Bed bugs are parasitic insects that feed primarily on human blood. However, there are other strains of bed bugs that feed on other warm-blooded animals, such as cats and dogs. While there’s no evidence that bed bugs transmit diseases, bed bugs impact public health. These pests cause irritating bites that lead to secondary health issues but also affect mental health.
Because bed bugs exist everywhere and can be found in all 50 U.S. states, the risk of getting bed bugs is very high.
In this definitive pest control guide on how to get rid of bed bugs in Washington D.C., we discuss the health implications of bed bugs in your home, the signs of an infestation, and bed bug elimination methods.
Bed Bugs, A Breakdown
The bed bug classifies as a “true bug” with three main body parts and six legs. The insects are tiny, with sizes that range between 1 and 7 mm. They are oval-shaped and flat; after feeding on blood, their bodies will be swollen and rounder. Bed bugs are brownish but take on a rusty red color after consuming blood. Because of their shape, size, and color, the bed bug’s appearance is compared to apple seeds.
While one of the main parts of the bed bug’s body has wing pads, the insect does not have functional wings and, therefore, does not fly. Bed bugs grow into adults in as little as a month under the right conditions. According to Scientific American, adult female bed bugs can produce one egg per day. Each egg needs ten days to hatch and approximately six weeks to develop into an adult. These insects have a lifespan of between 6 and 12 months.
Bed Bug Bites
Discovering small, itchy, red welts on your skin is one the most obvious indicators that you have a bed bug problem. The bites look similar to mosquito bites. The center of the bite is typically darker than the surrounding area. The dark part indicates where the bed bug pierced the skin to draw blood with its elongated beak. Bed bugs often feed in groups. Therefore, the bites are often seen in a cluster or a line.
Reactions to bed bug bites vary by a person’s immune response and sensitivity. Some people will feel minimal to no itchiness, while others may experience discomfort. Hypersensitivity to bed bug bites has also been reported by people who have suffered severe symptoms such as fever, blisters, and irregular heartbeat. In cases of extreme allergic reaction to bed bug bites, the person may have difficulty breathing, a swollen tongue, and even anaphylactic shock.
Bed bugs do not discriminate and will feed on any blood type. However, some people get bitten more often than others, despite sleeping in the same bed. Experts believe this happens when the bed bug begins its life feeding on a certain host and develops a preference for their blood; therefore, it will continue to return to that host despite having access to other warm-blooded options.
Are bed bugs dangerous for health?
Bed bugs pose risks to both physical and mental health. Bed bugs are harmful to health for the following reasons.
Bed bug bites. Bed bugs bite mostly on exposed skin while you sleep, which is why they are most common on the face, arms, feet, and legs. The lesions are typically between 2 and 5 mm in diameter; however, some can be as wide as 2 cm. Apart from being itchy and irritating, bed bug bites are displeasing to look at because they’re red and appear in clusters. This can be a hassle for someone who works in a forward-facing industry or has a client-facing job.
Secondary infections. The itchiness of bed bug bites can last for days for some. Despite your best efforts not to scratch when you’re awake, you may scratch at night in your sleep. Breaking open the skin of a bed bug bite can lead to secondary bacterial infections such as ecthyma or cellulitis.
Trigger chronic health conditions. Bed bug residue and bed bug bites can trigger existing health conditions. Inhaling bed bug residue, including droppings and dried casings, can trigger asthma and respiratory allergic reactions. Large bed bug infestations also cause a musty odor, which is also an allergy trigger.
Mental health impacts. Your mental wellbeing can suffer when you know parasitic pests feed off you as you sleep. You can feel frustrated, anxious, irritated, and angry knowing there’s an infestation affecting your quality of life and invading your home. For some, this is enough reason to lose sleep as you worry about being bitten or how to eliminate these pests for good.
Signs of a Bed Bug Infestation
Bed bugs are too small for you to hear. To determine if you have a bed bug infestation, rely on your sense of sight and smell. It’s also important to know where bed bugs like to hide, so you know where to look. Here are the signs of a bed bug infestation that you should look out for.
Bed bug bites
Finding bites on your body is the most obvious sign that you have a bed bug problem. However, it’s possible that your skin condition is something other than bed bugs, such as hives, fungal infections, dermatitis, and miliaria.
Bed bugs in plain sight
Seeing bed bugs in the open is rare. However, you may spot one as it travels through your home. They are no bigger than an apple seed. Other insects that look like bed bugs include fleas, carpet beetles, and booklice.
Dark stains on bed coverings
If you notice dark stains on your bedsheets and pillow coverings, it may be blood squished from a bed bug. Bed bugs feed on you while you sleep. If you roll over while they’re feeding, you may crush them without realizing it.
Dark spot clusters in hidden areas
Bed bug droppings are dark and sticky. Because of its tar-like consistency, it will stick to surfaces such as mattresses, sheets, walls, upholstery, and carpeting. The feces are dark brown and will usually appear in clusters, resembling mold.
Bed bug remains
Bed bugs molt old skin when they develop to the next stage in their lifecycle. The leftover casings will appear lighter in color compared to a bed bug’s usually dark brown color. Other remains that bed bugs leave behind include their eggs and eggshells.
There has been some debate on the smell bed bugs give off. Bed bugs release pheromones to communicate and alert others of danger. The smell may also come from the residue, such as droppings, indicating a large infestation. Some people will say it is sickly sweet and compare it to berries. Most people say it is a musty odor that is reminiscent of coriander.
