Bed bugs are small, but not invisible. (photo credit)
Before this past week, I really did believe this was a nursery rhyme. Bed bugs were a mere fluff equivalent to Miss Muppet and her tuppet and the eensy weensy spider climbing up the water spout. I was re-introduced to bed bugs recently by my neighbor who had his whole studio infested. He had dark circles under his eyes and a somber face when he warned me about the little bugs.
So I closed my door and did what I always do when faced with something I don’t know about, I Googled it. There is a species known as the Cimex lectularius that makes humans their host of choice. All Bed Bugs feed on blood and come out at night, as they are often averse to sunlight. Their most preferred feeding time is an hour before dawn when most hosts are in their deepest sleep. They are attracted by exhaled carbon dioxide as well as the heat a human body gives off. When biting, they inject two hollow tubes. One tube injects saliva into the host which is full of anticoagulants and anesthetics while the other tube withdraws the blood. This allows the blood to thin and flow freely without disturbing the host. Most often it is several minutes or hours later when a person will feel a bed bug bite, usually because of intense itching caused by a reaction to the agents injected.
Though itchy, Bed Bug bites do not appear to carry any pathogens or diseases. Bed bugs prefer to come out and eat every five to ten days but can go up to a year without feeding. Well fed bed bugs will live up to nine months but those that go dormant due to lack of food can live upwards of eighteen months.
Many people think bed bugs are not visible. They’re just small: 1/8 to 3/16th of an inch long, about the size of a lentil. They are also wingless, flat, oval and reddish brown in color. After feeding, they take on a more intense red color due to the blood they just injested. Newly hatched nymphs are translucent and only take on the brownish-red color when they begin molting.
Bed bugs are also very well traveled and fare well in large cities. Chicago and New York have seen a great deal of infestations, in part due to international travel. The New York Times recently posted an article about best ways to deal with bed bugs. Locales of choice include mattresses, couches, and furniture near their hosts, often found in hotels, motels, hostels and apartment buildings. Given their small size, they can hide easily in seams, cracks and folds – even in a picture frame or a battery compartment of a clock! If a suitcase is laid on an infested bed in a hotel, it is easy for bedbugs to hitch a ride. The best prevention to take is to check furniture in hotels and put luggage up on luggage racks and check everything upon returning home.
As it turns out, infestations can also be caused by second-hand furniture. My apartment building got its bed bugs when a tenant brought in furniture he found on the street. To my great relief, after three sleepless nights, a great deal of laundry and bagging up clothes and pillows, my apartment was inspected and found to be clean. But I have definitely changed my routine. I have been bagging storage items in plastic and I put white sheets on the bed to be able to see bed bugs if they come in. I am also buying a mattress bag to protect my mattress.
In cities like San Francisco, international guests now include bed bugs. And they prove to be a hard visitor to get rid of!