Bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) are very tiny insects that feed exclusively on human blood. They are parasites to humans.
These insects inflict irritating and itchy bites. Bedbugs are known pests in both poor and rich countries.
Bedbugs are very small and almost flat wingless insects. They look like somewhat a cross of a mite and a cockroach, without the wings and head. Bedbugs are tiny, only around 4 mm to 5 mm long. They are smaller than a grain of rice They do not jump like fleas do.
Unlike other insects, bedbugs are highly elusive and hide until it is time to feed. They are attracted to carbon dioxide, warmth, and the blood of their hosts.
Bedbug feeding habits
Bedbugs have a ‘beak’ with needle-like mouth parts to suck blood. Bedbugs are voracious blood feeders for their size since they can suck blood until they are six times their weight.
Bedbugs turn reddish after a meal and eventually turn brown as they digest the sucked blood. They have to have one or several blood meals before molting when mating or laying eggs.
Like most insects, bedbugs reproduce and mature quickly. The complete life cycle during favorable conditions, which is the usual case, is four to five weeks. They have six life stages, and therefore have to molt six times.
Once mature, the female lays one to three eggs per day, and she can lay up to 500 eggs in her lifetime.
Bedbugs are very shy insects, and they come out of their hiding places only when feeding. These insects will reside in places near their hosts, so they are often found in homes.
However, they can also infest places such as offices, stores, public transportation (cars, trains, or buses), shelters such as homeless shelters and military barracks, and lounges.
Their tiny size means they can hide in any crevice, so they are often unnoticed even in highly infested areas.
What does a bedbug bite feel like? When do they bite?
Their bite does not elicit any sensation or pain. Because they bite silently, bedbugs are free to feed for some time, and they can feed for around 10 minutes. They may also bite more than once when feeding.
Bedbugs can feed every day. If humans are not available, they can live up from 3 months to a year without feeding. Because bedbugs hide in many places and they are tough, eradicating infestation is not easy once established in a place.
Bedbugs spread by hitching a ride in used furniture, bedding, and mattresses. They also spread via luggage, backpacks, briefcases, and bags. They do not thrive in clothing, so sharing clothes does not spread bedbugs.
Identifying places where the insects reside is important, so you know how to get rid of bed bugs.
Although bedbugs can bite at any time of the day, they prefer to bite at nighttime when humans are asleep. These insects are very careful crawlers that bite without being noticed. This explains why bed bug bites are often noticed only after the appearance of itchy rashes.
What happens after you are bitten by a bedbug?
Bedbug infestation tends to be a nuisance. Although bedbugs do not transfer disease-causing bacteria or viruses, the bites are very irritating.
The rashes may swell for days. Some individuals develop blisters from the bites. Because they bite at night, you may suffer from sleeplessness. Some persons develop psychological symptoms.
Bedbug bites are easy to treat, but addressing the infestation is the key. Steps must be taken to exterminate bedbugs in their hiding places and prevent them from coming back.
In most cases, professional exterminators are needed to address repeated bedbug infestation.
Usually, bedbug infestation does not get worse or cause further complications. Preventing bedbugs from infesting in the first place is important.
Often, the first symptom of infestation is having bedbug bites.
What do bedbug bites look like?
Bedbug bites can be difficult to distinguish from other insect bites. Initially, they appear as red spots with a darker spot on the center.
Later, these red spots become welts or bumps, and some may develop fluid-filled blisters. Try looking at bed bug bites pictures so you can be familiar with signs of infestation.
Note that people will have different reactions to bedbug bites, so appearance often varies among individuals.
Do bed bug bites itch?
For most people, yes, they do. However, for some other people, they may not itch at all.
The intense itching is caused by the body’s reaction to bedbug saliva. These lesions may become infected, resulting in pain and redness.
How long do bed bug bites last?
Rashes usually go away within one or two weeks. However, if you have a bedbug infestation in your home, they will keep biting until you get rid of them.
Bedbugs bite on exposed areas of the body, like the neck, face, under the jawline, hands, or arms. Sometimes, bedbug bites occur in a rough line or in clusters.
Note that not everyone experiences rashes from bedbug bites.
Some people have an intense allergy to bedbug saliva so bites can trigger an allergic reaction. Repeated bites are more likely to trigger an allergic reaction.
Symptoms of serious allergic reaction include additional formation of hives, difficulty breathing, swelling of the skin, nose, mouth, or throat, flushing, and fainting.
Bedbug bites are noted to cause psychological symptoms in people living in infested areas. Bedbug bites itch, and because they bite at night, you may experience insomnia or sleeplessness.
Repeated infestation is known to cause high anxiety levels, nervousness, and feelings of desperation or hopelessness. Bedbug infestation is also known to cause a decline in property prices, and most homeowners are reluctant to disclose it to anyone for fear of embarrassment.
3 Causes of bedbug infestations
Bedbug infestation is caused by the presence of bedbugs in the home.
Bed bugs are very shy insects, and they will always try to hide when not feeding.
