The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) has long been a pest – feeding on blood, causing itchy bites and generally irritating their human hosts. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) all consider bed bugs a public health pest. However, unlike most public health pests, bed bugs are not known to transmit or spread disease.
They can, however, cause other public health problems, so itís important to pay close attention to preventing and controlling bed bugs.
Experts believe the recent increase in bed bugs in the United States may be due to more travel, lack of knowledge about preventing infestations, increased resistance of bed bugs to pesticides, and ineffective pest control practices.
The good news is that there are ways to control bed bugs. Getting good, solid information is the first step in both prevention and control. While there is no chemical quick fix, there are effective strategies to control bed bugs involving both non-chemical and chemical methods.
On this page;
- Identifying Bed Bug Infestations
- Treating Bed Bug Infestations
- Preventing Bed Bug Infestations
- Bed Bug Pesticide Alert - Important!
- Hiring Pest Management Professionals
- Bed Bug Biology
- Common Bed Bug Myths
- Questions and Answers
- For More Information
Bites on the skin are a poor indicator of a bed bug infestation. Bed bug bites can be misidentified, which gives the bed bugs time to spread to other areas of the house. Bed bug bites can look like bites from other insects (such as mosquitoes or spiders), rashes (such as eczema or fungal infections), or even hives. Some people do not react to bed bug bites at all.
A far more accurate way to identify a possible infestation is to look for physical signs of bed bugs. For example, spots on bedding, as described below, are one of the earliest and most accurate methods.
- Dark spots (about this size: ē) which are bed bug excrement and may bleed on the fabric like a marker would
- Eggs and eggshells, which are tiny (about 1mm) and white
- Skins that nymphs shed as they grow larger
- Live bed bugs
- Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed
If the room is heavily infested, you may find bed bugs in the seams of chairs and couches, between cushions, in the folds of curtains, in drawer joints, in electrical receptacles and appliances, under loose wall paper and wall hangings -- even in the head of a screw. Since bed bugs are only about the width of a credit card, they can squeeze into really small hiding spots. If a crack will hold a credit card, it could hide a bed bug.
Bed Bug Pesticide Alert
- Never use a pesticide indoors that is intended for outdoor use. It is very dangerous and wonít solve your bed bug problem.
- Using the wrong pesticide or using it incorrectly to treat for bed bugs can make you sick, may not solve the problem, and could even make it worse by causing the bed bugs to hide where the pesticide wonít reach them.
- Check if the product is effective against bedbugs -- if a pest isnít listed on the product label, the pesticide has not been tested on that pest and it may not be effective. Donít use a product or allow a pest control operator to treat your home unless bed bugs are named on the product label.
- Before using any pesticide product, READ THE LABEL FIRST, then follow the directions for use.
- Keep in mind that any pesticide product without an EPA registration number has not been reviewed by EPA, so we havenít determined how well the product works.
Controlling bed bugs takes time and patience. There are a variety of non-chemical approaches that have been shown to be effective. In addition, pesticides are available to aid in the control process.
Combining chemical and non-chemical treatments in a unified approach often makes the most sense. This approach is called integrated pest management (IPM). IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment combined with available pest control methods like pesticides. Together this information is used to manage pest damage based on what you can afford and what is most effective. It also provides a solution with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.
- Inspect infested areas, plus surrounding living spaces
- Correctly identify the pest (save a sample to show an extension agent or other reliable expert in entomology)
- Keep records Ė including dates when and locations where pests are found
- Clean all items within a bed bug infested living area
- Reduce clutter where bed bugs can hide
- Eliminate bed bug habitats
- Physically remove bed bugs through cleaning
- Try non-chemical methods
- Use pesticides carefully according to the label directions or hire a pest management professional
- Follow up with inspections and possible treatments
- Raise awareness through education on prevention of bed bugs
For more information on IPM visit http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/factsheets/ipm.htm.
- Put bedding and clothing in the dryer at high temperatures to kill bed bugs (just washing will generally not kill bed bugs).
- Heat infested articles and/or areas to at least 113 ļF (45 ļC) for 1 hour. The higher the temperature, the shorter the time needed to kill bed bugs at all life stages.
- Cold treatments (below 0 ļF (-19 ļC) for at least 4 days) can eliminate some infestations. Again, the cooler the temperature, the less time needed to kill bed bugs. Home freezers usually are not cold enough to reliably kill bed bugs.