Bed Bug Hiding Places
Bed bugs can be found in any environment where the parasite has access to a warm-blooded host. The most common places where pest professionals have found bed bugs include:
- Single-family homes
- Nursing homes
- Daycare centers
- College dorms
- Public transportation
Bed bugs survive by hiding in dark cracks and crevices. They will only come out when it’s time to feed. They avoid direct light and contact with humans and pets. They survive despite being in an environment with restricted airflow. Bed bugs will stay close to where their hosts sleep, which is why they are mostly found in mattresses, bed frames, and box springs. However, you will also find them in sofas, chairs, dressers, electrical outlets, appliances, and loose wallpaper.
Are bed bugs hard to get rid of?
Bed bugs are challenging to get rid of. The following are the main reasons why bed bug elimination is difficult:
The resiliency and adaptability of bed bugs have led to a strain resistant to pesticides. Experts believe that if a bed bug feeds on a host who has been exposed to pesticides, the bed bug develops an immunity when they consume that host’s blood. A point comes when these pesticides are no longer toxic to the insect.
Bed bugs multiply rapidly with the ability to lay one to five eggs each day. Each egg can hatch into nymphs within ten days or less. And the nymphs can reach adulthood in a little over a month. Therefore, hundreds of bed bugs can multiply into thousands before you know it.
Bed Bug Behavior
Bed bugs rely on their senses to seek hosts. These bugs are attracted to body heat and body odor. They survive by only coming out when they’re not exposed to threats and feed when they’re least at risk. They can go without feeding for weeks or months if it means their survival. They move quickly, travel easily from room to room, and hitch a ride on luggage and clothes.
Natural Home Remedies
Fearing the potentially toxic effects of a conventional bed bug treatment, more and more people are looking for alternatives. There are natural home remedies that don’t use chemicals, such as:
Heat kills bed bugs. Store-bought steamers are available on the market and can be used as a bed bug heat treatment. However, many of these products are unsafe and don’t reach the heat levels that effectively kill bed bugs. They may kill the adult bed bugs but not the eggs or the nymphs.
Just as extreme heat kills bed bugs, so does extreme cold. However, handling cold treatments on your own can be dangerous. To effectively kill bed bugs, you need to reach temperatures below 45°F. Freezing treatments are also a hassle as rooms must be closed off.
Bed bug mattress covers seal the bed bugs inside the mattress. The goal is to starve the bed bugs to death. While this effectively kills the bed bugs within that mattress, this solution does nothing to stop an infestation that may exist in other parts of the house.
Conventional Bed Bug Treatments
Many exterminators specialize in various types of pests, including bed bugs, cockroaches, and fleas. Many use the same chemical-based solution to eliminate the insect, regardless of the species.
More and more exterminators are using organic-based products to address consumers’ growing concerns. However, organic treatments may take longer to work; therefore, requiring more rounds of treatment. Here are some common conventional bed bug treatments that many exterminators still use today:
Traditional bed bug insecticides contain chemicals like pyrethrins and pyrethroids. Pyrethrins are derived from chrysanthemum flowers, while pyrethroids are synthetic. Both are considered chemical-based despite the botanical nature of pyrethrins. Exposure to these insecticides poses potential health risks such as allergies, skin irritation, eye damage, respiratory damage, asthma, and acute poisoning. What’s most alarming is that even insecticides that have been registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been linked to health issues such as cancer, organ damage, and hormone disruption.
Desiccants work by destroying the bed bug’s protective outer layer. Without the protection, the bed bug dehydrates and, ultimately, dies. Desiccants are chemicals that are lethal to bed bugs and harmful to humans and pets. The composition of desiccants includes amorphous silicon dioxide, and inhaling its fumes has been linked to shortness of breath, nasal irritation, and lung cancer. Because of the health hazards that desiccants pose, their usage is limited to cracks and crevices. Therefore, desiccants alone cannot eliminate a bed bug infestation.
Bed bug bombs are aerosol foggers. Many issues have been linked to the usage of bug bombs in bed bug extermination. The “fog” does not reach the cracks and crevices in which bed bugs hide. This means that only the bed bugs that are exposed to the aerosol are the ones that die. Therefore, the eggs and nymphs are still intact and safe to grow into adults. If you have a bed bug problem in all your rooms, this means throwing a fogger into each room. You won’t have access to those rooms for hours, and entering prematurely can lead to harmful health issues. Some of these health implications include skin irritation and respiratory problems.
Professionals know exactly where to look to determine whether you have a bed bug infestation. This not only relieves you of the hassle of peering into cracks and crevices but also ensures the investigation is carried out thoroughly. The right professional will only use methods that will not harm your health. Experts in the field of bed bug extermination aim to kill bed bugs at all stages of the parasite’s life cycle to reduce the risk of a repeat infestation.
It’s never too early to hire a professional bed bug exterminator once you suspect you have an infestation. A few bites now and again may seem like a tolerable nuisance at first. However, bed bugs can multiply rapidly, and a localized bed bug problem can quickly spread throughout your entire home. Not only can bed bugs harm you physically and mentally, but they can leave unsightly marks on your furniture and an unpleasant odor.
VORTEX Bed Bug Solutions specializes in bed bug removal. We use a 100% effective heat treatment that kills bed bugs at every stage of their life cycle. Our certified technicians use a zero-emission solution that is environmentally friendly because it’s chemical-free. Our method heats to the “kill zone” at 122°F in under 30 minutes, delivering a bed bug eradication program that is completed within 24 hours. Our process requires minimal preparation and, therefore, less disruption to your home or business.