Bed bugs are a headache on anyone unfortunate enough to find them in their home. They are not only difficult to eradicate completely, but also breed quickly, are nocturnal, difficult to reach, and immune to most types of chemical treatments (which can be harmful to humans and other living organisms).
The mobility of people through land, air, and sea travel has only helped spread bed bug populations across the globe. This is because these tiny critters can easily hitchhike their way to other places by hanging on to your clothes, bags, suitcases, or anything they can attach themselves to.
Health effects of bed bugs on humans
While not usually associated with spreading diseases, bed bugs can cause anaphylactic reactions in those who are allergic to their bites.
Moreover, people who have bed bugs in their homes usually suffer not only from painful bites but also from lost sleep or insomnia. Disrupted sleeping patterns or chronic loss of sleep can negatively impact health in the form of weakened immunity.
Exposure to bed bugs can also lead to moderate to severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms even after the infestation is resolved. These include depression, paranoia, hypervigilance, and obsessive thinking.
To prevent a bed bug infestation in your home, you’ll do well to consider the tips shared below.
Protective measures for your home
It only takes a couple of bed bugs to invade your home and turn into a full-scale nightmare. So, to avoid such a scenario, make your place an unwelcome space for them by taking the following precautions:
Declutter your home to reduce the number of places where bed bugs can hide.
Vacuum clean your home regularly, especially your furniture and mattresses.
After travelling, place luggage inside black plastic bags, seal tightly, and expose to strong sunlight or put them in the trunk of your car to heat them up. Once the body temperature of bed bugs reaches 45°C (113°F), they die. If possible, keep the bags sealed for a minimum of two weeks to starve and kill any weakened surviving bed bugs.
Put travel garments directly in your washer, and then wash and dry at the highest temperature setting that your clothes can withstand without getting damaged.
If you are using common laundry facilities, be extra vigilant and check the area you are using for bed bugs, so you don’t unwittingly take these critters home with your laundry.
Seal all cracks, crevices, and any type of wall voids that bed bugs can use as temporary shelters. Bed bugs can have short stays even in light sockets and behind loose electrical faceplates and peeling wallpaper — or any type of space where they can easily crawl into.
For apartment dwellers or those with homes located in close proximity to each other, check common entry points on walls and all types of openings such as those designed to accommodate plumbing, wiring, and other utility components. Any signs of bed bugs must be reported to the building manager or neighbours who live close by.
Be on the lookout for bed bugs in used books, secondhand clothes, antiques, refurbished items, and even new furniture you bring into your home. Inspect these items outside first before taking them inside.
Although it may be tempting at times, do not take furniture that’s left outside. These include mattresses, sofas, and other such items usually left on the curbside.
If you’re helping a friend or relative relocate, be vigilant about bed bugs to ensure you don’t take any of them home, including inside your vehicle. Remember, even if there is no full-blown or known infestation in a place, bed bugs might still be present. Seeing bed bugs out and about is a sure sign of a major infestation; milder infestations are usually more difficult to detect as bed bugs are night crawlers and know how to keep out of sight.
When you purchase a new mattress, ask for it to be securely sealed before delivery.
Invest in mattress covers or protectors that are certified bug-proof. Check it regularly to ensure it has no damage, tears, or holes that the bugs can penetrate or crawl through.
Inspecting your home for bed bugs
For your absolute peace of mind, it would be helpful to know for sure that bed bugs have not taken up residence in your home. Schedule regular inspections that you can do on your own using the following items:
Vinyl or latex gloves for protection
Paint scraper, an old credit card, or any flat-edged object
Small plastic container (for live bed bugs)
Sealable plastic bags
Start your inspection around beds and mattresses using a flashlight and old credit card or paint scraper. Be on the lookout for the actual bugs (check online for image references), eggs (they look similar to tiny rice grains), feces (little black spots), or moulted skin.
If you find a bed bug, you need to be quick and “catch” it with a strip of masking tape. These critters move fast, so you need to be quicker. If you happen to catch one with your fingers, drop it into the plastic container filled with alcohol (about a centimetre in depth) where it will die on contact.
Be meticulous in your search and go through every nook and cranny, folds of fabric and furniture. Inspect the seams, folds, and tufts of each mattress, including the crevices of the beds and areas where any fabric is attached. Check the screws, staples, wooden plugs, and any part of the bed where bed bugs can crawl into, including the headboard.
Do the same if you have couches, office or computer chairs, wicker furniture, and recliners. Again, inspect everything from top to bottom and under.
If you do find signs of bed bugs, check the rest of the house, including areas where your pets sleep or hang around.
When conducting a wider bed bug sweep, include clean clothes, bed linens, pillows, cabinets, rugs, carpets, curtains, and everything else that can harbour bed bugs. Don’t forget to check light fixtures, picture frames, and all wall- and ceiling-mounted items.
If your bed or mattress has bed bugs, it’s best to dispose of it right away or take them to an incineration facility, if possible. If you throw these items out, make sure they are sealed securely in plastic. Also, remember to put up a sign saying they are bug-infested, so other people don’t take and reuse them.
Inform your building manager and your neighbours of your findings if you live in an apartment or condominium.
A major bed bug infestation requires an integrated approach and goes beyond simply getting rid of your bed and mattress. For long-term results and to get professional advice, it’s best to consult a pest control expert specializing in bed bug extermination.
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