“Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite!” is a phrase that most of us heard as children, never actually thinking that we would one day have to deal with these blood-sucking parasites. These parasites were nearly eradicated in the U.S. during the 1950’s due to the synthetic pesticide DDT. The chemical was banned in the U.S. in 1972 due to safety concerns, with international bans soon to follow.

Since the initial outbreak of bed bugs in 2008, they have managed to infest nearly every corner of the United States – especially urban areas. Hubs of international travel, such as New York City, have seen the bulk of infestations. Between 2008 and 2009, bed bug reports increased 800% in NYC. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development received a whopping 13,152 infestation complaints that year!

Don’t think you are immune! At the EPA’s National Bed Bug Summit in 2009, researchers decided that the resurgence in bed bug populations is more appropriately called a pandemic rather than an epidemic, citing the rapid spread of these parasites across large areas and in different countries.

Hotels, motels, hostels, airports, taxis, buses, movie theaters, department stores, apartment complexes, hospitals and other areas that experience large amounts of human traffic are most prone to bed bug transmission. What makes bed bugs so difficult to detect and eradicate is that they are very small and can live just about anywhere – cars, beds, suitcases, carpets, electrical outlets, books, picture frames, furniture, voids in walls, clothing, and even under baseboards!

Avoiding bed bugs is a lot easier than getting rid of them once they have infested your home. Some tips for avoiding them:

• When traveling, do not place your suitcase on the bed in your hotel room. Make sure to examine the bed (including the mattress) for any signs of the bugs or blood stains from previous feedings.
• Only buy new furniture – bed bugs can easily hide in joints or upholstery of old furniture.
• Wash all new clothing and linens in hot water (if possible) before wearing/using to kill any bed bugs that may have come with it.
• Once a month, put your pillows in the dryer on high heat for 20-30 minutes. This is a great way to kill any bugs that may be hiding in the fibers and to fluff your pillows!

Do you think you may have a bed bug infestation? Usually the first visible sign of an infestation are the small red bite marks they leave behind, very similar to mosquito bites and quite itchy. If the bed bug is disturbed during feeding, you may find a cluster or line of bite marks – often the easiest way to determine if they are bed bug or mosquito bites. A small portion of the population is allergic to the bites and may suffer anaphylactic shock. No evidence has been found that bed bugs carry diseases, even though they are similar to other parasites that do.

Adult bed bugs are flat, oval-shaped, and usually a rusty brown/red color. They can be hard to see since they are approximately the size of an apple seed. Young bed bugs are a milky color and about the size of a sesame seed. When looking for bed bugs, most people will find the evidence – blood stains, droppings, dead bugs – long before they actually find the live bugs. Since they are small and can live nearly anywhere, they can be difficult to find.

Some ways to confirm that you have a bed bug infestation, even if you haven’t seen them:

• Place furniture legs in tin cans or plastic containers coated with petroleum jelly or talcum powder to deter the bugs from climbing – this will also leave “footprints” of bugs that tried.
• Place a strip of duct tape sticky-side-out around the base of furniture and the legs of your bed. This will catch any bugs that try to walk across it.
• Inspect your mattress and upholstered furniture carefully. Bed bugs prefer to live in the seams of mattresses and other furniture, the best places to look for evidence.

If you are able to confirm a bed bug infestation, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TACKLE IT YOURSELF! Removal of these parasites is far more comprehensive that other insects and vermin, and should only be attempted by a qualified pest management professional. Bug bombs and other pesticides, even those designed for bed bugs, can spread the infestation if used improperly. In apartment complexes and other multi-family dwellings, bed bugs can easily move from unit to unit through the walls.

Depending on the size of the infestation, occupants may be required to discard many of their personal belongings (potential hiding places) or even seek alternative living arrangements for several months while remediation is completed. Remediation costs can be several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the severity.

In addition to the tips for confirming bed bugs, there are other things you can do to get relief from these parasites:

• Remove all bed skirts since they provide easy access for bugs to climb from the floor to your bed.
• Move your bed away from the wall. Bed bugs cannot fly, but are excellent climbers.
• Wash all clothing and linens in the hottest water possible and dry them on the hottest setting possible. Things like pillows or cushions that are hard to wash can be put in the dryer on high heat for 20-30 minutes. Extreme heat (above 140 degrees) is the most effective way to kill bed bugs.
• Bed bug-proof mattress and pillow casing sets are available online and at some retailers for around $100.
• Clean, clean, clean! The cleaner your home is, the less places they have to hide. Vacuum around all baseboards, moldings, doors & windows, under furniture, around outlets, behind pictures, and anywhere else you can reach. Eliminate any clutter on the floor, especially near beds or couches.

Bed bugs are a growing and serious threat to all homeowners. Arming yourself with information is the best way to prevent bed bugs from happening to you!