anxiety,
social isolation, and irritation from the stigma behind a bed bug infestation.
Bedbugs are known to be small,
flat, reddish-brown bugs about the size of an apple seed. They can be found all
over the world. Bedbugs hide during the day in or around beds and crevices in
chairs, couches, curtains, rugs, dressers, and even in cracks of walls and
floors and behind wallpaper. They come out at night to find food, which in
their case means blood. Bed bugs need a blood meal to grow and lay eggs. According
to Reinhardt & Siva-Jothy (2007), a female bed bug with access to regular
meals will lay anywhere from 200 to 250 eggs during her lifetime. Eggs take
about six to 17 days to hatch. Bed bugs are fully grown in 2-4 months and can
live as long as a year. A single pregnant female can cause an infestation of
more than 5,000 bed bugs within a six-month period (Reinhardt & Siva-Jothy,
Thanks to an anesthetic
in their saliva and an extremely sharp, straw-like mouth they use for piercing
the skin and sucking blood, the victim won’t wake up during a bed bug feeding
(Goddard, 2009). The saliva also contains an anticoagulant, which prevents
clotting, so a typical meal only takes between three to 10 minutes before the
bed bug is gorged with the blood. After their blood meal, bedbugs don’t stay on
a person for long. Instead, they hide nearby in clothing or luggage, allowing
them to spread when belongings move to another location.
A person does not usually
feel the actual bedbug bite, but after a person is bitten, the affected area will
feel itchy (Goddard, 2009). Bedbug bites look like little red bumps (similar to
mosquito bites) and they can sometimes occur in a line on the body. Bed bugs
are historically a problem and were likely introduced overseas. Much has to do
with the bugs’ habits. Before central heating arrived in the early 1900s, bed
bugs died in winter (Romero, Potter, & Haynes, 2007). People would
frequently re-stuff their mattresses or pull apart their beds to pour on
boiling water. Those who had servants to take care of those issues suffered
less, said the bedbug historian, Michael F. Potter of the University of Kentucky.
Early remedies were risky such as igniting gunpowder on mattresses or soaking
them with gasoline, fumigating buildings with burning sulfur or cyanide gas. The
best-known brand was Zyklon B, which later became infamous at Auschwitz
Success finally arrived
in the 1950s as the bugs were hit first with DDT and then with other line of
defenses, as resistance to each developed. In those days, mattresses were
sprayed, DDT dust was sprinkled into the sheets, and nurseries were lined with
DDT-impregnated wallpaper (Potter, 2011). In North America and Western Europe,
“the slate was virtually wiped clean,” said Dr. Potter, who has surveyed
pest-control experts in 43 countries. In South America, the Middle East and
Africa, populations fell but never vanished. The bugs also lived on local
poultry farms and in a few human residences. One theory is that local bedbugs
surged after pest control companies stopped spraying for cockroaches in the
1980s and switched to poisoned baits, which bedbugs do not eat (Romero et al.,
2007). However, the main theory is that new bugs were introduced from overseas,
because the ones found in cities now are resistant to different insecticides
from those used on poultry or cockroaches.
It is impossible to
prevent bed bugs; however, there is the potential to minimize their impacts
through risk management. Bed bug infestations in NYC were reportedly
increasing. Violations were issued to landlords as a result of verified tenant
complaints. Community district data indicates that concentration of violations
is in some of the poorest neighborhoods (Hwang, Svoboda, De Jong, Kabasele, &
Gogosis, 2005). The bugs can hitch a ride home while traveling, or even after a
trip to your local movie theater or hotel. It can be on used clothing or
furniture from garage sales or thrift stores. People are known to take
furniture put out on the street corner by the previous owner, but bed bugs
might be one of the reasons why they did that. It is suggested to wash your
clothes with hot water and/or put them in a sealed plastic bag until it can be
washed (Doggett, Dwyer, Peñas, & Russell, 2012). Purchasing mattress and
box frame covers to keep bed bugs at bay is key to prevention. Using zippered
covers prevents bed bugs from infesting the place they are most likely to hide.
This also simplifies detection.
If someone has been
bitten by a bedbug, wash the bites with soap and water. Using calamine lotion,
an anti-itch cream, or cool compresses can help with the itching (Doggett et
al., 2012). In some cases, an antihistamine by mouth can ease itching. Bites
clear up in about one to two weeks. Scratching a bedbug bite can cause a skin
infection, such as impetigo and, rarely, cellulitis (Goddard, 2009). If an
infection does happen, a doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat it.
An overview of the
following main preventative tips can help with battling bedbug infestations:
the home uncluttered so bedbugs won’t have places to hide.Change
bedsheets once a week and vacuum floors regularly.If
bedbugs are found, wash all bedding, clothing, stuffed animals, etc., in
hot water and dry on a hot setting.If
mattresses have bedbugs, buy a mattress cover that’s labeled
“anti-allergy” or “anti-dust mites” to help prevent
the bugs from getting into the bedding.
recommendations, local and state government should be involved by implementing
bed bug management policies to control infestations for real estate renters,
owners, and administration. Minimum policy requirements of owners and
management agents for properties should be:
pamphlet or flyer that is given out to all residents and new move-ins that
includes risky behaviors that increase the likelihood of bedbugs, how to detect
bedbugs, the importance that residents promptly report suspected infestations
of bedbugs to management.
written policy for staff and residents that addresses what to do if they
suspect an infestation of bedbugs or if a resident reports an infestation.
Procedures should include promptly contacting a professional to inspect and
verify infestations and prepare an extermination plan. It should also include
prompt notification of supervisors and appropriate decision makers once an
infestation has been confirmed and any necessary notifications to the impacted
resident(s) and their neighbors (if appropriate) to minimize the risk of
spreading the infestation (Hwang et al., 2005).
agreement in place with a qualified professional to occasionally provide
education to site staff on how to recognize bedbugs, what steps to take to
prevent the spread of them and what steps to take to properly exterminate them.
site staff to maintain written documentation of all bedbug related complaints,
responses and actions by staff and the involvement of professional
a list of owner/agent pre-approved qualified professional exterminators to
contact in the event of an infestation of bedbugs.