Bed Bug Bites
What you need to know
The number of bed bug infestations across the world have risen drastically in the last few decades.
Bed bugs can infest both commercial properties such as hotels, schools and care homes and residential properties such as homes and apartment buildings, inflicting a huge burden on their inhabitants and owners.
They are impossible to prevent because they are brought into properties by people in luggage and clothing. They can also be brought into a property by external contractors, laundry services, second hand or antique furniture and even electronic devices.
The bed bug, is in the Cimicidae family of insects, which consists of around 90 species of small oval-shaped and flat wingless insects that all feed on warm-blooded animals. There are two species that prefer human hosts: Cimex lectularius is generally found in temperate zones and C. hemipterus (also called C. rotundatus) is common in the tropics.
Other species include the closely related bat bug and some that feed on wild birds and poultry. These will also feed on humans if their normal host is not available.
Bed bugs feed almost exclusively on human blood and are generally only active at night because they are more likely to find a still host and are less likely to be disturbed or seen. However, bed bugs aren’t exclusively nocturnal creatures, if they are starved they will seek a blood meal at any time.
Records of bed bugs go back as as early 400 BC. It is believed that they originally came from the Middle East, evolving from bat bugs when humans inhabited the same caves as bats.
It is thought that the spread of bed bugs was a result of the growth of civilization and trade. In Ancient Rome bed bugs were used as a medical treatment for ailments such as snake bites and infections.
Bed bugs remained a huge problem across Europe, Asia and the Americas until the 1950’s when the bed bug population was virtually eradicated because of the introduction of new pest control products such as DDT. However, since then, bed bugs in some areas have developed a resistance to certain pesticides, including the more modern pyrethroids. This has resulted in a steady increase in bed bug infestations over the last 20 years.
Bed bugs are quite distinctive in their appearance. However, they can be mistaken for dust mites. The main differences between bed bugs and dust mites is their size. Bed bugs are roughly the size of an apple seed, whilst dust mites are not visible to the eye.
Adult bed bugs can easily be identified by their appearance. Compared to other small biting insects, bed bugs differ in colour, shape, and anatomy.
Bed bugs are:
Although bed bugs have wing pads, these are not fully developed functioning wings. Because of this bed bugs lack the capacity to fly, and instead rely on crawling as their main form of transport. Compared to other crawling insects, bed bugs can be quite slow, especially after they have fed.
Like all insects, bed bugs go through several stages in their life cycle. It usually takes around 40 days for a bed bug to complete its life cycle. This can, however, take longer if the food source is limited.
The bed bug’s life cycle consists of three main stages which are:
The bed bug egg is the first step in a bed bug’s life cycle. They usually laid in batches between 1 and 5 eggs each day. Bed bug eggs are laid in clusters within tight cracks or crevices and usually take up to 2 weeks to hatch.
Bed bug eggs are the size of a pinhead and are milky white in colour. They are oval in shape, resembling a grain of rice. Bed bug eggs can be marked with an eye spot when they are more than 5 days old.
Bed bug nymphs go through five instars during their growth into adulthood. At each stage they moult, shedding their outer exoskeleton in order to grow.
Bed bug nymphs need to feed at least once before each moult and process to the next instar, and each instar lasts between 4-8 days before moulting into their adult stage. During this stage of their life cycle, the bed bug nymphs haven’t sexually matured yet and cannot breed.
Bed bug nymphs start their life with a yellowish white colour and slowly turn into a reddish-brown colour during each instar. Besides their colouring, bed bug nymphs broadly resemble adult bed bugs except for their thinner cuticles.
Due to their light colouring their gut is visible as a dark region on their abdomen. However this can only be seen if the bed bug nymph has recently eaten. If this isn’t the case than bed bug nymphs can be difficult to spot being nearly invisible to the human eye.
After 5 weeks, bed bug nymphs develop into adults. During this stage both male and female bed bugs have reached sexual maturity and will reproduce. This can only be done after the female has fed.
