Bedbugs (or bed bugs) are small, elusive, and parasitic insects of the family Cimicidae. They live strictly by feeding on the blood of humans and other warm-blooded animals. The name 'bed bug' is derived from the insect's preferred habitat infesting houses and especially beds or other common areas where people may sleep Bedbugs, though not strictly nocturnal, are mainly active at night and are capable of feeding unnoticed on their hosts.
New York City
New York City has experienced increased cases of bedbug infestations since the early 2000s, with some reported in hotels, schools, and hospitals. In 2004, New York City had 377 bedbug violations. However, in the five-month span from July to November 2005, 449 violations were reported in the city, an increase in infestations over a short period of time. Some domestic cases have escalated to extreme levels, causing residents to label the infestations "house herpes". Exterminators and entomologists blame the infestations on the fact that so many international travelers visit New York City each day.
The common bedbug (Cimex lectularius) is the species best adapted to human environments. It is found in temperate climates throughout the world and feeds on blood. Other species include Cimex hemipterus, found in tropical regions, which also infests poultry and bats, and Leptocimex boueti, found in the tropics of West Africa and South America, which infests bats and humans. Cimex pilosellus and Cimex pipistrella primarily infest bats, while Haematosiphon inodora, a species of North America, primarily infests poultry.
Adult bedbugs are reddish-brown, flattened, oval, and wingless. Bedbugs have microscopic hairs that give them a banded appearance. A common misconception is that they are not visible to the naked eye. Adults grow to 4–5 mm in length and 1.5-3 mm wide. They do not move quickly enough to escape the notice of an observer. Newly hatched nymphs are translucent, lighter in color and become browner as they molt and reach maturity.
Bedbug (4 mm length 2.5 mm width), shown in a film roll plastic container. On the right is the recently sloughed skin from its nymph stage Bedbugs are true insects and are not arachnids, unlike dust mites and ticks. There are 6 recognized subfamilies of Cimicidae and up to 23 genera, while the number of species has been stated as anywhere from 75 to 108. Most species only feed on humans when other prey are unavailable. C. lectularius and C. hempiterus will mate with each other given the opportunity, but the eggs then produced are usually sterile. Bedbugs use pheromones and kairomones to communicate regarding nesting locations, attacks, and reproduction.The life span of bedbugs varies by species and is also dependent on feeding.
Bedbugs are bloodsucking insects. They are normally active at night just before dawn, with a peak feeding period of about an hour before sunrise. Bedbugs may attempt to feed at other times if given the opportunity and have been observed feeding during all periods of the day. They reach their host by walking, or sometimes climb the walls to the ceiling and drop down on feeling a heat wave. Bedbugs are attracted to their hosts by warmth and the presence of carbon dioxide. The bug pierces the skin of its host with two hollow feeding tubes. With one tube it injects its saliva, which contains anticoagulants and anesthetics, while with the other it withdraws the blood of its host. After feeding for about five minutes, the bug returns to its hiding place. The bites cannot usually be felt until some minutes or hours later, as a dermatological reaction to the injected agents, and the first indication of a bite usually comes from the desire to scratch the bite site. Because of their natural aversion for sunlight, bedbugs come out at night.
Although bedbugs can live for a year or eighteen months without feeding, and purportedly up to three years in the case of the species Oeciacus vicarius (the cliff swallow bug), they normally try to feed every five to ten days. Bedbugs that go dormant for lack of food often live longer than a year, while well-fed specimens typically live six to nine months.
Low infestations may be difficult to detect and in the early stages, victims may not realize they have bedbugs. Patterns of bites in a row or a cluster are typical, as the insects may be disturbed while feeding. Bites may be found in a variety of places on the body.
All bedbugs mate via a process termed traumatic insemination. Instead of inserting their genitalia into the female's reproductive tract as is typical in copulation, males instead pierce females with hypodermic genitalia and ejaculate into the body cavity.
Most observed bites consist of a raised red bump or flat welt, and are often accompanied by very intense itching. The red mark is the result of an allergic reaction to the anesthetic contained in the bedbug's saliva, which is inserted into the blood of its victim. Reactions to bedbug bites may appear indistinguishable from mosquito bites although they tend to last for longer periods. Bites may not become immediately visible and can take up to nine days to appear. Bedbug bites tend not to have a red dot in the center such as is characteristic of flea bites. A trait shared with flea bites is tendency towards the pattern of sequential bites often aligned in rows of three. This may be caused by the bedbug being disturbed while eating and relocating half an inch or so farther along the skin before resuming feeding. Alternatively, the arrangement of bites may be caused by the bedbug repeatedly searching for a blood vein.
People react differently to bedbugs, and individual responses vary with factors including skin type, environment, and the species of bug. This also means the presence of itchy welts cannot be used as the only indicator of a presence. It is possible for an initial infestation within a household to be asymptomatic and go undetected. In some rare cases, allergic reactions to the bites may cause nausea and illness. In a large number of cases, estimated to be fifty percent of all people, there is no visible sign of bites whatsoever, greatly increasing the difficulty of identifying and eradicating infestations. People commonly respond to bed bug infestations and their bites with anxiety, stress, and insomnia. Individuals may also develop skin infections and scars from scratching the bedbug bite locations.
