We protect our family outdoors with insect repellant and inspect everyone from head to toe for possible ticks, but how often do we worry about the “Blood Suckers” inside our homes, vacation destinations or condos?
Human bed-bugs (scientific name: Cimex Lectularius) are insect parasites that have existed among civilizations for thousands of years. Nearly eradicated in the 1940s with DDT they have made a major comeback with the banning of this insecticide. Since their return in the 90s they have been found in epidemic numbers in many of our major cities and suburbs. These parasites are visible with the naked eye being no bigger than apple seeds and possessing oval flat bodies enabling them to hide in the cracks and crevices in the bedding, mattresses, bed frames, headboards, wallpaper. They are excellent hitchhikers and will travel on your clothes in your luggage or in your furniture. Contrary to popular opinion they do not discriminate between the rich or poor homes; or the clean or dirty environments. Bed-bugs are found in many of our luxury hotels! They can sometimes spread through the acquiring of second hand clothing from yard sales or from used furniture picked off the curb or from refurbished items from stores.
Once the bugs are in your home, they hide in the bedding or furniture upholstery where they are dormant during the day, but come out at night to feed on their sleeping victims. Just like mosquitoes and ticks, these parasites produce an anesthetic and anticoagulant. Sleeping victims rarely feel the bites when bed-bugs are feeding. Once bitten the spot develops a reddish welt that is very itchy and causes a great deal of irritation. These insect bites usually are present in rows of three or four welts usually appearing very close together in clusters. While the victim sleeps the bed-bug responds to small movements and pulls out of the skin continuing with another bite next to the first. Sometimes several of these insects may be feeding side by side. Each time the victim sleeps in the infested bed, he will awaken with a new set of bite marks. Although bed-bugs carry no life threatening diseases, complications such as secondary bacterial infections at the bite site or potential psychological complications such as anxiety may be substantial. Allergic reactions to the bites may result in a more severe hive reaction in certain individuals.
Treatment of the bites includes washing the areas with antibacterial soaps to prevent infection especially if the skin is excoriated from intense scratching, and using a topical hydrocortisone cream or ointment as well as oral medications such as antihistamines to relieve pruritic symptoms. Always be observant for possible secondary bacterial infections which sometimes require a topical or oral antibiotic.
What is the best way to prevent bed-bug bites and infestations? The best prevention is avoidance. After arriving at a hotel or other lodging, inspect your room thoroughly before unpacking. Inspect the bedding for signs of bed-bugs: 1) fecal spots (small dark soil-like droppings occurring in patches on the mattress and pads); 2) Blood smears on sheets or mattresses; 3) empty molted bed-bug exoskeletons; 4) bug eggs found in mattress fabric seams; 5) and actual bed-bugs or their nests which may be harder to find in dark crevices or cracks in the mattress or bed frame. Demand a new room on a different floor or change lodgings. Some experts advice packing clothes in air tight sealed plastic bags in their luggage. Upon returning home all clothing worn during trip are removed from bag and placed in washer for at least 20 min. Bed-bugs die at temps 120 degrees F. or greater.
If these tell-tale signs of bed-bug infestation are present in your home, especially if you have family members with chronic itchy rashes, it is necessary to seek the advice of a reputable pest exterminator as well as your physician.