Bed Bugs: What You Need To Know

Travel for a while and you’ll hear the horror stories.

Stories of monsters. Attacking innocent travellers while they sleep. Feeding exclusively on blood.

Human blood. Your blood.

Bed bugs are nasty.

They big itchy welts that keep itching for days.

They get into your bags and come along for the ride.

Once they get into the furniture it’s almost impossible to get rid of them.

And no hostel, hotel or B&B worth its rating on TripAdvisor will take you in.

Put simply, the best way to deal with bed bugs is avoidance, followed by early action.

How to tell if you have bed bugs
Bed bug bites on the leg.
Bed bugs will bite any part of the skin you leave uncovered while sleeping. But unlike mosquitoes, bed bugs can get you while you’re under the covers. They bite as they walk, so you tend to receive a number of bites in an irregular line.

You can also tell the difference between a flea bite and a bed bug bite, as flea bites often have a red spot in the center – whereas bed bug bites do not.

The itchy welts you get from bed bugs don’t start out that way. In most cases, the bite is painless. It’s only minutes or hours later that the itching and swelling begins.

However, it’s still difficult to identify one bite from another. To confirm that it’s bed bugs, you really have to get an eye on the monsters themselves.

What do bed bugs look like?
Cimex lectularius
Credit: Blaine Mathison, CDC
The most common bed bug is the cimex lectularius. Found worldwide, this insect is flat oval shape, reddish-brown in colour. Starting out at 4 to 5 mm long (about the size of an apple seed) their abdomen swells and turns a reddish-brown after feeding.

You can find bed bugs close to where they feed. Obviously, bedding is a favourite, so check mattress seams, bed sheets, and head boards.

You can also find bed bugs congregating in couches, side tables, electrical outlets (after switching them off, of course) and picture frames.

Sometimes they even hitch rides in bags, purses and suitcases. So check all your pockets and compartments thoroughly.

How to get rid of bed bugs
Bed Bug Eggs and Droppings
Credit: Dr. Harold Harlan
From what I’ve read, the pesticides that you can get on the market? They aren’t really effective. Or they’re highly toxic. So…

You can get rid of bed bugs without using chemical treatments. One of the simplest strategies is to use heat.

Simply clean the affected item with hot soapy water, then place in a dryer at a temperature of no less than 45 °C (113 °F) for over one hour. If the item can not be washed (such as shoes), simply place them in the tumble dryer. This will kill the bed bugs and their eggs, while also helping to remove any residual shed skin and fecal matter.

In cases where the item is too large for washing, or can’t be placed in a tumble dryer, steam cleaning is a great solution.

Althoug therer is a certain satisfaction that comes from exterminating blood-sucking parasites, right?
Although there is a certain satisfaction that comes from exterminating blood-sucking parasites, right?
For mattresses, you can use a combination of a stiff brush to scrub the seams, followed by a thorough vacuuming of the surrounding area the  to remove bedbugs and their eggs. And after vacuuming, you have to place the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag and place in garbage bin outdoors.

Alternatively, if you are staying in a cold climate, you can place the affected items in a large plastic bag, or seal them using plastic wrap, then place them outdoors. Two hours of exposure of temperatures under −17 °C (1 °F) kills bedbugs.

But this isn’t always the best method – for a start you need to be living somewhere hella cold.

Plus, it can be hard to explain to the neighbours why you’re giving your belonging the Dexter treatment.

Keeping it clean

Prevention is better than cure – and with bed bugs, the cure is difficult at best.

When moving around, check the beds. Examine the mattresses, the sheets, and any standing fixtures. Look for darkish stains, eggs, shed skins – and of course signs of the bugs themselves.

And tidy up as you go! Bed bugs can move from room to room on their own. But if you leave enough stuff lying around, it makes it easy for them to hitch a ride with you. So keep your bag zipped and your clothing off the floor.

Plus, if you hear of any occurrences in a place where you are staying, tell the staff! And..  and move! And… like, clean the crap out of your bag!

Bed bugs. Eugh.

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