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Bedbugs

Topic Overview

What are bedbugs?

Bedbugs are flat, wingless insects about 0.25 in. (0.6 cm) long. They range in color from almost white to brown. They turn rusty red after feeding. Like mosquitoes, bedbugs feed on blood from animals or people.

Bedbugs have that name because they like to hide in bedding and mattresses. Bedbugs usually hide during the day and are active at night when they feed. They can go for weeks without feeding. See a picture of a bedbug .

Bedbugs do not seem to spread disease to people. But itching from the bites can be so bad that some people will scratch enough to cause breaks in the skin that get infected easily. The bites can also cause an allergic reaction in some people.

Where can you find bedbugs?

Bedbugs are found worldwide. They are most often found in hotels, motels, hostels, shelters, and apartment complexes where large numbers of people come and go.

Because bedbugs hide in small crevices, they can come into your house on luggage, furniture, clothing, pillows, boxes, and other objects. The bugs can hide in beds, floors, furniture, wood, and paper trash during the day.

How do you know if you have bedbugs?

The first sign of bedbugs may be red, itchy bites on the skin, usually on the arms or shoulders. Bedbugs tend to leave straight rows of bites, unlike some other insects that leave bites here and there.

Look also for these other signs:

  • The bugs themselves, especially along the seams of mattresses.
  • Tiny bloodstains on sheets and mattresses.
  • Dark spots of insect waste where bedbugs might crawl into hiding places on furniture, walls, and floors.
  • A sweet odor from bedbugs' scent glands where bedbugs are found in large numbers.

How can you treat bedbug bites?

Home treatment can help stop the itching and prevent an infection. You can:

  • Wash the bites with soap to lower the chance of infection.
  • Use calamine lotion or an anti-itch cream to stop the itching. You can also hold an oatmeal-soaked washcloth on the itchy area for 15 minutes. You can buy an oatmeal powder, such as Aveeno Colloidal Oatmeal, in drugstores. Or you can make your own oatmeal solution. Wrap 1 cup (0.2 L) of oatmeal in a cotton cloth, and boil it for a few minutes until it is soft.
  • Use an ice pack to stop the swelling.
  • See your doctor if you think the bites may be infected.

How do you get rid of bedbugs?

Bedbugs can be hard to kill. Bugs can hide in cracks and crevices in the mattress, bed frame, and box spring. They can spread into cracks and crevices in the room and lay their eggs. For these reasons, it is best to call a professional insect control company for treatment choices. The usual treatments include:

  • Heat. Equipment is used to heat rooms to kill the bugs and their eggs. The temperature needs to be around 122°F (50°C).
  • Insecticides. Make sure that the product the company uses has been shown to be effective against the bugs you are trying to get rid of.
  • Other cleaning steps such as vacuuming or laundering things that might hide bugs. Washing and then drying items in a dryer on a hot setting is adequate to kill bedbugs in clothing or linens. Turn the dryer to the hottest setting that the fabric can handle.

When the bugs are gone, be careful not to bring bedbugs back into your house.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Hwang SW, et al. (2005). Bed bug infestations in an urban environment. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 11(4): 533–538.
  • Steen CJ, Schwartz RA (2008). Arthropod bites and stings. In K Wolff et al., eds., Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 7th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2054–2063. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised July 8, 2013

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