Bed bugs have a mating method unique to the Cimicidae family of insects. The reproduction process is referred to as ‘traumatic insemination’. Although female bed bugs have a reproductive tract, the male bed bugs pierces the female's abdomen with its reproductive organ (called a paramere), releasing the sperm into a specialised organ inside the right side of the female abdomen, the Organ of Berlese. The sperm migrate through the body cavity over several hours to fertilise the eggs.
A bed bugs mating process is detrimental to the female bed bugs health. By creating an open wound it can reduce the female's life span, making it subjectable to bleeding, infection and disease. After mating the female may try to avoid mating again by isolating itself. Because of this a bed bug which finds its way onto your luggage can sometimes be pregnant females increasing the risk of an infestation in your home or business.
If a female bed bug has access to a supply of blood it will continuously lay eggs. One female bed bug can lay up to 500 eggs in its lifetime.
Male bed bugs can often mistake other males and nymphs for fertile females. Because of this bed bugs have developed a pheromone to warn off overly anxious male bed bugs. If a bed bug nymph or adult male is approached by another male it will release a repellent aldehyde pheromone to direct them elsewhere.
The average lifespan of a bed bug is usually between 4 and 6 months. However, when conditions such as temperature, location, and food accessibility have been favourable there has been some cases where they have lived for as long as a year.
Although a common sign of bed bugs is finding bed bug bites on your person, identifying them can be quite difficult. A bite from a bed bug resembles that from another insect bite.
Identifying a bed bug problem from a bed bug bite should be done by linking other signs of bed bugs to the pattern and timing the bites were received.
Compared to insect stings, and other insect bites. Bed bugs bite for the sole purpose of feeding and not as a defense mechanism. As they are parasites, bed bugs rely on the blood of a host to complete their life cycle. It usually takes between 3 and 10 minutes for a bed bug to feed.
Bed bugs have been associated with more than 40 human diseases, according to a search of scientific literature carried out for a study by scientists from the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University. There have been no confirmed cases, however, of any disease being transmitted from a bed bug to a human.
Studies testing whether hepatitis B, HIV, Chagas disease and filariasis could transmit to bed bugs through feeding on infected blood found the organisms did enter the insects, but there is no record of further transmission to humans.
Some studies have shown that bed bugs can be infected with the Chagas disease parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, by feeding on infected mice. This disease is normally transmitted to humans via the faeces of the bloodsucking triatomine bug, which occurs mainly in Latin America and kills about 50,000 people a year. Again, however, there is no record of infection from bed bugs by this means.
Although it is true bed bug bites aren’t distant from other insect bites in terms of their appearance. There are a few characteristics that can help determine if a bite is from a bed bug or not.
Bed bug bites can be identified by a couple of ways. One of these being the location of the bites. Bed bug bites usually appear on areas of the body which aren’t sheltered by a duvet or blanket and are often found close to blood vessels near the skin.
Bed bug bites can be found on your:
To add to this, bed bug bites can be identified by how they are arrange. Bed bug bites can usually be found in a line or row along an exposed area where the skin is in contact with the bedding. This is because bed bugs feed whilst standing on the bedding rather than your body. Due to their small size this won’t be far from the original biting source. Multiple groups of bed bug bites usually points to signs that multiple bed bugs have bitten you.
Bed bug bites can also be identified by the time in which said bite has been inflicted. Bed bugs will bite during the night whilst the host is sleeping. Waking up to discover insect bites on your person could of been inflicted by a bed bug.
Bed bugs bite using their mouthparts, commonly referred to as beaks. Their mouthparts are like a needle, which they inject into their host's skin. A bed bugs beak pierces a blood capillary, which provides them with a steady flow of blood to feed upon.
When a bed bug bites you it injects a solution of chemicals hosted in their saliva. These chemicals have both anticoagulant and anaesthetic properties. The anticoagulant helps to stop the blood from clotting so the bed bug can consume a constant stream of blood easily, whilst the anaesthetic eliminates any pain felt by the host so it can feed undisturbed.
