Bed bugs becoming problem in recent years
They are tiny, long-lived, not talked about and bite people in the dark of night causing red marks that itch. Bed bugs are making a comeback in the U.S. after their presence dropped dramatically during the mid-20th century, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Jefferson County Environmental Health Department’s registered sanitarian, Dan Miller, said bed bugs are an issue in Iowa.
“I don’t always hear about bed bug infestations in homes,” said Miller. “I only hear the complaints from hotels. It can be a problem in rental properties also.”
Miller doesn’t treat bed bug infestations, but recommends hiring professional pest control exterminators.
“It’s not a good idea to try treating it on your own,” Miller said. “Over the counter products are ineffective and can be dangerous.”
Two methods of treatment are available, chemical extermination and a heat treatment, which is more expensive.
“One of our local hotels has bought a heat treatment machine,” said Miller. “A room has to be heated to 120 to 140 degrees for a length of time to kill bed buds.”
The chemical treatment is successful also, said G.G. Laux, office manager at All American Pest Control in Fairfield.
She said the company has noticed an increase in calls for bed bug treatments.
“We’ve had more calls about bed bugs in the last five years than in the previous 30 years,” she said. “Between Fairfield and our Ottumwa office, we treat about three places a week for bed bugs.
“Treatment options usually comes down to price, and the heat treatment is more expensive,” she said. “Having bed bugs is not a matter of economic status, though. A lot of calls come in from families when their kids return home from college for a visit.”
How to spot bed bugs
Miller agrees that more travel and mobility is helping spread bed bugs.
“If staying at a hotel or moving into a furnished place, check the mattress,” he said. “Pull up the bottom sheet and look in the seams in the mattress. If you see rust spots, that’s droppings — tell tale signs of bed bugs.”
One tenant who discovered bed bugs in his furnished rental described bed bugs as the size of an apple seed or smaller.
Bed bugs are small, flat insects that feed on the blood of sleeping people and animals. They are reddish-brown in color, wingless and range from 1 to 7 millimeters in length, says the CDC.
Bed bugs can live several months to a year without a blood meal. Infestations of these insects usually occur around or near the areas where people sleep or spend a significant period of time. These areas include apartments, shelters, rooming houses, hotels, nursing homes, hospitals, cruise ships, buses, trains and dorm rooms.
They hide in crevices and such places as behind baseboards and loose wallpaper during the day, said Laux.
“Infestations aren’t about cleaning standards, though clutter does make it harder to treat a room and provides more hiding places,” she said.
Bed bugs are experts at hiding, agrees the CDC. They hide during the day in places such as seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, cracks or crevices and under any clutter or objects around a bed. Their small flat bodies allow them to fit into the smallest of spaces and they can remain in place for long periods of time, even without a blood meal. Bed bugs can travel more than 100 feet in one night, but they tend to live within 8 feet of where people sleep.
What to do
Laux said All American Pest Control has a number of steps homeowners need to take even before treatment can begin.
“It’s recommended to treat the whole home, not just one bedroom, because the bed bugs will just move,” she said. “We give clients a list of preparations, such as bagging up clothes and clearing away clutter. Most people will throw away their mattress that’s been infested, but they don’t have to. After treatment, mattress pads that create a barrier between the mattress and people can be purchased.”
The CDC says the exact cause for bed bug resurgence is not known. Experts suspect it’s associated with increased resistance of bed bugs to available pesticides, greater international and domestic travel, lack of knowledge regarding control of bed bugs due to their prolonged absence and the continuing decline or elimination of effective pest control programs at state and local public health agencies.
Iowa State University entomologist Ken Holscher agrees.
“We have changed the way we do preventative pest control spraying,” he said. “We used to do a more general spray that took care of all insects. For example, we now target cockroaches by using bait, which does a good job of controlling cockroaches, but doesn’t do anything for bed bugs.”
While bed bugs are not known to transmit disease, they are a pest of significant public health importance, reports the CDC.
Bed bugs cause a variety of negative physical health, mental health and economic consequences, according to information on the CDC website www.cdc.gov. Many people have mild to severe allergic reaction to the bites with effects ranging from no reaction to a small bite mark to, in rare cases, a serious allergic reaction.
Bites also can lead to secondary infections of the skin. Bed bugs also may affect the mental health of people living in infested homes. Reported effects include anxiety and insomnia.