Don’t let the bed bugs bite: myths dispelled, facts given about these insects

Bed Bug

HALEYVILLE - Reports have come in recently where persons in Haleyville are experiencing and are complaining of bed bugs.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” But what can one do? Do you have an infestation? What do they look like? It’s our hope this article will shed the light on some of the myths and facts on these creatures.

Bed bugs are small, six-legged insects that prefer human blood for food. They are oval and flat and mahogany in color but will turn a reddish-brown when fed and engorged. The are 1/4 of an inch long or less depending on the life stage of the bug. They have no wings and do not jump like fleas.

Most likely due to DDT in pesticides, bed bugs nearly became eradicated in the 1950s but have been in a resurgence since the 1990s.

The family of insects they belong to is called Cimex lectularius. One myth is they are drawn to unsanitary conditions, though the fact is they come from other places in luggage, clothing and the like, being efficient hitchhikers. They are mostly nocturnal and live close by their food source whether it be on the mattress, in the baseboards, cracks or even electrical outlets.

Female bed bugs can lay anywhere from 200 to 500 eggs in their lifetime. A bed bug will molt, or shed its skin, five times before reaching maturity.

To identify a bed bug or to see if signs of them are in your home, use a flashlight to check the most common place: your mattress. Signs are easily identifiable, which are small blood or feces stains.

“If they have plenty of warm-blooded hosts and plenty of hiding areas, they can reproduce rapidly,” said Mike Henshaw, county extension coordinator.  “They prefer humans, but will also bite dogs, cats, birds and rats.  Once they become established, they will spread throughout the entire house.”

While they are not known to carry or transmit any diseases, they do bite and cause swelling, rashes and itching.

“The discomfort of the bites and mental anxiety they cause are significant,” Henshaw said.
Sticky traps and pitfall traps can be used in identifying an infestation and as an alternative to chemicals. Sticky traps are the glue traps regularly used for mice. Pitfall traps are items such as small, plastic dishes, which can be set under the leg of the bed. The bugs cannot crawl out of them. Vacuuming regularly around the bed and commonly used furniture are good methods for prevention.

A mattress protector, or encasement, is yet another option of non-chemical retaliation.

“In the case of beds, a more economical option is to encase both the mattress and box spring in a protective cover like those used for allergy relief...Once the encasement is installed and zipped shut, any bugs which happen to be inside are entombed and eventually will die. Encasements also help protect newly purchased beds, and make it easier to spot and destroy any bugs residing on the outer surface during subsequent examination. Encasements will not, however, keep bed bugs from crawling onto a bed and biting a sleeping person,” according to an extension brochure.

A pest control specialist should be able to advise on encasements and may be able to apply steam or spot freezing. Though these methods are not prone to last, they do kill the bugs on contact.
According to Henshaw, preventing them is the best control.

“Check for bedbugs when staying at a hotel. Don’t bring used furniture or mattresses into the home without careful inspection,” he said.

“In heavily infested apartments, a sweet, almond-like smell can be detected upon entering the home, in which case professional help should be sought immediately,” according to another extension brochure.

“If an infestation has become established, washing and drying garments at temperatures over 120 degrees will kill them,” Henshaw mentioned. “Large pieces of upholstered furniture and mattresses are very difficult to treat.  Many people choose to discard those items.  Professional pest control operators know what insecticides can be used to control bedbugs inside the home, but sanitation methods like washing and drying should also be used. Our office can provide information on insecticides that homeowners can use indoors and how to apply those products.”
Henshaw and the Winston County Extension can be reached at 205-489-5376.

See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.
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