A reaction to bed bug bites differs from person to person. Some people show no symptoms besides a red mark whilst others can accumulate an irritating itch and sometimes a rash.
The itch generated by a bed bug bite is a result of the body’s natural defenses reacting to the bed bug bite. The body reacts to the saliva distributed by the bed bug’s mouth parts, as well as the piercing of the skin during feeding. The itch from a bed bug bite only begins once the anaesthetic has worn off and the body’s immune system reacts.
Itching bed bug bites can lead to breakage of the skin, this can heighten the risk of infections being accumulated as well as scarring to occur.
Although it is uncommon, some people can suffer from an allergic reaction to bed bug bites. The allergic reaction is not to the physical bite itself but to chemicals in the bed bug’s saliva that are injected whilst feeding.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction are:
In extremely rare cases, those who are highly allergic to bed bug bites could experience anaphylaxis, causing respiratory problems, hives, or swelling/tightness of the throat.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology claim that bed bugs can also trigger asthma for some individuals if a large amount of bed bug skin particles become airborne.
Treating bed bug bites usually consists of simple home remedies. The majority of the time bed bug bites only generate a mild reaction to the victim thus not needing any medical intervention.
However, if you are allergic to bed bug bites, or if you have been bitten by a bed bug and are showing alarming symptoms, it is strongly advised to visit your GP.
Bed bugs feed mainly on the blood of humans, however they can also feed on pets such as cats and dogs. This is due to bed bugs being attracted to the warmth and carbon dioxide, something both humans and pests emit whilst breathing.
Although they need blood to survive, bed bugs can’t rely on scavenging for spilt blood, they have to feed directly from a host subject. This is believed to be due to a mixture of factors such as temperature and pressure. Bed bugs can only feed on blood under pressure.
Bed bugs feed within a limited range of their shelter so that in a home infestation the bed bugs that are feeding upon you aren’t the same ones feeding on your family members in other rooms or even beds — each bed can have its own population of bed bugs.
Although bed bugs prefer warm blooded animals, and in particular a human host, there are studies showing that bed bugs feed on cold blooded hosts. However, this was only the case when a warm blooded host was unavailable.
Other species in the Cimicidae family such as bat bugs feed mostly on bats. However if you have accumulated a bat infestation in your home, there is a chance a bat bug problem could arise also, and in these cases humans can become the host subject as well.
Unlike some other insects such as house flies and cockroaches, bed bugs don’t forage for multiple sources of food. They can only survive off the blood of a host subject.
Under normal conditions bed bugs will feed around once every week. Female bed bugs need to feed before entering the reproduction process. Bed bug nymphs need to feed before moving on to the next instar in their journey into adulthood, this could be as often as once a day.
Being crepuscular creatures, bed bugs are more active at night. Because of this bed bugs will only bite during the night time, whilst its host is asleep. This allows them to feed without being disturbed.
Bed bugs can go without feeding for up to five months if conditions such as temperature are favourable. This does however refer to adult bed bugs.
Bed bug nymphs need to feed more often to help complete their life cycle, but they can still survive a few weeks without needing a blood meal. Bed bug nymphs in the 4-5th instars can last longer without feeding than those in their infancy.
The University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources state that there have been cases were adult bed bugs have lasted 400 days without feeding at low temperatures.
Bed bugs spread to homes and business in the hospitality sector such as hotels and hostels through traveling.
The global increase in international travel has lead to the spread of bed bugs. These biting insects are phenomenal hitchhikers, attaching themselves to items of clothing and luggage to travel to a new location to inhabit.
There has also been an increase in second hand furniture sales which is also one of the main ways in which bed bugs have spread. If an item of furniture harbours bed bug eggs, or at least one pregnant female bed bug, than an infestation can arise.
A bed bug infestation is not always limited to one room. In most cases bed bugs will spread to other areas of a property, especially when the numbers begin to increase.
Areas of a home which can be subject to bed bug infestation can be living rooms as these biting insects can take harbourage in furniture such as sofas and arm chairs as well as cabinets and book shelves.
