Even though they are only the size of a pencil eraser, bed bugs have been causing some major problems across the country, closing down retail stores, movie theaters, and piggybacking home in travelers’ luggage.
Bed bugs are flat, six-legged, reddish-brown insects that hibernate during the day and come out at night equipped with a special ingredient in their saliva that prevents their favorite food—blood—from clotting. Much like a mosquito, bed bugs latch on to their human or animal hosts, leaving behind a bite that resembles most insect bites.
Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs are not an indication of poor hygiene, and in fact are not proven to even carry or transmit disease. They are just annoying. While there have been rare cases of bed bug bites causing allergic anaphylactic shock or molted shells triggering asthmas attacks, these cases are usually the exception and not the norm.
Scientists aren’t quite sure why the little critters are re-emerging, and theories range from an increased resistance to pesticides to global relocation through travelers from other countries.
So what to do if you become a bed bug buffet? According to Jeff Pick, RN, BSN, Emergency Services Director at Scott & White-Round Rock, you should wash the bites with soap and water. Then apply calamine lotion to help decrease the itching, and try not to scratch because the bites can become infected. “If you do develop an infection at the bite site, your physician may prescribe medication to help it clear up,” Pick said.
The best way to avoid getting bed bugs is to keep your home—especially where you sleep—as clutter-free as possible. Bed bugs will hide under piles of clothes, boxes, etc. so the less places you provide for them to hide, the easier they will be to find and get rid of.
Change your bedding at least once a week and vacuum the floor around and underneath your bed. If you suspect you have bed bugs, check your pillowcases, box springs and mattresses for bed bug feces—they look like small dark spots (like pepper flakes or flecks from an ink pen). Pay special attention to the wall, baseboard, headboard and any furniture near the bed.
A bed bug infestation will most likely require the assistance of a professional exterminator as bed bug eggs are “glued” into place when they are laid. They can’t be vacuumed up or wiped off efficiently. After extermination, vacuum the entire area affected, place the vacuum bag in a sealed plastic bag and dispose of it outside. Take any bedding, clothing, or shoes in proximity of the infestation and place them in the dryer on high temperature for 20 minutes. The heat will kill both the bed bugs and any eggs.