The bed bug crisis: Yes, it’s real

Editor’s note: It’s Bug Bed Awareness Week.

Bed bugs were rare in the United States from 1930 to about 1980. Since 1980, most U.S. cities and even many small towns have become infested with bed bugs with the rate of bedbugs doubling every five years or so.

There are many theories about why bed bugs were absent and why they have come back, but there is no actual facts other than that this phenomena is going on all over Europe, U.S., Canada, and Australia. One interesting theory is that the war against cockroaches is responsible for the increase in bed bugs since cockroaches naturally eat bed bugs and prevent them from infesting the home.

Bed bug eradication has become a big business. Large hotel chains regularly employ bedbug sniffing dogs that are brought into each room in the building to alert management as to which rooms need bedbug eradication. Both traditional pest management companies and many newcomers have sprung up all over the U.S. to rid your premises of this dreaded creature.

Other than being disgusting, why do we care about bed bugs? Because bed bugs bite human beings to live. They take tiny amounts of human blood and leave painful, very itchy bites mostly in straight lines on shoulders, backs and arms. They do not directly cause disease, but when their victims scratch the wounds—it can result in serious infections and scarring of skin.

So what can you do if you find bed bugs in your home? The treatment can be complex and sometimes quite expensive because bed bugs are very small (the largest adult is about 1/5 of an inch) and can hide in almost any kind of crevice. Remember that essential plant oil insecticides work as well as commercial grade products and are a lot safer for your family.

About 70 percent of bed bugs hide in your bed and 30 percent in crevices in the walls, floors and any clutter you have around your bed. Here’s how you can handle it on your own:

  • Take any clutter you have on the floor of the infested room, seal them in plastic bags with safe insecticides made of essential plant oils  and temporarily remove them from the room. Eco-Raider and Bed Bug Patrol are two widely available brands.
  • Take the bed completely apart, clean, vacuum, and treat everything with the natural insecticide.
  • Seal the treated mattress and box spring in a tight cover. If the bed was directly on the floor, get a bed frame with legs.
  • Move the reassembled bed away from the walls and any other furniture. Under the each leg of the bed place sticky traps or insect interceptor traps so the bed cannot get reinfected as you clean the rest of the room.
  • Clean and treat all the other furniture in the bedroom and also couches or chairs where people sit for long time such as where they watch television. Use your vacuum cleaners crevice tool to vacuum the base of each wall the lines where Wood planks come together or any place where these tiny creatures can hide. Do this thoroughly. Also, bed bugs love backpacks.
  • Launder or dry clean anything that that was on the bed. Use very hot water, over 160 degrees. Heat is the bed bugs enemy. For items you can't wash, spin them in the hot cycle in the dryer for at least 30 minutes or use a hair dryer or steam cleaner.
  • Don't forget your shoes! Shoes or anything in the infested room that you cannot apply prolonged heat to should be sealed inside a plastic bag for a week with a no-pest strip, but maybe you should throw them out.  No-pest strips have dichlorvos or related chemicals in them and can make people especially children quite ill or give contact rashes.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued several warning about care with their use.

You can employ a reliable commercial pest management firm to do all this, but it may cost a thousand dollars a room or more. If you have any questions, look at the Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management bed bug resource.