They look innocuous enough, and their bites are small and relatively painless – but bed bugs can become a real nuisance if their presence in your home is allowed to go unchecked. These blood-sucking insects spread quickly, and the bites they dispense can leave you susceptible to infection; and according to a number of health researchers, they are also carriers for dangerous disease vectors like the Chagas disease. Read on as we explore the symptoms of bed bug bites (which will enable you to work out if you’ve got a bed bug problem at your place), and how to treat those bites.
About bed bugs
Bedbugs are very small, oval-shaped insects. About 5-7 mm in length, they have flat bodies, a reddish brown color, and don’t fly (though they are able to crawl around very quickly). One of their major food sources is human and animal blood. They tend to come out at night, biting areas of exposed skin as the individual sleeps, defenseless and unaware.
Where can bedbugs be found?
Bedbugs are found all over the world, including the most developed countries as well as the least developed ones; for a number of years after the war, they became much less prevalent, in the United States especially, due to the introduction of DDT and other synthetic insecticides in pest control practices. However, in recent years, bedbugs have been making a comeback in the U.S, due to increases in immigration and international trade, and growing restrictions on the use of synthetic pesticides. Bedbugs dwell within clean environments as well as dirty ones – they are more likely to inhabit crowded areas than sparsely populated ones, though.
Considered a major household pest, bedbugs can be found anywhere in your home – or any other place where humans live and sleep, such as hotels – but as the name implies they are most likely to be found in beds, including the mattress, springs, and frame. They also reside within the cracks and other small spaces in your household furniture and fittings (carpets, curtains, etc); plus any other little nooks within your house (such as within the wallpaper). Contrary to popular thought, they are LEAST likely to be found within your sheets and other bed linen. Because they can survive for months at a time without feeding, bedbugs can live inside vacant homes as well as occupied ones.
How do bed bugs spread?
Bedbugs spread to different locations in the home by crawling; and because they hid – and deposit their eggs – within items of clothing and furniture, they can contaminate multiple rooms or even buildings as these items are moved from one place to another.
Bedbug bites: major symptoms
As we have seen, bedbugs feed on human blood, and are most active at night; they will bite any areas of your skin that are left exposed during this period, including the face, hands, neck, arms, and legs.
What do bed bug bites look like?
Though bedbug bites are painless and can easily go unnoticed, they do exhibit certain ‘signature’ elements that differentiate them from other insect bites and enable you to confirm that your home is infested. The most common signs of bed bug bites are the presence of very small, either flat or raised, bumps on the skin – often you will find several of them lined up neatly in a row, as the bed bugs move from site to site feeding; and swelling, redness, and itching – indeed, bedbug bites can easily be mistaken for flea or mosquito bites, or a rash that has some other cause. You may need to employ the assistance of professional pest control services to confirm whether there are bedbugs present in your home.
Often, bedbug bites will take a few days to develop. The first signs and symptoms may not appear until up to 14 days after the initial bite.
Bedbugs may also be detected by the presence of a certain musty odor that is a product of their gland secretions. They have also been known to deposit small, dark spots (which are actually their feces) on and around bed linen and any other places they hide.
Because they are itchy, scratching bedbug bites can lead to irritation around the bite site, and even infection. According to infectious disease specialists, bedbugs may also be carriers for certain dangerous diseases, in particular, Chagas disease, or American trypanosomiasis. This has not been proven conclusively, however.
How to treat bed bug bites
How to ease bed bug bites? For the most part, bedbug bites don’t require any special treatment – however, if the itching is particularly severe, anything that relieves or controls it may be employed, including cold compresses, oatmeal pastes, and over-the-counter medications like topical steroid ointments and antihistamines. In the case of secondary bacterial infections that occur in heavily-scratched places, or an allergic reaction, you may need to get a prescription from your doctor for some antibiotics. If you really want to know how to get rid of bed bugs bites, though, understand that by and large bedbugs bites are not particularly serious, and will heal of their own accord given enough time.
How long to bed bug bites last, and how long do bed bug bites take to heal? Generally, bed bug bites will heal within one to two weeks.
That’s all well and good – but as the old saying goes, ‘prevention is better than cure’, and bedbug bites may be most effectively treated by preventing these pests from gaining a foothold in your home, to begin with. Keep your home clean by vacuuming frequently, keeping your living spaces free of clutter, and the like. Another good idea is to seal your mattress within a special form of the casing that prevents bed bugs from infesting it.
When traveling, keep your luggage away from the hotel beds you sleep in so that you don’t carry these pests back home with you. If possible, try to store your suitcase in a luggage rack. As soon as you get home, throw your travel clothes in the washer. Luggage should not be kept under or around your bed at home either; it is better stored in the garage or basement.
If things have gotten to the point where bedbugs have already taken over all or part of your home, then your first step should be to avoid areas that are known to be infested, and then as soon as possible call in the professionals to treat the affected rooms. Generally speaking, conventional insect repellents and other ‘do it yourself’ measures are not effective against bedbugs. They will recommend such measures as deep-cleaning and scrubbing of infested surfaces, pulling apart furniture and bed frames, filling in cracks within your home, encasing your mattress within special bagging, deep vacuuming of cracks etc. Any infested mattresses will probably have to be discarded.