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- Bed bugs are small insects that feed on the blood of humans and other mammals.
- Bed bugs are usually found where people live, especially in bedrooms.
- Bed bug bites can be very itchy and annoying, but they are not usually serious and do not transmit diseases.
What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs are small, wingless insects that feed on the blood of humans and animals. Adult bed bugs have flat, narrow bodies that grow to about one fifth of an inch in length. They can live in many places, but prefer to hide in dark spaces. They are called bed bugs because they are commonly found in mattresses, bedding and other soft furniture, or in cracks and crevices of bedroom furniture.
Bed bugs are active mainly at night and usually bite you while you sleep. Bed bug bites can be very itchy and annoying, but they are not usually serious. A bed bug has specialized mouthparts for piercing the skin and sucking the blood. When a bed bug pierces the skin to suck blood, they also inject some of their saliva, which can cause red, itchy bumps to form on the skin.
Bed bugs are found all over the world. Bedbugs have been known as a human parasite for thousands of years, but scientific studies about this insect are recent and limited. Cimex lectularius, the common bedbug, was a well-known parasite
in human dwellings until the end of the Second World War.
There has been a recent increase in reports of bed bug infestations in many developed countries around the world. It is thought that this is due to an increase in international travel and an increase in the insects' resistance to chemicals usually used to control them.
Bed bugs are a common problem in places that have a high turnover of people, such as hotels, cruise ships and dormitories. Bed bugs can sometimes enter a person's home in luggage or on clothes after travelling or visiting a place with a bed bug infestation.
Signs and symptoms
At first, bed bug bites are usually painless, but they can turn into itchy red bumps. Bites can occur on any part of the body that is exposed; the face, neck, arms and hands are most commonly affected.
The signs and symptoms of a bed bug bite can appear within minutes or days after the bite. The red bite marks generally disappear after a few days.
If you are bitten repeatedly over time, your reaction to the bites may become more severe. Some people can also have an allergic reaction to bites that can give rise to blisters or hives.
Methods for diagnosis
Diagnosing bed bug bites can be difficult, because the bites can look similar to the bites of other insects, such as mosquitos. If you suspect you have been bitten by a bed bug, checking your home for the insects and bringing in a sample of one may help your doctor tell whether the bites are from bed bugs. Bed bugs may be easier to detect at night when they are most active.
Types of treatment
Medical treatment is usually not needed for bed bug bites. Taking care not to scratch bites may prevent further damage to the skin and avoid infection.
If needed, an over-the-counter antihistamine tablet or cream may help to relieve itching. Corticosteroid creams applied to the affected area may also help reduce any inflammation. These should not be used for more than three days continuously due to potential side effects. Also, if applying corticosterol creams to the face or to other sensitive areas, use an appropriately lower dose.
In the rare cases of a more serious allergic reaction or a skin infection, it may be necessary to see a doctor.
Eliminating bed bugs
Getting rid of bed bugs can be very difficult, because they are good at hiding and can survive for months without eating. Bed bugs are also developing resistance to the pesticides that are usually used to control them.
Some common steps to manage a bed bug infestation include:
- Washing bedding, clothes and curtains in hot water and drying them in a clothes dryer;
- Vacuuming mattresses and other surfaces where bed bugs may hide;
- Steam-cleaning carpets;
- Removing clutter around the bed, which may provide hiding places for bed bugs, and;
- Using a professional pest controller to treat the home with pest-control chemicals.
Although keeping a clean house will help you manage a bed bug infestation, it can be quite difficult to get rid of bed bugs by yourself. Professional pest controllers are often the only permanent solution. Keeping your house clean can also help you detect a bed bug infestation in the first place, but it does not guarantee that bed bugs will not infest your house.
Very rarely, a person can develop a severe allergic reaction to bed bugs, known as anaphylaxis. An anaphylactic reaction is potentially life-threatening and needs urgent medical attention.
Bed bug bites are not usually very serious. The bite marks usually get better within 1-2 weeks. However, the more often a person gets bitten, the more likely they are to have more serious reactions, so it is important to remove bed bugs from your living environment.
Bed bugs typically enter a home in luggage after travelling, or on second-hand clothes and soft furnishings, such as sofas and mattresses. Checking these types of items carefully before bringing them into your home may help to prevent a bed bug infestation.
Bed bugs tend to burrow under clothing, so covering up as much skin as possible may help prevent bites during an infestation.
Regular pest control can help prevent infestations in the first place/
FAQ Frequently asked questions
What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs are small, wingless insects that feed on the blood of animals and humans. Adult bed bugs have flat bodies that grow to about half a centimeter long. They can live in a range of environments, preferring dark locations. They are called bed bugs because they are …
Do bed bugs spread disease?
Despite being blood-feeding insects, bed bugs are not known to spread any diseases to humans.
Are bed bugs found in Australia?
Yes, there are two different species of bed bugs in Australia. These are the common bed bug (Cimex lectularis) and the tropical bed bug (Cimex hemipterus).
What are the signs of a bed bug infestation?
Sometimes, the only signs of an infestation are red, itchy red bumps on the skin caused by bed bug bites. They can occur on any exposed part of the body; the face, neck, arms and hands are most commonly affected. The bites can appear within …
How are bed bug bites treated?
Medical treatment is usually not needed for bed bug bites. Taking care not to scratch bites may prevent further damage to the skin and avoid infection. An over-the-counter antihistamine tablet or cream may help to relieve itching from bites. Corticosteroid …
Can I prevent getting bed bugs?
Bed bugs can enter a person's home in luggage or on clothes after travelling or visiting a place that has an infestation. They can also sometimes enter a home on second-hand clothes or soft furnishings such as sofas and mattresses. Checking these types of …
How do I get rid of bed bugs?
Some common steps to manage a bed bug infestation include: washing bedding and other soft furnishings in hot water and drying them in a clothes dryer on a hot setting, vacuuming mattresses, sofas and places bed bugs may hide, and steam-cleaning carpets. In …
How can I tell if my bite marks are from bed bugs?
One way to tell if a bite is from a bed bug or another biting insect is to check your home for bugs and collect a sample. Bed bugs may be easier to detect at night when they are most active. They typically hide in bedding and mattresses.
Do bed bugs live on the skin?
No, bed bugs do not live on a person's skin. They may sometimes travel on a person's clothes, but generally only come on to a person's skin to feed.