- Use mattress, box spring, and pillow encasements to trap bed bugs and help detect infestations.
- Use a comprehensive strategy such as integrated pest management (IPM) for controlling bed bugs.
- Use EPA's Bed Bug Product Search tool to help you find a pesticide product that meets your needs. Currently, there are over 300 products registered by EPA for use against bed bugs -- the vast majority of which can be used by consumers.
- Read When Treatments Donít Work before reapplying or trying a different product. You may want to consult a pest management professional to inspect your residence and, if needed, apply approved pesticides to treat any infestation. For assistance with choosing a pesticide registered for consumer use, you may also check with the Cooperative Extension Service office in your area.
Bed bugs are very successful hitchhikers, moving from an infested site to furniture, bedding, baggage, boxes, and clothing. Although they typically feed on blood every five to ten days, bed bugs can be quite resilient; they are capable of surviving several months to a year without feeding.
A few simple precautions can help prevent bed bug infestation in your home:
- Check secondhand furniture, beds, and couches for any signs of bed bug infestation, as described above before bringing them home.
- Use a protective cover that encases mattresses and box springs and eliminates many hiding spots. The light color of the encasement makes bed bugs easier to see. Be sure to purchase a high quality encasement that will resist tearing and check the encasements regularly for holes.
- Reduce clutter in your home to reduce hiding places for bed bugs.
- When traveling:
- In hotel rooms, use luggage racks to hold your luggage when packing or unpacking rather than setting your luggage on the bed or floor.
- Check the mattress and headboard before sleeping.
- Upon returning home, unpack directly into a washing machine and inspect your luggage carefully.
- Getting a pest management professional (PMP) involved as soon as possible rather than taking time to try to treat the problem yourself can be very effective at preventing further infestations. Each pest management company should have instructions for residents on how to prepare the unit for a treatment, which will include laundering and cleaning.
- Treating bed bugs is complex. The PMP should be experienced in treating bed bug infestations. Check the companyís credentials.
- The PMP will inspect your residence, take apart furniture if necessary and use vacuums, heat and pesticides to treat the infestation.
- EPAís Citizenís Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety (PDF) (54 pp, 2.37M, about PDF) offers more tips on how to choose a pest control company.
- Myth: You canít see a bed bug.
Reality: You should be able to see adult bed bugs, nymphs and eggs with your naked eye.
- Myth: Bed bugs live in dirty places.
Reality: Bed bugs are not attracted to dirt and grime; they are attracted to warmth, blood and carbon dioxide. However, clutter offers more hiding spots.
- Myth: Bed bugs transmit diseases.
Reality: There have been no cases or studies that indicate bed bugs pass diseases from one host to another.
- Myth: Bed bugs wonít come out if the room is brightly lit.
Reality: While bed bugs prefer darkness, keeping the light on at night wonít deter these pests from biting you.
- Myth: Pesticide applications alone will easily eliminate bed bug infestations.
Reality: Bed bug control can only be maintained through a treatment strategy that includes a variety of techniques plus careful attention to monitoring. Proper use of pesticides may be part of the strategy, but will not by itself eliminate bed bugs. In addition, bed bug populations in different areas of the country have developed resistance to the ways many pesticides work to kill pests. If you're dealing with a resistant population, some products and application methods may only make the problem worse. It is a good idea to consult a qualified pest management professional (PMP) if you have bed bugs in your home.
- In case of emergency, call local Poison Control: 1-800-222-1222
- Read about frequently asked questions and answers on bed bugs.
- Bed Bug Regional Contacts
- Bed Bug Summit
- National Bed Bug Summit - April 2009
- Whatís Working for Bed Bug Control in Multifamily Housing: Reconciling best practices with research and the realities of implementation (PDF). (43 pp, 603 k, about PDF)
- Bed bug fact sheets (several topics, various settings, English and Spanish)
- Understanding and Controlling Bed Bugs
- Bed bugs are back! An IPM Answer (5 pp, 380 k, about PDF)
- Bed bugs (University of Kentucky)
- The Bed Bug Hub: One-Stop Shop for Bed Bug Information
- New York City Bed Bug Resources
- April 6, 2011: Bed Bug Grants Awarded
- Bed Bugs - Importance, Biology, and Control Strategies (Armed Forces Pest Management Board)
- Photos of Bed Bugs (Armed Forces Pest Management Board)