Most householders of this generation have never seen a bed bug. Bed bug infestations were common in the United States before World War II. However, with improvements in hygiene and the widespread use of DDT during the 1940s and 1950s, the bugs all but vanished.
The pests remained fairly prevalent in other regions of the world including Asia, Africa and Europe. In recent years, bed bugs have also made a comeback in the U.S.
Bed bugs are about 1/4 inch long, with reddish brown, oval flattened bodies. They are easily mistaken for ticks or roaches. They feed mostly at night on the blood of people and animals. Bed bugs may be found in homes, apartments, hotels, motels, dorm rooms and modes of transportation. They have also been found in movie theaters, schools, furniture rental outlets, department stores and office buildings.
Bed bugs are active mainly at night. During the daytime, they prefer to hide close to where people sleep. They tend to like fabric and wood as opposed to metal and plastic. Ideal locations include mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, along and under the edge of wall-to-wall carpeting, moldings, baseboards, switch plates and outlets, clothing stored in closets and drawers, clocks, phones, televisions, smoke detectors, upholstered chairs and sofas and behind picture frames and wall hangings.
The bugs are efficient hitchhikers and are usually transported in on luggage, clothing, beds, furniture and other items.
Bed bugs usually bite people at night while they are sleeping. The person bitten seldom knows that they are bitten. Although bed bugs can harbor pathogens, transmission of diseases to humans is unlikely. Their main medical problem is limited to the itching and inflammation from their bites. Many people develop an itchy red welt or swelling within a day or so of the bite. Others have little or no reaction and in some people the reaction is delayed.
Bed bugs are challenging pests to control. In most cases, an experienced certified pest control operator must be contacted for inspection and effective treatment. Procedures which may help to temporarily reduce the infestation includes bagging and washing bedding and clothing in hot water (120 degrees F minimum) or throwing them away.
Badly infested mattresses and box springs should be spray painted with a warning and sealed in plastic before disposing of properly.
For less severe cases, specially designed covers (available at bedding and allergy supply stores) may be installed and zipped shut which will entomb any bugs causing them to eventually die.
Clothing, toys, shoes, backpacks, etc. may be placed in a clothes dryer set at medium to high heat for 10 to 20 minutes. This will kill all bed bug life stages and can be done alone or along with laundering.
It is important to remember that vacuuming floors and surfaces seldom reaches the places where bed bugs hide.
Further information may be obtained by contacting the environmental department at the Clark County Health Department at 744-1488.