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About Bed Bugs

What are bed bugs? What do bed bugs look like?


Bed bugs are small, oval, nonflying insects that belong to the insect family Cimicidae, which includes three species that bite people. Adult bed bugs reach 5-7 mm in length, while nymphs (juveniles) are as small as 1.5 mm. Bed bugs have flat bodies and may sometimes be mistaken for ticks or small cockroaches. Bed bugs feed by sucking blood from humans or animals. Adult bed bugs are reddish brown in color, appearing more reddish after feeding on a blood meal. Nymphs are clear in color and appear bright red after feeding. The wings of bed bugs are vestigial, so they cannot fly.

Where are bed bugs found?
Bed bugs were common in the U.S. before World War II and became rare after widespread use of the pesticide DDT began in the 1940s and 1950s. They remained prevalent in other areas of the world and, in recent years, have been increasingly observed again in the U.S. Increases in immigration and travel from the developing world as well as restrictions on the use of stronger pesticides may be factors that have led to the relatively recent increase in bed bug infestations. While bed bugs are often reported to be found when sanitation conditions are poor or when birds or mammals (particularly bats) are nesting on or near a home, bed bugs can also live and thrive in clean environments. Crowded living quarters also facilitate the spread of bed bugs.

Bed bugs can live in any area of the home and can reside in tiny cracks in furniture as well as on textiles and upholstered furniture. They tend to be most common in areas where people sleep and generally concentrate in beds, including mattresses, box springs, and bed frames. Other sites where bed bugs often reside include curtains, the corners inside dressers and other furniture, cracks in wallpaper (particularly near the bed), and inside the spaces of wicker furniture.

Since bed bugs can live for months without feeding, they can also be found in vacant homes.

How are bed bugs spread?
Bed bugs live in any articles of furniture, clothing, or bedding, so they or their eggs may be present in used furniture or clothing. They spread by crawling and may contaminate multiple rooms in a home or even multiple dwellings in apartment buildings. They may also be present in boxes, suitcases, or other goods that are moved from residence to residence or from a hotel to home. Bed bugs can live on clothing from infested homes and may be spread by a person unknowingly wearing infested clothing.

What are the symptoms of bed bug bites?
Bed bugs bite and suck blood from humans. Bed bugs are most active at night and bite any exposed areas of skin while an individual is sleeping. The face, neck, hands, and arms are common sites for bed bug bites. The bite itself is painless and is not noticed. Small, flat, or raised bumps on the skin are the most common sign; redness, swelling, and itching commonly occur. If scratched, the bite areas can become infected. A peculiarity of bed bug bites is the tendency to find several bites lined up in a row. Infectious disease specialists refer to this as the "breakfast, lunch, and dinner" sign signifying the sequential feeding that occurs from site to site.

Bed bug bites may go unnoticed or be mistaken for flea or mosquito bites or other types of rash or skin conditions. Bed bugs also have glands whose secretions may leave odors, and they also may leave dark fecal spots on bed sheets and around their hiding places (in crevices or protected areas around the bed or anywhere in the room).

Bed bugs have not been conclusively proven to carry infectious microbes; however, researchers have implicated bed bugs as possible vectors of American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease), and studies are ongoing to determine whether bed bugs may serve as disease carriers.



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