Most patients who are placed on systemic corticosteroids to treat the itching and burning often associated with bedbug bites find that the lesions are poorly responsive to this method of treatment. Antihistamines have been found to reduce itching in some cases, but they do not affect the appearance and duration of the lesions. Topical corticosteroids, such as hydrocortisone, have been reported to resolve the lesions expediently and decrease the associated itching.
Victims may relieve itching and inflammation for several hours by using a blowdryer or hot washcloth to heat the area of the bite. Many patients experience temporary relief of itching and inflammation with the application of hot water. The water should be quite hot (about 50 °C / 120 °F), however, or this procedure may aggravate the symptoms. Thus, to avoid scalding the skin, this treatment should only be self-administered.
Disagreement exists as to why heat causes symptoms to abate. Varying hypotheses propose that heat overwhelms the nerve endings that signal itch, that heat neutralizes the chemical that causes the inflammation, or that heat triggers a large release of histamine, causing a temporary histamine deficit in the area. Another theory is that the heat denatures the proteins in the bedbug saliva, changing their composition enough so that they no longer trigger the body's defensive mechanisms.
Bedbugs seem to possess all of the necessary prerequisites for being capable of passing diseases from one host to another, but there have been no known cases of bed bugs passing disease from host to host. There are at least twenty-seven known pathogens (some estimates are as high as forty-one) that are capable of living inside a bed bug or on its mouthparts. Extensive testing in laboratory settings concludes that bed bugs are unlikely to pass disease from one person to another. Therefore bedbugs are less dangerous than some more common insects such as the flea. Other effects on health the salivary fluid injected by bed bugs typically causes the skin to become irritated and inflamed, although individuals can differ in their sensitivity. Anaphylactoid reactions produced by the injection of serum and other nonspecific proteins are observed and there is the possibility that the saliva of the bedbugs may cause anaphylactic shock in a small percentage of people. It is also possible that sustained feeding by bedbugs may lead to anemia. It is also important to watch for and treat any secondary bacterial infection. Systemic poisoning may occur if the bites are numerous.
The cleanliness of the environment has an effect on the control of bedbugs but, unlike cockroaches, it does not have a direct effect as they feed on their hosts and not on waste. Good housekeeping in association with proper preparation and mechanical removal assist in its control.
Catching techniques and traps
A technique for catching bedbugs in the act is to have a light source quickly accessible from your bed and to turn it on at about an hour before dawn, which is usually the time when bedbugs are most active. A flashlight/torch is recommended instead of room lights, as the act of getting out of bed will cause any bedbugs present to scatter before you can catch them. If you awaken during the night, leave your lights off but use your flashlight/torch to inspect your mattress. Bedbugs are fairly fast in their movements, about equal to the speed of ants. They may be slowed down if they have engorged on their food source. When the bedroom light is switched on, it may temporarily startle them allowing time for you to get a dust pan and brush kept next to the bed and sweep the bugs into the pan then immediately sweep them into a cup or mug full of water where the bugs drown quickly. Dispose of the water down the sink or toilet. Disinfect the mattress, skirting boards and so on regularly.
Glue traps placed in strategic areas around the home, sometimes used in conjunction with heating pads or balloons filled with exhaled breath offering a carbon dioxide source, may be used to trap and thus detect bedbugs. This method has varied reports of success. There are also commercial traps like 'flea' traps whose effectiveness is questionable except perhaps as a means of detection. Perhaps the easiest trapping method is to place double-sided carpet tape in long strips near or around the bed and check the strips after a day or more. However, bedbugs can simply walk across the sticky surface of tape, which, while slowing them down, will not stop them from crossing. Some traps placed around furniture legs use a combination of petroleum jelly and slippery surfaces to catch bedbugs. Traps have been devised using a combination of heat, carbon dioxide and kairomones to attract bedbugs into a container from which they cannot escape.
Measures while traveling
Since most bedbugs are carried by travelers through contact with beds and hotel rooms in infected locations, certain measures taken while traveling help in control of bedbugs:
•Examining the room for potential hiding places of bedbugs, such as carpet edges, mattress seams, pillow case linings, bedboards, wall trim or other tiny crevices in which bedbugs could hide. •Looking specifically at the mattress seams for signs of bedbug activity: droppings, eggs, bloodstains or even bedbugs themselves, hiding in tiny folds and seam lines. •Keeping a flashlight nearby while sleeping to immediately observe suspected activity during the night without having to get up out of bed which would otherwise give them time to hide in safety. •Not leaving clothing lying on the bed, or any location of possible infestation (as mentioned above) and instead, using hangers or hooks capable of keeping all cloth distant from the floor or bed. Suspend new shopping in bags the same way. •Closing all luggage (suitcase, travel bag etc.) when not in use. This way, during the night the bugs may move over the top of the bags and have difficulty getting inside. •Elevating luggage off the floor to luggage stand, tables or chairs, although these can also be hiding places.