You've heard the bad news about the nationwide return of bedbugs, particularly in the New York area. But what can we do to minimize our risk for infestation? Fortunately, we have Anahid Nisanian, MD, a doctor of internal medicine in Sunnyside, N.Y., to help us sort it all out.
What are Bedbugs?
Bedbugs are tiny, oval, brownish insects that live on the blood or animals or humans. Although they are a nuisance, they do not transmit disease.
Bedbugs do not fly, but they can move quickly over floors, walls, and ceilings. They reproduce rapidly, and must consume numerous blood meals as they grow from the size of a speck of dust to the size of an apple seed.
Where do they hide?
Bedbugs may enter your home undetected through luggage, clothing, used beds and couches, and other items. Their flattened bodies make it possible for them to fit into tiny spaces, about the width of a credit card. Their initial hiding places are typically in mattresses, box springs, bed frames, and headboards where they have easy access to people to bite during the night. Because bedbugs live solely on blood, having them in your home is not a sign of dirtiness. You are as likely to find them in immaculate homes and hotel rooms as in filthy ones.
Have I been bitten?
If you wake up with itchy areas you didn't have when you went to sleep, you may have bedbugs, particularly if you or a family member has returned from travel or obtained a used bed or furniture around the time the bites started. Other signs of bedbugs include:
- Blood stains on your sheets or pillowcases
- Dark or rusty spots of bedbug excrement on sheets and mattresses, bed clothes, and walls
- An offensive, musty odor from the bugs' scent glands.
Most bedbug bites are painless at first, but later turn into itchy welts. Unlike flea bites that are mainly around the ankles, bedbug bites are on any area of skin exposed while sleeping. Also, the bites do not have a red spot in the center like flea bites do.
How can I get rid of them?
Clean bedding, linens, curtains, and clothing in hot water and dry them on the highest dryer setting. Place stuffed animals, shoes, and other items that can't be washed in the dryer and run on high for 30 minutes.
Use a stiff brush to scrub mattress seams to remove bedbugs and their eggs before vacuuming.
Vacuum your bed and surrounding area frequently. After vacuuming, immediately place the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag and place in garbage can outdoors.
Encase mattress and box springs with a tightly woven, zippered cover to keep bedbugs from entering or escaping. Bedbugs may live up to a year without feeding, so keep the cover on your mattress for at least a year to make sure all bugs in the mattress are dead.
If your mattress is infested, you may want to discard it and get a new one, but take care to rid the rest of your home of bedbugs or they will infest your new mattress.
While cleaning up infested areas will be helpful in controlling bedbugs, getting rid of them usually requires chemical treatments. Generally it is safest and most effective to hire an experienced pest control professional for bedbug extermination.
You can get more good advice from the Centers for Disease Control.