Bed bugs are no longer just part of a silly goodnight message. In recent years, they have gone from an obscure problem to something that is popping up in homes, hotels, and dorms throughout the United States. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some of the reasons for the increase in bed bugs are more travel and the lack of knowledge about how to prevent an infestation.

What Are Bed Bugs?

bed bug close up

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, flat, wingless insects that are about a quarter-inch long (the size of an apple seed) and the width of a credit card and are a reddish-brown color. They are called bed bugs because they hide in mattress seams, box springs, bed frames, and headboards during the day before coming out at night to feed. They can also hide in cracks of walls, floors, or furniture.

They do not jump or fly, but they are very fast crawlers.

Bed bugs feed on warm-blooded animals, and they prefer human hosts. Their bites can be itchy and irritating, but they do not spread disease. However, both the EPA and the United States Department of Agriculture consider them to be a public health pest because they can cause public health issues.

Why Do People Get Bed Bugs?

bed bug

Traveling

Bed bugs are hitchhikers, and they are easily transported in your belongings. When you travel with a suitcase that is stowed with the luggage of others, bed bugs can easily hitch a ride to your house. And when you stay in a hotel, bed bugs can make their way into your belongings from other rooms or from the furniture in your room.

Buying Used Furniture

Finding a good deal on Craigslist or Letgo is always fun. But if you buy a used mattress -- or a piece of furniture -- it can be a quick and easy way to bring bed bugs into your home.

Taking Public Transportation

It is easy to bring bed bugs home if you ride the bus or take the subway, since on public transportation you are in close proximity to others. Again, bed bugs love to hitch a ride, and they will do it whenever they get the opportunity.

Being Social

This is not as common, but it does happen. If you visit someone else at their home or have people over to your house, you could be in for a bed bug problem.

Visiting Crowded Public Places

When you spend time in a public place, you open yourself up to the possibility of a bed bug infestation in your home. Movie theaters, schools, nursing homes, libraries, police stations, and even your workplace could be places where bed bugs move from one person to another.

How Do You Know If You Have Bed Bugs?

woman identifying bedbugs

Because bed bugs are so small, it is hard to tell if you have them. They are incredibly skilled at hiding, so you don't necessarily need to see a bed bug to have an infestation. Finding the infestation as early as possible is key so that it doesn't spread or establish itself. A minor infestation is much easier (and less expensive) to treat than one that is more widespread.

If you notice any of these things in your home, you may have a bed bug problem:

Bed Stains

The most accurate way to identify a possible bed bug infestation is to look for the physical signs of the bugs instead of the bugs themselves. When you are cleaning or changing your bedding, look for things like reddish stains or dark spots on your sheets or mattress. The red stains could be from a crushed bed bug, and the dark spots could be bed bug feces, which can bleed on fabric like a marker.

Stains On Your Pajamas

You can also find evidence of bed bugs on your pajamas. The reddish stains or fecal matter can get on your nighttime clothing, too.

Bed Bug Skins or Shells

When bed bugs grow, they shed their exoskeletons and shells in a process called molting. Bed bugs will molt five times as they mature. If you have a bad infestation, you may find hundreds of molted skins in areas where bed bugs congregate and feed.

What Should You Do If You Have Bed Bugs?

bedbug shedding skin

Even though bed bugs are small, it is possible to see adult bugs. If you think you might have seen a bed bug -- or you have found shed skin or shells -- leave the area and call a pest control professional. And if you live in an apartment, call your landlord immediately -- chances are, you aren't the only one with a problem.

Once bed bugs are in your house, treating the infestation can be incredibly complex. Depending on how bad the infestation is, it could takes weeks or months to treat bed bugs on your own. Another major factor is clutter. Anything that is in the room where you find bed bugs must be removed and treated. Sometimes, items are so badly infested that you must completely get rid of them.

Bed bugs can spread quickly. One pregnant female can infest your home with 300 new adults and 1,000 eggs in just three months. So, even though it might be tempting to try to take care of the problem yourself, if you miss just one, the problem will come back.

So, call a pest control professional so that they can thoroughly inspect your home for active infestations, assess the problem, and then put together a plan of attack.

How Do You Prevent Bed Bugs?

putting clean sheets on a bed

Inspect Used Furniture

When you buy secondhand furniture --- especially beds and couches --- make sure to inspect it for bed bugs before bringing it into your home. Bed bugs love to hide in seams and between cushions. Also, be sure to use a protective cover for your mattress and box springs to eliminate hiding spots and make bed bugs easier to see.

Reduce Clutter

Reducing clutter in your home will take away bed bug hiding places, and vacuuming frequently will remove some of the bed bugs once they've made their way into your home.

Exercise Caution At Shared Laundry Facilities

If you have to use a laundromat, be extremely vigilant. Use plastic bags to transport your items, and as soon as they finish drying, put them back in the bags. High heat can kill bed bugs, and it is a much better idea to fold your items at home.

Isolate Your Apartment Unit

If you live in an apartment, try isolating your unit by installing door sweeps, and be sure to seal all the cracks and crevices around baseboards and light sockets.

No one knows why bed bugs prefer humans, but they do. Any time you are out in public or traveling in high-traffic areas, there is a possibility of bed bugs hitching a ride home with you. Complete prevention is nearly impossible. But if you keep your eye out when cleaning, you can stop a major infestation and make sure that the bed bugs don't bite.

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