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Feature Article Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite!

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Bedbugs are making a comeback and the bedtime rhyme to sleep tight and not let the bedbugs bite is no longer quite so charming.

Bedbugs are a small, reddish-brown insect that feed on the blood of sleeping people or animals. At about the size of an apple seed, these tiny creatures prefer dark places during the day and often hide between the mattress and box spring, behind the headboard and even inside wall cracks or crevices. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that although bedbugs may travel up to 100 feet for a meal, they typically live within eight feet of where people sleep.

Close to Home

According to the National Pest Management Association, bedbugs are most commonly found in single-family homes, followed by apartments or condominiums and hotels. However, any place where people sleep would be attractive to bedbugs. Places with many travelers make it more likely that bedbugs can stow away in luggage or folded clothing and infest a new location.

“Bedbugs are pests that are hard to eradicate,” said Stephanie Bosch, DO, of the Samaritan Waldport Clinic. “They don’t spread disease but people should still take care with bites.”

Itchy bumps can take up to 14 days to appear after the bite occurs. There are often several bites together, and may be clustered or in a line. Dr. Bosch recommends cleaning bites with soap and water, and avoiding scratching. Over-the-counter anti-itch cream can help if the urge to scratch is strong.  

“If the itch becomes unbearable or infected, it might be time to see your doctor,” said Bosch.

Bedbug bites are easy to confuse with flea bites. Bedbug bites are usually redder.  Check thoroughly around sleeping areas if you suspect a pest infestation. Bedbugs reproduce quickly so do not delay looking for the source of any bite marks.

Signs of Bedbugs

You can check for bedbugs in between mattresses and under fitted sheets or bed skirts. Use a flashlight to check behind the headboard and in crevices along baseboards. You can also check the seams of upholstered furniture near the sleeping area.

Evidence of bedbugs include rusty brown spots of feces and molted exoskeletons left in dark hiding spaces. You may also see blood spots on your sheets if you’ve been bitten while you sleep.

Prevention on the Road

If you are checking into a hotel or any shared sleeping space, leave your luggage in the car or place it in the bathroom while you check the room for signs of bedbugs. If you are worried there might be bedbugs on your luggage when you return home, you can treat your luggage before you take it in the house. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that placing items in a freezer set to 0° F for four days will kill bedbugs, as will steam temperatures of 130° F.

Items that you buy used or at garage sales should also be inspected for bedbugs. Dr. Bosch recommends washing things that are machine washable as soon as possible, and drying them on the hottest setting for at least 20 minutes.

Treating an Infestation

If you find you have bedbugs, you’ll need a comprehensive strategy to get rid of them. According to the EPA, bedbugs have become resistant to some pesticides and can hide where chemicals don’t reach them, so a one-time treatment like a fogger won’t eliminate the problem. A professional exterminator can manage the process for you, or the EPA has planning tools to help if you want to do it yourself.

“Bedbug bites aren’t dangerous but the bugs should be taken care of as soon as possible to avoid an infestation,” said Bosch.

Family medicine physician Stephanie Bosch, DO, sees patients of all ages at the Samaritan Waldport Clinic in Waldport, Oregon.

Learn more about bedbugs in our health library.

Preparing for a trip? Visit the International Travel Clinic and learn other ways to stay healthy at your destination.

If you need medical attention right away, visit samhealth.org/carenow to find out your nearby options for urgent care, walk-in and e-visits.