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Guide Life: Bed bugs – yuck!

Bed bugs are very resilient and can go without feeding for up to 11 months

Bed bugs of the species Cimex lectularius are certainly unpleasant. However, they are not harmful.

Bed bugs are parasites, and different types of bed bugs are specific to different species of animals. They feed on blood, and when they do, they inject some of their saliva into the bite. It is this saliva that causes the skin irritation.

Skin rashes and allergies are the most common symptoms. As well, with increased scratching, skin infections are possible.

Perhaps more significant, however, is that the psychological symptoms can be devastating.

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Bed bugs have been reported throughout history, although by the 1940s they were considered largely eradicated in Europe and North America.

However, in recent decades, infestation rates have sharply increased, with Canadian pest control companies reporting anywhere from a 25 to 75 per cent increase in calls for bed bug eradication. There are several reasons given for this rise, including the development of bed bug resistance to pesticides, increased travel to bed bug infested areas, and the banning of chemicals like DDT which were traditionally used.

These insects are very resilient. They can survive cold and low humi­dity, and they can go without feeding for five to 11 months.

Bed bugs also hide well, making them difficult to find, and they are quick to reproduce, with females producing 200 to 250 eggs during their four- to six-month lifetime.

Adult bed bugs are light reddish-brown, oval insects about four to five mm by 1.5-3 mm in size. You can see them, and sometimes they look fatter or redder because they have just had a blood meal. They cannot fly or jump; rather they crawl. And they do not carry disease.

Bed bugs are active at night, and are found in dark crevices and in fabric folds. It makes sense they remain close to their food source (i. e. sleeping people) thus their name. Bed bugs are attracted by warmth and by the carbon dioxide you breathe out during your sleep. They have adapted well to their environment!

Because bringing bed bugs back as a travel souvenir is a possibility, you want to take precautions, and it is estimated that about half of travellers do just that. Check to see if there is a bed bug infestation at your destination. Do not place luggage on the hotel bed, and check for evidence of bed bugs in your room. Pull back the sheets, check the mattress and headboard, and don’t put your clothing in drawers.

When you return home, wash your clothing in hot water, vacuum your suitcases, and even undress before you enter your home.

At home, check mattress seams and folds, couches, chairs, loose wall paper, posters, and drawers. The heat of computers and other electronic equipment will attract bed bugs; check there as well. The idea is that you want to eliminate their hiding places, so don’t forget moulding, baseboards, and even clutter that may have accumulated. And, no matter how great the deal may seem, don’t purchase second-hand furniture and mattresses!

In your search, you are looking for the actual bed bugs or bed bug waste material that looks like reddish brown spots. You can use double-sided tape as a bed bug trap. Bed bugs have a distinctive smell, sometimes described as rotting raspberries, and some pest control companies use specially trained dogs to detect this smell. Cold is detrimental to bed bugs, but you need at least freezing temperatures and exposure needs to be at least four days. Temperatures above 32 C are deadly to bed bugs, and using your washing machine and dryer set on the highest setting may do the job.

Being aware of bed bugs in your travels and at home is key to preventing an infestation. And remember that bed bugs bite exposed skin, not where you wear your pajamas. If you have a rash on exposed areas, consider bed bugs.

About the author

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Marie Berry is a lawyer/pharmacist interested in health and education.

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