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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.

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Identifying Bed Bug Infestations

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.

When cleaning, changing bedding, or staying away from home, look for:

When not feeding, bed bugs hide in a variety of places. Around the bed, they can be found near the piping, seams and tags of the mattress and box spring, and in cracks on the bed frame and head board.

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.

Signs of bed bugs on an old box spring
Signs of bed bugs on a pillow
Close up of eggs on cardboard

Canvas strap of old box spring covering that is housing adults, skin castings, feces, and eggs. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Louis Sorkin)

Close up of blood stains on pillow (L. Sorkin)

Close up of eggs on cardboard (H. Harlan)

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Treating Bed Bug Infestations

Information 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.

Recommended steps:

For more information on IPM visit http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/factsheets/ipm.htm.

Non-chemical treatments

Chemical treatments

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Preventing Bed Bug Infestations

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:

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Hiring Pest Management Professionals

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Bed Bug Biology

Knowing what to look for is the first step in controlling bed bugs. Generally, adult bed bugs are 1/4 to 3/8 inch (4-5mm) long, brown in color, with a flat, oval-shaped body; while young bed bugs (also called nymphs) are smaller and lighter in color.

Life cycle of the bed bug from egg to adult

Life cycle of the bed bug, starting from the top left, moving counterclockwise: eggs (1mm), 1st stage nymph (1.5 mm), 2nd stage nymph (2 mm), 3rd stage nymph (2.5 mm), 4th stage nymph (3 mm), 5th stage nymph (1.5 mm), unfed adult (5.5 mm), and fed adult. Photo Courtesy of Stephen Doggett, Department of Medical Entomology, Westmead Hospital, Sydney, Australia

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Common Bed Bug Myths

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Questions and Answers

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For More Information

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