Bed bugs can be a big problem for hotels. As the rooms are closely located to one another bed bugs can easily navigate between rooms looking for sources of food, increasing the areas affected by these biting insects.
Bed bugs are able to spread to adjacent rooms through cavity walls, partition walls, false ceilings, cable and pipe work, as well as open doors and along corridors.
Due to their small size, bed bugs can easily fit through small cracks and crevices found in walls and skirting boards. This allows them to easily travel between different rooms without being noticed.
Accumulating a bed bug infestation can be relatively easy. Bed bugs are usually transferred from one infestation to another by attaching themselves on to clothing and luggage, following their host along their travels.
Traveling is one of the main contributors to the spread of bed bugs. Hotels and overnight accommodation facilities are a primary source of new infections in an area.
The large amount of human traffic received by business in the hospitality sector makes them vulnerable to a bed bug problem. All it takes is as little as one guest unknowingly introducing bed bugs into a hotel and an infestation can arise. Hotels which acquire a bed bug problem can suffer serious damage to their reputation and have an impact on customer loyalty and business growth.
Traveling can also lead to private homes getting a bed bug problem. Visiting an infected overnight accommodation facility can allow bed bugs to attach themselves to your clothing or luggage and hitchhike their way back to your home. This can be a big problem for flats and apartment buildings. More often than not, when one flat develops a bed bug problem, other properties in the building will soon follow.
It isn’t always easy to become aware of a bed bug problem in your property. Often the first sign of a bed bug problem is noticing bed bug bites on your person or your customer. As already explained, it is difficult to identify a bed bug problem just from the bites alone due to the similarities in appearance to other insect bites.
There are a handful of signs that bed bugs leave behind that confirms their presence. Linking these signs to the appearance of insect bites can help confirm a bed bug infestation in your property.
The common signs of bed bugs are:
Bed bugs have a sweet, musty odour. Detecting this odour can be a sign that there is a bed bug problem in your property. For some people this odour can smell like coriander, whilst others believe it to smell like rotten fruit. The smell is more obvious during large infestations and should be linked to other signs of bed bugs to confirm a problem.
The smell is believed to be create via a mixture of different factors. The unpleasant odour emitted by bed bugs is a result of the discarded exoskeletons, bed bug faeces, as well as the secrete pheromones of the male bed bugs used to attract females.
Sighting small dark spots around your bedding, bed frame and furniture could be a sign you might have bed bugs. These small dark spots are bed bug faeces. After a bed bug has taken a blood meal it will defecate immediately afterwards.
If you find a large sum of bed bug faeces around a specific area such as the joints in your bed frame this indicate the areas in which the bed bugs are congregating during the day. Bed bugs will also defecate in their refuse. The unpleasant odour emitted from their faeces helps them find their way back home after a feed.
As already stated, during a bed bug’s life cycle it will shed its skin during its nymphal stage as it grows. Finding bed bug skins is a clear sign of a large infestation, indicating that the adults have started to reproduce.
Bed bug skins, or casts, look almost identical to a live bed bug. However, bed bug skins will with a distinctive appearance of looking empty and translucent in colour. The skins are usually found in large clusters along mattress seams, headboards, and on bedding and bed clothes. Bed bug skins will range in size from 1.5–4.5mm depending on what stage the bed bug nymph is at when it shedded its skin.
Bed bug eggs is also a common sign of a bed bug problem. Bed bug eggs will typically be found in clusters around cracks and crevices. This could be anywhere from skirting boards to the joints in a bed frame or furniture.
Spotting live bed bugs is obviously a sign of a bed bug problem. Although they mainly hide during the day, emerging at night time to feed, they can be spotted by the human eye by inspecting common areas in which bed bugs hide. Looking in between the crevices of a mattress, along the bed frame and around furniture will increase your chances of spotting a live insect, helping to identify a bed bug problem.
