Bed Bug Epidemic Is On the Rise Across the Country

By JoAnn Ellenberger, Senior Adult Counseling Services


A once almost eradicated bug infestation after World War II has re-emerged again on the scene. These small dark brown dorsally flattened bugs with 3 pairs of legs are ¼ inches long.  They darken in color to a dark chestnut brown after feeding and lighten in color when they have not fed for a period of time. They are a nocturnal creature and biting occurs at night. Most commonly infected places are the mattress, box spring, carpets, baseboards, and upholstered furniture if there is an adequate supply of available hosts within 4.9 feet of the predator. They can hide in gaps, seams, cracks, corners and survive months without a meal. Symptoms of attacks may not show or can result in itchy blotches and white swelling on human skin. These bed bugs feed exclusively on blood and can be seen with the naked eye. They carry no disease and they do not fly or jump just crawl. They do not bother with pets.

Around Since the Caveman

Bed bugs have been around since the time of the caveman but the increase in bed bug numbers has been brought on by domestic and global travel.  They are found in hotels and often pass on to clothing and luggage.  Other factors contributing to increased bed bug activity include:

  • the use of second hand goods;
  • the movement of furniture and linens;
  • changes in pest control procedures;
  • a general lack of knowledge.

Most people may live for long periods without being aware they have bed bugs. Getting them is not necessarily something to blame on a person.  Anyone can pick up a bed bug. Common areas where they can be picked up include:

  • on a backpack or purse during a visit to an infected home or business;
  • City buses and senior buses;
  • through walls or doorways from one apartment to another.

Call in a Professional

One can look for live bed bugs with a flashlight and inspect the bedding sheets, mattress and box spring or loose wallpaper near the bed to look for droppings or the live bugs. Large populations may produce a coriander like odor. To be 100% sure if there are bed bugs a professional must do an inspection.

Treat Early

Treatment for those bitten focuses on relieving symptoms and includes topical creams for itching, oral antibiotics for an infection, and antihistamines for allergy relief.

Bed bugs are easiest to control when treated early, and before they spread. Some pesticides are not as effective as they once were as bed bugs have developed a resistance. For persons living in an apartment complex or condominium, the landlord or property manager needs to be notified.

Treatment for Properties

There are several treatments for properties. The conventional treatment consists of three treatments over a four to six week period. Treatments are scheduled 10-14 days apart to coincide with bed bug reproduction and incubation.  There should be professional inspections following treatments.

The second treatment is the bed bug heat treatment. This is a “green” option, or chemical free process. Rentokil, as it is called, can eliminate all stages of bed bugs and render a property usable within 12-24 hours.  This is a forced hot air technology to obtain quick, reliable, and effective results. Ambient room temperatures are adjusted throughout the service to achieve mortality of the bed bugs at any of the life stages, including the eggs. The heat is pressurized into all small cracks and crevices. Furniture is arranged and high temperature fans are used to maximize hot air circulation. Remote thermometers are used to verify critical temperatures. Before the heat treatment is begun, there are some preparation requirements.  The experts will provide instructions for the apartment dwellers or home owners. The bed linens, towels and blankets can be washed and dried in a conventional washer and drier.

Some important things for professionals to consider when entering peoples’ homes:

  • Never assume that because a place looks clean, and the person is tidy and neat in appearance, that there are not bed bugs. People many times do not know they have them.
  • When you visit persons on a business basis, do not sit where they sleep or where there is a sleeper couch or on upholstered furniture.
  • Avoid placing your briefcase or purse near these types of furniture. Instead, place them in a plastic tote box or bag. Leave your coat in the car.
  • Upon return to your own home, put the clothing you wore in a plastic bag before entering your home, put on a change of clothing and throw the clothes that were in the plastic bag in the washing machine.
  • Most bed bugs do not come out during the day, but if you see them or if there is a report that they have been seen, make sure the homeowner reports it to the property manager. Additionally, obtain a professional inspection.
  • It is possible to encase both a mattress and box spring in a protective cover as a preventive measure.

This article was originally posted on May 10, 2016, and updated on 15 July 2018.