It is common to believe that bedbug infestation is a sign of uncleanliness, but this is untrue.
Bedbugs, as their name implies, like to hide in bedding and furniture. These insects often do not hide far from their human hosts.
Groups of bedbugs often hide in dark, undisturbed crevices or near the host, such as inside bedposts, seams of upholstered furniture, couches, box springs, headboards, or bed frames.
Their tiny size means they can hide in places no thicker than a credit card. Most people do not know that bedbugs also hide inside suitcases, shoeboxes, behind electric switches, picture frames, behind wallpaper or wall paint, and inside appliances.
Bedbugs not only reside in homes, but they also thrive in:
Bedbugs can also reside in cars and public transportation.
These insects can infest any place inhabited by humans, so it can be a problem in both affluent and impoverished areas. In other words, bed bugs will live in any place as long as they are close to a host.
Bedbugs are not fast crawlers, but they can easily travel and infest floors and rooms in hotels or apartments. However, they often gain access to homes by traveling in luggage, suitcases, bags, furniture and mattresses. Secondhand furniture, beds, and mattresses are notorious for introducing bedbugs into homes. Bedbugs are rarely found in clothing.
4 Diagnosing bedbug bites
It is common for people to visit their doctor or dermatologist for bedbug bite relief, since they are usually itchy and sometimes unsightly.
Doctors can easily diagnose bedbug bites and can check if the lesions are infected.
You will likely be asked about recent symptoms or medicines you are taking, but identifying bedbug bites often does not require any lab tests or special procedures.
Children, elderly, pregnant women, and people who are ill should always consult their doctors if they suspect bedbug bites.
People who have shown allergies to bedbug bites before should also see their doctors.
The doctor may help you understand how infestation started by asking questions about recent travel to foreign countries, purchase or salvage of furniture or bedding, and stays in hotels or other homes.
Bedbug bites are easy to treat, and skin creams containing hydrocortisone or antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine, often relieve itching and redness.
If rashes are infected or if there are open blisters, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic skin cream. Make sure you use these medicines exactly as prescribed.
The only way to treat bed bug bites for good is to make your home free from bedbugs. In most cases, you have to call for a professional exterminator service to do this for you, as bedbugs can escape into unseen nooks and crannies.
It can be challenging to exterminate bedbugs. The effort should be sustained because eggs are laid and hatch at different times. Nearby areas like neighboring rooms or floors should be treated as well to prevent re-infestation.
How to prepare for bedbug extermination
Before calling in an exterminator, you should take a few measures of your own. The first thing you should do is identify places where bedbugs hide using just your eye and maybe a flashlight.
Bedbugs may leave telltale signs in their habitats. Aside from spotting live bugs, they may leave droppings (very small dark spots), insect casings left after molting, eggs, and eggshells near places where they hide. You may also spot reddish or rusty stains on bedding caused by crushing bedbugs.
Remember that bedbugs love to hide, so make sure to search every potential hiding place. Start by searching in places near the bed or sleeping area. Search around the bed, under the mattresses, bed boards, bedposts or bed beams, springs, seams of upholstery, under the furniture, between drawer joints and books, fixtures, inside electrical switches or appliances, wall corners, and the junctions where the wall and ceiling meet.
Shine a light in seams or cracks in your home, as bedbugs can hide in there. You may have to inspect inside boxes, drawers, under canvas covers, and above side of the ceiling. Searching for hiding places often takes a lot of time and you also need to do it continually.
Using a strong vacuum cleaner can help clear adults and nymph bedbugs, but it may not work well in removing eggs. Vacuum all hiding places thoroughly and empty the dust canister after each use.
Contaminated bedding and laundry can be washed professionally with very hot water to kill the insects.
Bedbugs can tolerate up temperatures above freezing and up to as high as 45 C. Leaving contaminated items in very cold winter or in the freezer for several days can work, too.
High temperatures reaching 50 C can also kill the insects, and you can do this by placing items inside black plastic bags and leaving it under the hot sun or inside a hot and closed car.
However, infested mattresses, couches, and other heavy furniture should be discarded upon recommendation of your exterminator.
If you use pesticides, use them with care. Note that sprayers or foggers often will not reach inside cracks or seams where bedbugs reside.
All extermination efforts should be done periodically to kill new adults and reduce egg laying.
6 Prevention of infestation
One of the ways to prevent bedbug bites is avoiding places where the infestation is known to take place.
Since bedbugs bite exposed skin, wearing long sleeves and pajamas that cover a lot of skin helps.
Keep bedbugs away in the first place by not purchasing second-hand beds and mattresses, and doing a very thorough inspection of appliances, furniture, and luggage.
Always inspect luggage, bags, or suitcases before bringing them into the home if you came from an infested place.
When in hotels, place your luggage on tables or dressers, not on the floor, and make sure to check mattress seams for bedbug excrement.
7 Risks and Complications
The risk of encountering a bedbug bite is higher in people spending their time in places with high turnovers of nighttime guests, for example:
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