Public Health Community Advisory – Over the last two years, bed bugs have increasingly been found in hotels, apartments, houses, shelters, cruise ships, buses, trains, airplanes, dorm rooms, schools, hospitals, and department stores. Bed bugs even invaded the New York Ritz Carlton Hotel in January 2012, showing that bed bugs know no boundaries regardless of income bracket. The cause for the rise in infestations remains unclear, but is likely due to bed bug populations developing resistance to pesticides, increased domestic and international travel aiding transport, and the increased use of wooden furniture that bed bugs can climb.
So why all the fuss? Although bed bugs are not known to spread disease, they are a nuisance whose bites may result in rashes. Bed bugs require blood to live, which they acquire by biting their sleeping victims, who often remain asleep. Bites may produce a wide variety of skin rashes on humans, but at least 30% of people show no signs of being bitten. In some cases couples report bed bugs only biting one person.
How to avoid being a blood meal. Ways to avoid becoming a bed bug meal include the following: thoroughly check hotel rooms or a new apartment, or used furniture or other items brought into your home. Inspect hotel beds before placing luggage in bedroom; check the seam of the mattress under the sheets and behind the headboard for bugs and dark reddish brown spots that are known to indicate the presence of bed bugs. Bed bugs don’t fly and are typically transported by humans or their belongings to new locations. Bed bugs stay close to their food source and are usually found within 15 feet of where people sleep, but they have been known to travel up to 100 feet in a day to find food. Upon returning from travel, launder clothing promptly and inspect luggage seams for stowaways. Placing clothing directly into a dryer on high for 10 to 20 minutes will often kill bed bugs.
Once bed bugs have been introduced to a home, they spread to neighboring bedrooms or apartments and can live more than six months between feedings. Getting rid of bed bugs is difficult but possible. Nonchemical treatment such as vacuuming, steam cleaning, laundering, and using mattress covers can be helpful but will not eliminate them. Chemical bed bug treatment should be carried out by a professional, and it requires multiple applications of more than one pesticide. A recent report showed the dangers of do-it-yourself chemical treatment for bed bugs, since more than 100 poisonings and a death have been associated with chemicals used to kill bed bugs. Although bed bugs have achieved newsworthy status, remember that while they may be unpleasant they do not spread disease. Photos and thorough information on inspecting and eradicating bed bug infestation can be found at:
This article was written by Shawn Gibbs, PhD, associate professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Environmental, Agricultural, and Occupational Health, and the UNMC COPH associate dean for student affairs, and by John Lowe, MS, disaster exercise outreach coordinator in the UNMC COPH Center for Preparedness Education, and an instructor in the UNMC COPH Department of Environmental, Agricultural, and Occupational Health.