How To Spot (And Treat) A Bed Bug Infestation

Bed sheet and pillow messed up in bedroom

Do you ever feel like the laws of nature are working against you in stressful situations? The cliche “when it rains, it pours” comes to mind every time I think about my first (and only…knock on wood) experience with Bed Bugs. In fact, as I write this article, it’s been exactly 2 years to the day since it happened. There were moments I thought I would have a total meltdown, but I got through it and learned a lot about how to spot a bed bug infestation. Now, I’m armed with the knowledge I should have had before we booked that hotel. And today, I’m here to share it, so that you too, can avoid infestations.

It was moving day. We had just sold our very first home so that we could be closer to my husband’s job, an hour away. The new house we were building didn’t get finished in time so we had nowhere to go. Staying with them was nearly impossible. We had a 17 year old nephew living with us from out of state, 2 dogs, and a baby. Not exactly easy house guests. So we shopped hotels and found one that was in a good location for us and fairly affordable. After spending all of our cash flow on a down payment, we were a bit strapped to say the least. To make matters worse, we were days away from leaving town for my little sister’s wedding. So while we were packing boxes, we were also packing suitcases and well… let’s just say it got a little messy. Moving is so stressful already, and trying to make sure something I needed for the wedding didn’t get packed into a box for storage, was a feat all on its own.

As I watched the movers drive away with all our things, I got in my car and headed for the hotel. After check in, we walked into the room and dropped off our suitcases. It was a little mini-suite, so it had a tiny kitchen with space for us to cook. It was nothing impressive. I’m not a particular fan of hotels anyway because I just feel weird staying in a room where you know SO MANY others have gone before. But I tried to wrap my head around it because we were looking at possibly a whole month in a hotel before our house was done. The room was smaller than we had hoped and with all of us cramped in there… our decision to try and save money was looking worse and worse. So I took the baby and stayed at my sister’s house. We were getting ready to take a flight out of town anyway, so it was just easier.

Since my nephew was from the other side of the family and was staying in town to work at his job, he decided to stay at the hotel. It was after all, right down the road and he didn’t mind the tiny kitchen. Blissfully unaware were we all though, about the bed bug infestation that would soon feast on him as he slept. I got his phone call while I was still out of town for the wedding. He called and said he thinks he has bed bugs. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, after all that we had already been through with this move… How could this be thrown on top? I asked him to send me pictures and sure enough, all up the side of his torso, were bites in that weird line that bed bugs are known for. Immediately, I told him to leave his things, go to my sister’s house, take a shower and run his clothes through a hot cycle in the dryer. “The heat will kill them, and we’ll be back tomorrow.” My next phone call was to the office at the hotel, who denied the presence of bed bugs. They said they had just passed an inspection and that there’s no way bed bugs exist in that room. I was so angry. I knew we didn’t bring them… So I demanded an inspection while we were present with the manager of the property. And what do you know? They found a large infestation right there in the mattress.

Needless to say, we moved out. I left and went directly to the nearest laundromat with all of my belongings. Literally, every piece of linen, clothing, bedding… you name it, I sat there in a laundromat with a toddler and washed it. It was such an awful experience. We all had the creeps for weeks afterward.

Despite all the trouble, we actually got lucky because most of our stuff was in storage, and we caught it early. If we had stayed at that hotel a month before we realized there were bed bugs, we could very easily have taken it with us to our next house. I was paranoid for months afterwards that I would find one somewhere. Miraculously though, we didn’t. And now, I always check for signs before I move into somewhere new, or even pull my luggage into a hotel room.

Bed Bugs

Here’s what you need to know, in order to spot a bed bug infestation.

