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Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite!

Bed Bug

Bed Bugs have been in the news a lot lately and there have also been a lot of email warnings circulating about them. Read on for some information that will help you separate fact from fiction.

Bed Bugs Bugging Us on the Internet

by Michael Waldvogel, PhD; Extension Assoc. Professor & Specialist, Structural & Industrial Pests; North Carolina State University, Dept. of Entomology

I've had several inquiries about an email that is circulating on the internet alleging that the main source of bed bugs is clothing imported from Asia. The email goes on to say that these imports are responsible for closing several stores and even an entire mall.

While it is true that some stores have made the news about closing due to bed bugs, I have seen no credible information that suggests that the imported clothing is a major source of bed bugs coming into the U.S. There's no denying that a box of clothing could become infested depending on where they were stored and how they were shipped, but at present the major sources of bed bugs for individuals still seems to be travel and ending up with an infestation in their home which can lead to someone accidentally transporting them to work in a bag or backpack. College campuses including NCSU have already experienced this type of problem.

If that email message has any merit, it is about the value of using a dryer to heat clothing to kill bed bugs. You will see varying recommendations on the time needed to kill the bugs. Some sites say that as little as 5 minutes works; we tend to run more conservatively with 45 minutes which is likely "overkill" (literally) but that's because we don't know if people are placing just a few items into the dryer or (because of money) trying to cram the dryer full of clothing which obviously impedes the rate at which you achieve a uniform temperature through the garments/items being tumbled around in the dryer.

So, bottom line is if you are the recipient of that bed bug email message, take it for what it's intended - to have you and other well-meaning people sending it to everyone they know so that everyone's email boxes get crammed with junk mail. It rates little attention/credibility and belongs with the other "great" (and inaccurate) advice you see coming across the internet, such as the use of club soda to kill fire ants!

Preventing Bed Bug Infestations

(Source: epa.gov)

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 over a year without feeding.

A few simple precautions can help prevent bed bug infestation in your home:

  • Check secondhand furniture, beds, and couches for any signs of bed bug infestations, (as described below) before bringing them home.
  • Use a protective cover that encases mattresses and box springs which eliminates many hiding spots. The light color of the encasement makes bed bugs easier to see. Be sure to purchase a high quality encasement that will resist tearing and check the encasements regularly for holes.
  • Reduce clutter in your home to reduce hiding places for bed bugs.
  • When traveling:
    • In hotel rooms, use luggage racks to hold your luggage when packing or unpacking rather than setting your luggage on the bed or floor.
    • Check the mattress and headboard before sleeping.
    • Upon returning home, unpack directly into a washing machine and inspect your luggage carefully.

Identifying Bed Bug Infestations

Much of the time, a bed bug infestation is only suspected when bites appear on a person. Oftentimes, the bites are misidentified, thus allowing infestations to go unnoticed, which gives the bed bugs time to spread to other areas of the house.

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

  • dark spots (about this size: •) which are bed bug excrement and may bleed on the fabric like a marker would
  • eggs and eggshells, which are tiny (about 1mm) and white
  • skins that nymphs shed as they grow larger
  • live bed bugs, and rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed

Common Bed Bug Myths

Myth: You can’t see a bed bug.
Reality: You should be able to see adult bed bugs, nymphs and eggs with your naked eye.

Myth: Bed bugs live in dirty places.
Reality: Bed bugs are not attracted to dirt and grime; they are attracted to warmth, blood and carbon dioxide. However, clutter offers more hiding spots.

Myth: Bed bugs transmit diseases.
Reality: There are no cases that indicate bed bugs pass diseases from one host to another. Lab tests have shown that it is unlikely that the insect is capable of infecting its host.

Myth: Bed bugs won’t come out if the room is brightly lit.
Reality: While bed bugs prefer darkness, keeping the light on at night won’t deter these pests from biting you.

Myth: Pesticide applications alone will easily eliminate bed bug infestations. Reality: Bed bug control can only be maintained through a comprehensive treatment strategy that incorporates a variety of techniques and vigilant monitoring.

Proper use of pesticides may be one component of the strategy, but will not eliminate bed bugs alone. In addition, bed bug populations in different geographic areas of the country have developed resistance to many pesticidal modes of action. If you're dealing with a resistant population, some products and application methods may only serve to make the problem worse. It is a good idea to consult a qualified pest management professional (PMP) if you have bed bugs in your home.

EPA - Registered Bed Bug Products

For additional information on bedbugs contact the Buncombe County Cooperative Extension at 255-5522.