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Bed BugsBed Bugs

Have you ever seen a bed bug?

Adult bed bugs are reddish-brown, wingless insects about the size of an apple seed (1/4 to 3/8 inches long).  When viewed from the side, they are flat, which allows them to fit into narrow spaces.  Newly hatched bugs are white or yellowish and resemble the adults, but are smaller.  Bed bug eggs are white, about the size of a pinhead (1/10 inches long) and are found in crevices in clusters of 10-50 eggs.

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are insects that feed on human blood and have lived with people for thousands of years.  References to bed bugs are present in literature from as far back as 400 B.C., and they were a common part of life in Europe by the 1600s.  These insects were once thought to be eradicated from the United States, but they have made a comeback and are present in communities throughout Ohio.  Significant increases in bed bug reports to local health departments in recent years highlight the need for education and effective action against infestations.

Why have bed bugs returned?

Although the bugs were nearly wiped out in the United States in the 1950s, other parts of the world did not see a similar decline.  Changing pesticide use in combination with international travel and commerce left an opening for bed bugs to again take hold in the United States.  Pesticide resistance contributes to the challenge of controlling this pest.

Where are bed bugs found?Bed bugs on a mattress

Bed bugs are often found near sleeping areas in the seams of mattresses, box springs and cracks and crevices in bed frames.  They usually spread to gaps behind baseboards, pictures, wallpaper and electrical outlets.  They may hitchhike into a home on used furniture, clothing or other items brought from infested areas.

Can bed bugs cause disease?

Bed bugs are not known to transmit disease.  Their bites are painless and typically happen at night while you sleep.  Bed bugs feed for about three to 10 minutes before crawling off to a sheltered crevice.  They will bite anywhere on the body, but especially on exposed areas such as the face, neck, arms and hands.  Some people are hardly aware they have been bitten, but others suffer an allergic reaction and may develop painful swellings similar to those associated with mosquito or flea bites.  The bites may itch for up to two weeks before healing, so resist the urge to scratch to prevent a secondary bacterial infection.  Wash the bites with soap and water to reduce the risk of infection.

How can I prevent a bed bug infestation in my home?

Insect repellents do not work against bed bugs.  Preventing infestations requires extra caution so you do not bring infested items into your home.  It is important to inspect new and used furniture before bringing it inside by examining tight spaces along seams, around buttons and under cushions.  Avoid picking up curbside items.  When traveling, look for evidence of bed bugs, such as fecal spots on mattresses, before unpacking.  Keep luggage and other personal items on luggage racks away from upholstered surfaces and walls.  If you suspect an infestation, be sure to report it to hotel management.  Hotel infestations can also be reported to the State Fire Marshal by calling (888) 276-0303.  Place clothing in disposable plastic bags before unpacking and immediately launder it upon returning home.  Luggage may be treated or discarded if exposed to an infestation.

I think my home has bed bugs, but how can I be sure?Looking for bed bugs

Unless an infestation is severe, you may not see bed bugs crawling out in the open.  They prefer to hide in sheltered areas until they come out to feed, but you can find evidence of bed bugs.  Check pillowcases, sheets, box springs and mattresses for their feces which look like dark spots – as if someone touched a dark magic marker to the fabric.  Examine the room thoroughly, especially the wall, baseboard, headboard and furniture near the bed.  Use a flashlight to look behind and underneath furniture and woodwork.

There are other bugs that look like bed bugs, some of which bite and can cause similar bite reactions.  Before treating an infestation, it is important to correctly identify the bug.  A professional pest control company can help properly identify bugs.  The Ohio State University’s Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic can also identify bugs submitted by the public for a fee.

How do I get rid of bed bugs?

There is no magic bullet to use against bed bugs. Once you have identified a bed bug infestation, you will probably require the help of a professional pest control specialist.  But a professional can’t do it alone.  To get rid of bed bugs, you must remove clutter such as pictures, books and clothing from the infested area so there are fewer places for the bugs to hide.  Vacuuming will remove some of the bed bugs, but the eggs are glued in place and can’t be removed by vacuuming.  When vacuuming, concentrate on mattress seams and around any tufts or buttons.  Vacuum wherever your inspection revealed the presence of bed bugs – furniture, box springs, bed frames, floors and baseboards.  Remove the vacuum bag immediately; place it in a sealed plastic bag and dispose of it outdoors.

Infested items such as clothing, shoes, bedding and blankets can be placed in a clothes dryer on high heat for 20 minutes to kill bed bugs and their eggs.  Mattresses and box springs may be enclosed in a bed bug-proof zippered cover to kill the bugs inside.  The cover should remain in place for more than one year because bed bugs can survive a long time without feeding.

Bed bug resources:Bed Bug


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Last updated: 03/05/2015

Zoonotic Disease Program