The adult common bed bug is an oval wingless insect, red-brown in colour and flat in shape approximately 5mm long, with six legs and two antennae. As they feed on the blood of humans, at night, their colour turns to red/purple and they become more rounded in shape.
Where do they live?
Bed bugs hide themselves within the bed - in tufts, seams, and folds of mattresses, within bed frames and headboards, and under bed bases. In heavier infestations, they also may occupy hiding places further from the bed, inside telephones, behind electrical sockets, window and door frames, skirting boards, floor cracks, and under the tack board of wall-to-wall carpeting. Bed bugs often crawl upward to hide in pictures, wall hangings, drapery pleats, loosened wallpaper, cracks in plaster, ceiling mouldings, and suspended ceilings. They may also move onto furniture, clothing or furnishings, and anywhere with a dark crack/crevice/seam providing harbourage. They like to stay close together.
With frequent feeding, adults can live for up to 18 months. They breed by laying eggs that usually hatch after about 10 to 20 days. The bugs then grow through a series of stages. At each stage they need to feed on blood, until they become adults after about nine to 18 weeks. A female can lay between 150 and 345 eggs in her life.
The presence of bedbugs in a room can be detected by the following:
- blood spotting on bedding
- brown excrement spots close to where they live and on bedding.
- whitish/opaque un-hatched and hatched eggs
- in heavy infestations, a sweet almond smell is common
- bed bugs are not normally seen during the day
Bed bugs will not travel too far from their host, but can move into adjacent rooms through interconnecting ducting/spaces. They are most likely to be transferred from place to place through infested linen, clothing, furniture and other articles.
In hotels and hostels, housekeeping staff can unknowingly transfer bed bugs around the premises on all of the items mentioned above and guests can take bed bugs with them from hotel to hotel and eventually to their own home.
Are they a health hazard?
They are not considered to be a major pest, or health hazard. Infestations can however cause anxiety, stress, and severe lack of sleep for some people.
Bed bugs are not known to carry disease. However, they feed on human blood, usually at night whilst people are asleep in their beds. They inject a fluid into their host to help get their blood meal. The bite is painless at the time but will typically causes the skin to become irritated and inflamed. A small, hard, swollen, white welt may develop at the site of each bite which can occur in rows or batches of three or four. These bites cause irritation and itching. Some people are particularly sensitive to the bites and experience an allergy and inflammation, especially to the arms and shoulders. This can be quite severe and require medical attention.
How can I get rid of them?
In hotels and hostels house-keeping staff should be trained to identify the signs of bed bug infestation and whilst cleaning rooms should alert management to the possibility of infestation.
Infested bedding and furnishings should be laundered in a hot wash, and care should be taken not to aid dispersal of the infestation through laundry baskets. In severe cases, items of furniture will require removal and burning.
After vacuuming an infested area, immediately place the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag, seal tightly, and discard in a container outdoors, this prevents captured bed bugs from escaping back into a building.
It is difficult to treat bedbugs yourself and you should seek professional help. If you do attempt a pesticide treatment yourself always follow the instructions on the label.