Bed bugs like to congregate and hide in small cracks and crevices out of sight of humans. This allows them to survive without being detected and disturbed. Bed bugs can often be found harboring in areas such bed frames and headboards, as well as cabinets, wardrobes, sofas and arm chairs.
During the day bed bugs can be found taking refuge in the areas stated above. There is a slim chance of spotting bed bug activity during the day due to the nocturnal nature of these biting insects.
The best way to identify a bed bug infestation is to enlist the help of a pest control professional. An experienced pest controller will be able to fully inspect a property of bed bugs, paying close attention to the common areas bed bugs take refuge, and thoroughly inspecting for the common, and not so common, signs of bed bugs.
Bed bug bodies are very flat, so even adults can fit in a space as thin as a credit card. The places to look for signs of an infestation include:
Dogs can be used to help detect bed bugs. Their heightened sense of smell can be used to help inspect properties for bed bugs, and are able to detect both adult bed bugs and bed bug eggs.
Bed bug sniffing dogs can be particularly useful and effective when detecting bed bugs in large hotels and provides immediate results. However, research has shown that trained pest control professionals are far more reliable.
Once a bed bug problem has been discovered, removing them for the premises is the next step. There are a range of different bed bug treatments available to help eradicate a bed bug problem.
It can be very easy to accumulate a bed bug infestation without even realising. Taking the necessary prevention techniques can help reduce this possibility.
DIY bed bug solutions involve utilising a few techniques to help remove bed bugs. You can help eradicate bed bugs by:
Following these DIY bed bug removal procedures will help manage a bed bug problem by minimizing the size of the infestation.
However, DIY bed bug removal options will not completely resolve a bed bug problem. This is because they are not powerful enough to successfully remove all bed bugs.
The only way to ensure the complete removal of bed bugs from a property is to enlist the help of a professional pest controller.
Involving a professional pest controller to eradicate bed bugs is the most effective form of bed bug removal. Pest controllers can offer effective bed bug treatments, tailoring them to each infestation.
There are two types of treatment on offer when it comes to bed bug removal, they are:
Treating bed bugs using insecticides is the most common form of bed bug treatment. It involves to use of a treatment spray applied to an infected area to help remove bed bugs.
To successfully exterminate bed bugs using insecticides, the treatment has to be carried out during three visits.
The adjacent rooms connected to the area suffering from a bed bug infestation through conduits, doors and in close proximity will also be inspected during the 1st visit and treatment will be applied if necessary.
The insecticides used to eradicate bed bugs comes in the form of a spray which is then applied to the infected areas. The insecticides contains chemicals which are carefully selected to successfully control a bed bug infestation. During the application of the spray care is taken to avoid application to mattresses and clothing.
Although insecticides can be used to remove bed bugs, in recent years it has become evident that bed bugs are becoming increasingly resistant to this form of treatment. It has been discovered that resistance levels have reached up to 1600× to some commonly used pyrethroid insecticides.
As a result, new treatment options have become available to help remove bed bugs, and have been proven more successful in this process.
As with many other insects, bedbugs can be susceptible to heat in high temperatures above 45℃. Using heat to treat and remove bed bugs has been proven to be more successful than other traditional forms of bed bug treatments.
Heat treatment is also a more effective solution to remove bed bugs compared to insecticides as it can be applied to areas and items such as mattresses, bedding, and other pieces of furniture without contaminating them.
Heat treatment works by denaturing the proteins within the bed bug bodies and disrupting the waxy layers on the outside of the insect causing dehydration.
Heat treatment consists of raising the temperature of the affected area to 50–54℃. The heat is applied to the area for at least one hour, and must be left alone to ensure no bed bugs can escape the treatment area.
Using heat treatment to exterminate bed bugs has proved to be an effective treatment methods because:
Rentokil’s entotherm heat pod is an effective chemical-free method of removing bed bugs using heat. It reaches all areas of the infestation without causing any fabric or structural damage.
The entotherm heat pod is a mobile system which delivers dry heat to a contained area, successfully removing bed bugs.