At the dawn of time, the prehistoric Cimex lectularius, or bed bug, lived in the nests of birds and guano-covered roosts of bats, quietly doing what nest parasites do: feeding on other animals. Today, this insect still enjoys these same habits—but it prefers human nests to animal ones.
Bed bugs, once happy in animal roosts, have developed a taste for human blood. And they live in your bed or sofa and rely on you as their food source. Here, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about bed bugs, so you can keep your home free of this pest.
What Are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are a small, wingless parasite. As previously mentioned, they survive by feeding off of warm-blooded animals, like humans. They also leave a small, red, itchy mark when they bite.
If you disturb them, bed bugs scuttle for dark cracks (like the lining of your mattress, for example). They’re small: hatchlings are about the size of a poppy seed, and adults don’t grow to be much larger than a grain of rice. Although they can look white in appearance, most bed bugs are brownish in colour. If you look closely, they’re visible to the human eye.
When bed bugs bite, they insert two hollow tubes into the skin. One tube injects the host with an anesthetic and an anticoagulant. This step prevents the host from feeling the bite and makes the blood easy to suck through the second tube.
The Truth about Bed Bugs and Your Health
The words “bed bugs” tend to evoke many unpleasant feelings and the idea of being in the proximity of these pests can often send people running. However, as bed bug infestations have become more commonplace in the past few years, it is important to know why bed bugs are drawn to us and what implications these blood-sucking pests have on human health. Here ten important bed bug facts to know.
Bed bugs are attracted by warmth and carbon dioxide. So, if you are alive, warm, and breathing – you are a bed bug magnet. Although bed bugs are not nocturnal, they are most active at night because that is when their human targets are sleeping and emitting a steady stream of carbon dioxide allowing for prime feeding time.
Just because you don’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not there. In fact, you have to look closely because they can be hard to see. Bed bugs love to hide in the cracks and crevices associated with mattresses, cushions, bed frames, and other structures. They are rarely seen out in the open or on the resting surface of beds or chairs – with the exception of large-scale infestations. They are champions of hide-and-seek. It is not uncommon to miss bed bugs altogether, so also look for telltale signs of an infestation, such as specks of blood or feces found in mattresses or on walls.
Bed bugs have flat, oval bodies, are reddish-brown in colour and are sometimes described as having the size and appearance of an apple seed. Adult bed bugs range in size from 1/5 to 1/4 inch while nymphs/juveniles may be as small as 1.5mm. As they feed, they enlarge and engorge with blood. The adults turn from more brown to more red in colour, while the translucent nymphs may become bright red.
Bed bugs typically feed by biting exposed areas of skin such as the face, neck, hands, legs, and arms. The bite itself is painless and undetected at the time because bed bugs inject an anticoagulant (blood thinner) along with an anesthetic, which creates a numbing effect as they feed. Because feeding usually takes 5-10 minutes, this anesthetic-like compound allows the bugs to easily feed uninterrupted.
A bed big bite can appear as a tiny puncture wound without a surrounding reaction, and can easily be missed (30 percent of individuals living in bed bug infested dwellings reported a lack of bites or skin reactions). This appears to be more common amongst the elderly, as noted in the study: The Sensitivity Spectrum: Human Reactions to Bed Bug Bites. On the other hand, other people have exuberant reactions with large, red, raised and itchy welts. This is especially true if one becomes sensitive to bed bug bites, so that will show with repeated bites there may be a more exaggerated skin reaction.
In situations with persistent exposures to the pest, bed bug bites may appear in groups. Given bed bug bites usually take 3 to 6 weeks to heal, as long as the infestation is still present, new bites may accumulate even as the older ones disappear. Thus, people may have various bite reactions in various stages of evolution at the same time.
Bed bug bites do not typically require treatment. Itching is by far the most common complaint by those who experience bed bug bites. If the itching becomes severe, people will find relief with topical steroid creams or oral antihistamines. Clean the bite site(s) with soap and water and avoid scratching so as to prevent infection. If a secondary infection occurs, consult your physician so it can be managed with antibiotics as appropriate. Progressive swelling, warmth, tenderness and (albeit rare) fever may be signs of secondary infection.
Unlike mosquitoes and ticks, bed bugs are not known to transmit disease to humans. While some pathogens have been detected in and on bed bugs – including hepatitis B, and exotic organisms such as Trypanosoma cruzi cause of Chagas Disease, most commonly found in Central and South America) or Wolbachia species – bed bugs have not been associated with disease transmission.
Bed bugs do not transmit MRSA. There have been reports of persons developing methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections (such as boil or abscess) associated with bed bugs, but it turn out the infections were secondary. MRSA infections associated with bed bug bites are actually an example of scratching leading to minor skin trauma and subsequent secondary bacterial infections. In these case, people who are carriers of MRSA scratch at the bites and provide a port of entry for the MRSA (which was already present on their skin) to get in and under the skin and cause a secondary infection. The bed bug can be blamed for the itch, but not for the infection.
Some people experience anxiety, sleeplessness, and unease as a result of having bed bugs. Bed bug infestations are understandably significant psychosocial stressors, and some people may experience sleeplessness as they worry about bugs biting them or their family members. People have been known to self-isolate, avoiding family and friends out of concern for spreading the infestation. Additionally, some people may also be stigmatized by friends or other in the community, or find they have problems at work if their bed bug problem becomes widely known. As a result, victims of bed bug infestations may experience moderate to severe levels of stress, anxiety and depression and should seek treatment as necessary.
Finally, when it comes to controlling bed bugs this is definitely not a case of “do it yourself” as bed bugs are notoriously difficult to eradicate. In fact, the CDC recommends that victims of bed bug infestations contact their landlord or an experienced pest management professional.
If you suspect that you have bed bugs in the Calgary area, contact a pest control specialist such as Best Control Pest Control immediately. These professionals eliminate parasites from your home, so you can sleep or sit without fear of irritating bites and bugs. You can also ask your pest control specialist how to prevent bed bugs in the future.