What are bedbugs?

Bedbugs are small, reddish-brown insects. They’re about 3/16 inch long (the size of an apple seed) and easily visible to the naked eye. They are wingless but are fast crawlers. Their bodies are very flat with slender legs and antennae. Nymphs (immature bedbugs) resemble the adults but are smaller and often lighter in color. Bedbugs feed on human blood in darkness or at night and crawl away to hide in nearby cracks, crevices, recesses of furniture (especially mattresses and headboards), clutter, electronic equipment, and walls during the day. Associated with people for thousands of years, they were drastically reduced after World War II by the use of pesticides that are no longer available for use or to which they developed resistance. An individual bedbug feeds for only 3 to 10 minutes after biting and normally feeds every few days.

Are they a health risk?

There is no evidence that bedbugs are involved in the transmission of any disease-causing agent, including hepatitis B or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Bedbugs do not transmit disease organisms after feeding on multiple hosts. Regardless, bedbugs can severely reduce the quality of life by causing discomfort, sleeplessness, embarrassment, and for some people, extreme anxiety. Treatment of bedbug bites consists of managing the itching and inflammation at the site of the bite. Antihistamines and/or corticosteriods may be prescribed by a health care professional to reduce allergic reactions. Antimicrobial ointments may prevent secondary infection from the bites. The medical treatment of bites, however, does nothing to eliminate the presence of bedbugs and bites will continue as long as the infestation remains.

What about the bites?

Both male and female bedbugs bite and ingest blood. The blood meals are necessary for the female to reproduce and the juveniles to develop. The bites usually are painless, and the host is not disturbed while the bugs feed. While responses may differ, within a day of the bite, most people experience itching, pain, and/or swelling of the skin where the bite occurred (some may not see swelling from a bite for up to 14 days). Bites are most common on the arms, face, hands, back, or other exposed areas. Bedbugs are drawn to body warmth and carbon dioxide from our respiration. Usually you will see three or four bites in a line or grouped together. Sometimes the bites can be confused with bites from other insects. It often takes finding the bedbugs, their eggs, or droppings in the residence to positively confirm infestation.

How are bedbugs identified?

Positive identification is determined by the presence of actual bugs, their light-brown skins (shed during metamorphosis into adulthood), dark spots of excrement and blood spots or stains on bedding, upholstered furniture, or walls. Normally a flashlight and crevice tool are used to carefully and systematically check the following areas:

  • along mattress seams

  • under the gauze covering of box springs

  • behind wall mounted objects and bed headboards

  • behind wall switch and receptacle covers

  • inside cracks and crevices or screw holes of upholstered, wood, or synthetic furniture

  • under loose wallpaper or wall coverings

  • behind base and window trim

  • under the edge of wall to wall carpeting

  • in electronic devices (televisions, computers, etc.)

Bedbugs seek narrow harborage places for which their flat body shapes are designed. They normally reside close to their hosts, but can hide 20 feet away and crawl that distance to feed if necessary--particularly in severe infestations. A “stale sweet” odor may be detected.

How are bedbugs spread?

Bedbugs are often spread through the acquisition of infested second-hand furniture, or by their hitchhiking on items used during travel such as suitcases, outerwear, and other belongings. Once established in a building, the bugs can then move throughout the structure by crawling along pipe and wiring runs, conduits, HVAC system ductwork, sharing of belongings, laundry, etc. Bedbugs do not occur only in poor and unsanitary conditions, and they can be found in even very clean environments. Excessive clutter and harborage in a room or structure, however, can make their spread and multiplication faster and more intense.

How are bedbugs prevented?

Vigilance during travel by inspecting premises to be occupied, keeping luggage and personal belongings closed and off the floor, beds, or surfaces easily accessed and infested by bedbugs. Prompt reporting of the suspected presence of bedbugs in accommodations is necessary so that their presence can be confirmed and prompt action taken to prevent their spread. Discarded beds, couches, furniture, and furnishings should not be retrieved without a thorough inspection for infestation. Bedbugs are small, quick, and agile and can conceal themselves effectively after crawling into suitcases, boxes, and belongings.

How do you get rid of them?

Bedbugs can be difficult to eliminate because they can go months without feeding, multiply rapidly, are resistant to many pesticides, and effective pesticides can often not be used on bedding or other furniture. Bedbugs do not have nests, but they do tend to congregate in habitual hiding places. The help of trained pest control personnel and mutual cooperation is important as several rounds of treatment may be necessary to remove or kill all eggs, nymphs, and adult bedbugs. Integrated pest management including sanitation, insect removal, and pesticide application may be necessary. The following controls may be undertaken by individuals and/or pest control professionals:

  • Bag and wash all linens, bedding, clothing, drapes, etc., in hot water and/or dry on medium or hot heat (120 degrees Fahrenheit or above) for 10 to 20 minutes. The heat will kill all life stages of bedbugs. Dry cleaning will destroy the insects, but the items should be bagged and the cleaner alerted to the bedbug infestation. If the item is not washable, drying alone at high heat will also kill the bugs.

  • Use a dedicated vacuum to remove the insects. Use the vacuum, along with a crevice tool and stiff bristled brush for no other purpose. Keep the vacuum and any tools in a closed bag when not in use and discard the vacuum contents in a closed container. It may be particularly difficult to remove eggs as they are hard to spot and adhere to surfaces.

  • Discarding infested furniture, moving furniture from walls, sealing cracks, crevices, and openings, and reducing clutter may be a necessary part of the treatment. If infested items cannot be treated, they should be covered and labeled as infested to prevent  spread of the bedbugs to other rooms or buildings.

  • Encasing mattresses and box springs by placing a zippered cloth or plastic mattress cover will restrict the bedbugs movement and feeding, but the covers must remain on for a year.

  • A licensed pest control operator may use registered pesticides for residual control of the insects.

  • Commercially available pesticides are not generally effective, or recommended for control of bedbugs in the home or other residential living units. Foggers and repellents are of no benefit with bedbugs.

  • Normally, adjacent rooms are inspected and treated to ensure the infestation is controlled.

If you believe your room has bedbugs, immediately notify your residence hall director, who in turn will contact trained environmental professionals at Ball State for identification and treatment of the bugs. Remove no articles from the room. If you are suffering from bites, health care professionals at the Ball State Health Center can offer treatment for your symptoms.