Learn the surprising truth about these pesky pests.
The old rhyme “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite” has become a frightening reality lately. With bedbug outbreaks so common they’re hardly even newsworthy anymore, people are on high alert for the tiny insects. But with increased awareness comes an onslaught of rumors, myths and flat-out fallacies. So Woman’s Day went to the experts to differentiate fact from fiction, and found out everything you never knew about bedbugs.
The Latin name for bedbugs is Cimex lectularius, which means “bug of the bed.” But don’t let that fool you—the pesky creatures can be found anywhere. “Bedbugs want to feed on you at night while you’re still, so they’re commonly found in your bed,” says John Furman, president of New York City–based pest management company Boot-A-Pest. “But I always say the bed is 70 percent of the infestation and the rest of the room is the other 30 percent. They can be all over your apartment—in the sofa, behind picture frames or in the crevices of baseboards.”
2. Bedbugs don’t discriminate.
“There’s an unnecessary stigma associated with bedbugs,” says Susan Jones, PhD, associate professor of entomology at Ohio State University. “Anyone can get them. They’re not associated with poor housekeeping or a certain poverty level or anything like that.” So if you have them—or know someone who does—remember that it has nothing to do with personal hygiene habits. “Every woman whose home I treat tells me how often they shower, how clean they are, that they get manicures—none of that matters,” reports Jeff Eisenberg, founder of Pest Away Exterminating.
3. Bedbugs haven’t been proven to transmit any harmful diseases.
Unlike with many other pests and insects, research has not yet proven that bedbugs do anything more harmful than give you the heebie-jeebies. But that doesn’t mean people should brush them off as no big deal. Dr. Jones believes the research is “incomplete and inconclusive.” And Eisenberg insists they are a mental health risk. “People can become so obsessed with bedbugs they don’t sleep for weeks—they miss work, they spend hours Googling the topic. I call it bedbug paranoia.” Bedbugs have also been shown to aggravate allergy and asthma symptoms in people who already suffer from them.
It’s easy to notice a suspicious bite and head straight to the Internet to diagnose yourself. But just because a website tells you bedbug bites look a certain way doesn’t mean your bites will follow that pattern. According to Dr. Jones, bites often appear in a grouping of three or a “1-2-3—breakfast, lunch, dinner” pattern, but many people—around 30 percent, according to Furman––don’t react to bites at all. And others may have singular scattered bites.
5. Bedbugs aren’t truly nocturnal.
Though these pests like to come out before dawn, don’t think you can wait up all night to outsmart them. “A bedbug is an opportunist, and while their peak feeding time is between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., if you work nights they will come out and feed on you during the day,” says Furman. Dr. Jones explains that they’re attracted to a human’s body temperature and, even more so, the carbon dioxide we exhale.
6. Even if you can’t see them, you may have them.
While itchy bites may indicate you have a bedbug problem, a thorough inspection is necessary to prove it. “If you have a low-level infestation, most people will miss the signs. You really need to call a professional who will spend the time to find the evidence,” says Furman, who takes at least an hour inspecting rooms for signs of bedbugs. Things you should look for include “peppering,” which are black fecal spots that are usually imbedded in the mattress seams or on the box spring, as well as insect skins (immature bedbugs shed their skin five times before becoming an adult). You may also see actual bedbugs, which, depending on their age, will be clear or rust-colored. You can never be too careful, but don’t panic. “I’ve had people email me photographs of Hostess cupcake crumbs, lint, fingernails, you name it,” says Furman.
7. Properly trained dogs can sniff out bedbugs.
Well-trained and properly handled canines can track down bedbugs because, like bomb-sniffing and drug-sniffing dogs, they are taught to home in on the scent. But according to Furman, “a dog is a tool to bring a handler to a defined search area. You’ve still got to find the bugs in the area they alerted you to.”
8. You don’t have to throw away your belongings if you have bedbugs.
A common misconception about bedbugs is that if you have them, you have to trash your mattress and send all your clothing to the dry cleaner’s. Not true: According to Furman, heat is the number-one killer of bedbugs. Exterminators treat rooms and furniture with a combination of dry steam cleaning, deep heat and chemical treatments. If your clothes have been in an infested room, throw them in a hot dryer (at least 120 degrees) for 30 minutes to kill any bugs.
9. You should never treat your home for bedbugs yourself.
Whatever you do, don’t attempt to fumigate your house for bedbugs yourself. “Don’t use a bug bomb or fogger, even if it claims it’s meant for bedbugs,” warns Dr. Jones. “All it will do is scatter them throughout your home, and if you have an apartment, it will give them to your neighbors.” She reports that boric acid and other grocery store sprays won’t work either. Calling a professional is essential—and call one early. “You have to deal with this right away,” insists Dr. Jones. “One single female bedbug can lay 500 eggs in her lifetime, so it can get out of control quickly.”
10. Bedbugs aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
According to Dr. Jones, bedbugs started making a comeback in the late 1990s for a variety of reasons. A spike in international travel combined with a change in the pesticides and insecticides we use as well as lifestyle changes all played a role in their resurgence. “Bedbugs reproduce very quickly and live for a long time, so it was just a matter of time until their populations exploded,” she says. So what now? Though the situation is manageable, “there’s absolutely no end in sight. This is a pest we’ll likely be living with for the rest of our lives.”