How To Tackle Bed Bugs

Paris is struggling to tackle an infestation of bed bugs that threatens to undermine next year’s summer Olympics in the French capital.

The tiny blood-sucking insects live in homes, cinemas, hospitals and trains – and spread to infest wherever their human carriers take them.

Businesses and public health workers have mobilised to clean up the city. Even Eurostar staff are on alert to stop the epidemic shifting across the Channel to Britain.

But experts claim bed bug infestations are nothing new, and the tiny creatures are found worldwide.

Expats are the top targets for the nasty critters, so how can they spot a bed bug infestation and clean up after the pesky insects?

What Is A Bed Bug?

Bed bugs are not a new problem. They have lived often unnoticed alongside humans for more than 3,000 years.

The insects feed on blood and must have a regular supply to survive. Their preferred prey are humans.

Bed bugs are oval-shaped and grow to about 4 millimetres long, with six legs and two antennae. The creatures are large enough to spot with the human eye.

Colouring varies depending on age and if they have recently gorged on blood. Young bugs or nymphs are near-transparent. Adult bugs are brown and flat before feeding, changing to a bloated red shape after feeding.

The insects are called bed bugs because they often live in mattresses.

How Do You Know If You Are A Bed Bug Victim?

One key tell-tale sign of a bed bug infestation is small, reddish-brown spots on bedding, walls or furnishings.

Someone attacked by bed bugs will have small, red bites on their arms or legs, which swell, feel hard and are often itchy. The signs of bites can take a few days to show and do not necessarily mean an infestation.

Signs of an infestation are shed insect skins, empty eggshells and sightings of the bugs. Skins and empty eggshells look white.

A bed bug infestation is not a sign of a dirty home. The insects may lie dormant for many months without feeding and endure temperatures from freezing to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Infestations are likely in homes or public buildings where food is available regardless of cleanliness.

Spotting A Bed Bug Infestation

The first place to look for bed bugs is your bed. Carefully inspect your mattress, bedding, pillows and headboard. The tiny insects love small crevices, including:

  • Seams and labels on mattresses, pillows, bedding and curtains
  • In electrical outlets and devices near beds
  • Carpet edges and cracks in skirting boards
  • Behind loose paintwork or wallpapers
  • In the folds of clothing
  • Pet boards
  • Upholstery

How Do You Treat Bedbug Bites?

Victims are most likely to spot bed bug bites in the mornings as the creatures feed at night.

Bites tend to be grouped rather than isolated.

Don’t confuse bites around ankles and salfs with bed bugs. Fleas tend to favour these areas, while bed bugs feed on any exposed area, such as the face, arms, legs and waistline.

If you are bitten, wash the bites with soap and water to clean the area and stop itching. Avoid scratching to reduce the itching.

If the bites itch, try rubbing in some corticosteroid cream, which a pharmacy should supply over the counter. In extreme cases, victims may need a stronger cream available on prescription.

The bites can take up to 10 or 14 days to heal completely.

How Do You Treat Bedbug Infestations?

Bed bugs can lay up to five eggs a day, which take 21 days to hatch and for the nymphs to reach adulthood.

If you notice a problem, it’s essential to act quickly.

Contact the local authority to find out if they have a pest control service.

Other self-preventative things to do are:

  • Run any washable clothing, bedding or soft furnishings on a hot wash (60C) and tumble dry for at least 30 minutes on a hot setting.
  • Seal infected clothing, bedding and soft furnishings in an airtight plastic bag and freeze for three or four days.
  • Regularly clean your vacuum cleaner.
  • Thoroughly clean secondhand clothes and furniture before taking them inside your home.
  • Wash all your holiday clothing, even if you did not wear some items.

Exterminators recommend tea tree, peppermint, lemon grass and lavender oils as a bed bug deterrent. Travellers can spray their bags before leaving home for protection.

Bed Bug FAQ

What’s the scientific name for bed bugs?

Two species of bed bugs come into contact with humans – Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus.

Do bed bugs have predators?

Unfortunately, bed bugs have no natural predators, so you cannot keep another creature in your home that would eradicate the problem. However, some birds, rodents and lizards would feed on the bugs if they came across them.

Where in the world are bed bugs found?

Bed bugs are found almost everywhere and are becoming more prevalent in the US, Canada, Britain and Europe. The problem has always existed. It’s just becoming more noticeable.

Are bed bug bites dangerous?

Bed bugs are irritating rather than dangerous to humans unless someone has a rare allergic reaction. Bed bugs do not carry or spread infectious diseases. Scratching a bite can lead to an infection.

Can I spray bed bugs to kill infestations?

Commercial bed bug sprays are available online and in hardware stores. The active ingredient to look for is pyrethrins, plant-based insecticides derived from chrysanthemums. An alternative is a pyrethroid, a synthetic pesticide that acts like pyrethrin.

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