  1. What are they? Bed Bugs are tiny little insects that, as babies (nymphs), are barely 1 mm and transparent in color. As they feed on blood from humans or animals, they mature into adults, which are 1/4” long and visible to the naked eye. They look flat and are almost as wide as they are long. The life cycle of a bed bug (Cimex Lectularius) is between 12-18 months. Infestations can grow very quickly, as a female can lay between 200-500 eggs over the course of her life, as long as she’s feeding at least every 14 days. Needless to say, catching bed bugs early is going to make it much easier to get rid of them.
  2. How do they spread? Bed Bugs spread in numerous ways. They can crawl from furniture to clothing, to mattresses, so infestations aren’t always confined to one room. They can hide on your clothing, in your suitcase, or in boxes. Areas where many humans can be found are ideal for bed bugs, such as apartments, hotels, or schools. Bed Bugs can and will move easily between apartments or hotel rooms across wiring, plumbing, or cracks in the walls or ceilings if a pesticide is used that repels (but doesn’t kill) them, or if the area where they reside becomes too populated. Having bed bugs doesn’t necessarily indicate a dirty home. They can come in off a visitor without being detected and all they need is a blood source from which to feed.
  3. How can you prevent them? Preventing bed bugs will never be 100% fool proof. There’s always the chance that your daughter will come home from college with one in her suitcase, or that a friend will come over to visit after their international trip with one in tow. That being said, there are things you can do to make sure it doesn’t turn into an infestation. First, don’t bring in used clothing or furniture. Or if you do, be sure that everything is inspected and laundered before settling in. Use the same approach with new clothes purchased from a department store, or even coming out of your storage unit. More and more of these cases are being seen all over the US. Second, keep your bed up off the floor. They make Climb Up Interceptors that will keep the pests from being able to climb the legs of your furniture. You can also utilize a well-fitted encasement for your mattress which will keep the bugs from getting in. Also gaining in popularity, is the use of canine bed bug detection. A professional can bring a canine in who is trained to locate bed bug infestations. This is a great way to check every few months to make sure no bugs have gotten in and started to nest in your furniture.
  4. How do you know you have them? The most accurate way to be sure you have a bed bug infestation is to physically find one and identify it as such. They can most often be found living in the seams or piping of a mattress. Even if the actual bugs themselves are hiding, you should be able to find signs of their waste, which will look like little dark blood spots. They like mattress corners and anywhere they can hide. Bed bugs are most active at night, so checking a mattress with a flashlight when it gets dark can be a good way to go. Without actually finding a bug, it can be difficult to distinguish a bed bug bite from a mosquito or spider bite. However, a tell-tale sign to look for is a line of red itchy bumps. They seem to consistently feed in a long row of bites. (Gross, I know.)
  5. How do you get rid of them? Getting rid of bed bugs is very difficult and requires a professional. There are things you can do at home that will definitely help as well, but don’t rely on them as the only action. Spend the money on a professional. You’ll be glad you did. In the meantime, strip all the linens off your bed and probably anywhere in your home including drapes, clothing, and bags, wash them in hot water, and most importantly, dry them in a very hot cycle. Vacuum regularly and very thoroughly on at least a weekly basis. Be sure to seal or caulk any openings in baseboards, plumbing, floors, ceilings and walls. Keep clutter out of the house. If you have piles of clutter, bed bugs will love hiding in them, so keep it clean.
  6. Check Travel Sites. Don’t just assume that because you booked a nice hotel, that it will be without bed bugs. As we discussed earlier, they are not an indication of a dirty environment. They just need an opportunity. When you travel, check hotel reviews, bed bug report sites, and travel review websites to be sure there haven’t been any sightings. Most importantly, for me since I now know what I’m looking for… I always, always, always check the mattresses on the piping and in the corners for ANY signs of bed bugs, before I even pull my luggage into the room.

Bed Bug Life Cycle

I’ve been lucky, and have never found them anywhere besides that one hotel. Unfortunately, bed bugs have been making a big resurgence into the US since the 1990’s. In the 50’s with the use of DDT and other pesticides that have since been deemed harmful, bed bugs were all but eradicated. However, with the lack of those pesticides in play and the rise in international travel across the globe, bed bugs are making a mighty comeback. Cities are becoming infested all around the nation, and it’s becoming more important that ever to arm yourself with the knowledge to find, prevent, and treat these pest infestations.

If you find yourself with a bed bug problem, call a professional immediately. This is not a problem that will go away on it’s own, and delaying it will only make it much worse. And if you don’t have one yet, now you are prepared to prevent it. Don’t forget to check travel sites and bed bug report websites for information on housing, hotels and apartment complexes. When people have a bad experience, they are usually quite vocal. The information is there for you, so be sure and take advantage of it.

Until then, sleep tight, and don’t let the bed bugs bite!

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