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At some point, you’ve likely heard a loved one light-heartedly express, “Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” This saying came to fruition after centuries of battles between humans and bed bugs, dating back to ancient Greece and Rome. While the expression is jovial in nature, these expert travelers can multiply quickly, devastating homeowners and families.
Bed bugs are tiny, nocturnal vampires that feed on the blood of animals and humans. Their bite is painless but normally results in red, itchy bumps similar to that of mosquito and flea bites. But unlike these pests, bed bugs tend to bite in clusters and lines, leaving patches of red bumps on the surface. If you notice patterns on the skin that resemble constellations in the night sky, your culprit is most likely a bed bug.
When a bed bug bites, it injects an anesthetic and anti-coagulant so its host doesn’t know they’ve been bitten. This allows them to feed undetected for up to 10 minutes before it wears off. These vampires thrive at night while we sleep and very rarely bite in daylight. Bed bugs can feed anywhere on the body but gravitate towards exposed skin. Bed bugs can’t bite through clothing, but they can easily find ways to crawl inside to feed.
Bites can occur anywhere on your body, but are often close to blood vessels near the skin. Check for bites on your:
A bite can take up to 14 days (but usually only three) to develop on the skin and approximately 14 days to disappear, but reactions may vary by person. Those with sensitive skin typically see signs in as little as an hour and it may take up to three weeks to fully disappear. Few may develop a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis which requires immediate medical attention. Others may never notice a bite at all. Because of this, it’s important to know the signs and locate evidence of bed bug activity in your home rather than relying solely on skin reactions.
Regardless, it’s important to avoid scratching wounds because this will aggravate symptoms, leading to inflammation and infection.
Yes! While bed bugs prefer human hosts, they are known to feed on family pets. Fur and bedding are excellent hiding spots, so keeping these areas clean is essential to avoid eggs.
Like humans, bed bug bites in dogs appear in clusters and may resemble a rash. You might notice your canine companion(s) scratching, licking, or gnawing at their skin. A solid indicator to look for is dried blood or bed bug feces in fur or bedding.
A single female bed bug lays hundreds of eggs in its lifetime, so prevention is key in avoiding an infestation.
If you haven’t caught a bed bug in the act, inspect their primary habitat: your bed. Bed bugs leave behind a trail of evidence in their wake such as blood spots, eggs, shed skin (or exoskeleton), musty odor, and fecal stains. Though these findings are unsanitary, there are no known diseases transmitted from bed bugs to humans.
Consider purchasing a tear-resistant, white mattress protector to eliminate potential hiding spots. Dressing your mattress in white, or light-colored sheets will expose successful invaders. As an extra precaution, you can also purchase pre-treated encasements that kill bed bugs on contact. While bed bugs typically begin their journey in seams of mattresses and box springs for easy access to humans, they can also prosper in furniture, cracks in floors, curtains, clothing, and tight spaces like electrical outlets. To lower the threat of bed bugs foraging in these areas, vacuum daily and avoid clutter in your home.
Don’t be alarmed by a single bed bug sighting as this doesn’t mean breeding has begun. However, if you observe bed bugs multiplying, you may have an infestation. This discovery can feel devastating, but you’re not alone. In fact, 25% of Americans have experienced a bed bug infestation first-hand or know someone else who has.
Bed bug bites are rarely life-threatening and often heal on their own. Itchy bites can be remedied with over-the-counter Hydrocortisone cream and antihistamine. Consult with your doctor if you experience any symptoms other than red, itchy bumps.