Bed bugs are parasites that feed on the blood of animals, primarily humans. The bite itself is painless, most victims will develop a small red, itchy bite mark within 24 hours, although for some people it can take several days for the welt to appear.
As they live in and around sleeping areas, and cause bites, they are perceived as “dirty” and an indication of a hygiene problem. However, in reality, there is no evidence that they transmit disease and even 5 star hotels can suffer from infestations.
Although bed bug infestations can occur in residential homes, they are a major problem for the hospitality industry. Guests receiving bed bug bites are a serious PR issue for any hotel suffering an infestation, not only loss of business from closed rooms whilst treatment takes place, but the loss of business through adverse publicity.
Infestations can be a challenge to control as they are difficult to completely eliminate and are easily transferred to start new infestations. In the hospitality industry, bed bug management plans are essential to prevent outbreaks.
There are two main species:
They are both quite widespread, although the tropical bed bug is generally only found in warmer climates.
Bed bugs undergo an incomplete metamorphosis – the young (nymphs) look like smaller versions of the adult. They grow by moulting and go through 5 immature stages before turning into an adult. A blood meal is required between each successive moult, and by adult females in order to lay eggs. They are pretty resilient and can go without a blood meal for months and even up to a year at cooler temperatures! However, the average lifespan of a bed bug is around 10 months.
As they live indoors they can be a problem throughout the year. Although they don’t live in nests, they do tend to congregate in clusters in favourable hiding places.
Bed bug eggs are tiny – about the size of a spec of dust – and white / translucent in colour, so are very difficult to see. They are sticky when laid so easily adhere to surfaces. Under favourable conditions, the eggs hatch in about a week.
Adult bed bugs are a small, brown wingless insect, up to 5mm long and 3mm wide. They are flat, and oval shaped which allows them to squeeze into small spaces. They have modified mouth parts to pierce the skin and suck up blood. They become round, when engorged with blood after feeding.
The female will lay a couple of eggs a day but can lay hundreds during their lifetime.
Bed bug bites are painless and often victims may not realise they have been bitten until the following morning, or when the red welts at the bite sites appear.
During the biting process, they inject saliva containing anti-coagulents and painkillers. They will bit any areas of exposed skin. Often the bites will occur in a cluster or in a line, as they often make a series of bites trying to find a blood vessel.
Spotting – small spots of blood on the bed sheet may also be an indication of an infestation.
They are not known to transmit disease in the field, although there is some evidence for disease transmission by bed bugs in the laboratory. The main issue is that the bed bug bite can cause an allergic reaction, normally in the form of the itching at the bite site. This allergic reaction can get worse in some people over time. However, some 30% of bite victims don’t produce any reaction to the bite. Of course, the idea of sharing your bed with bed bugs is a major of concern to many.
However, there is an increasing body of evidence that bed bug infestations produce large amount of histamines which are long lasting and can accumulate in the environment. These may have the potential to cause allergic reactions.
As bed bugs are reliant on blood meals to survive, and as they primarily need human blood, they are found in close proximity to human sleeping areas. This means bedrooms and beds are the main hotspots.
The favourite hiding place for bed bugs is on the bed itself – close to a potential meal! They like to hide around the edge of mattresses and in bed heads.
TOP TIP: When staying in a hotel, peal back the sheets to inspect the mattress edge.
They will also hide around the edge of rooms under the carpet, behind skirting boards and even in plug sockets.
Bed bugs are great hitch hikers! They will readily move into luggage which is why infestations are a major issue in the hospitality industry and why infestations can be readily transferred between hotels and from hotels to your home.
TOP TIP: When staying at a hotel, always place your luggage on a luggage stand, never on the floor or on your bed.
Yes, infestations can occur on any public transport, but particularly on public buses and trains in cities.
Inspecting for bed bugs is a skilled and time consuming process and is best left to professionals. It needs to be comprehensive as even if one small population is missed, it can quickly turning into a major infestation. For example, during an inspection, beds to be taken apart to inspect all cracks and crevices.
Professional pest managers have the knowledge and expertise to know all the bed bug hiding places. However, some utilise the skills of bed bug detection dogs as they can speed up the inspection process.
Bed bug treatments are one of the pest control treatments that really needs to be done be a professional pest manager. Not only does it require an expert, comprehensive inspection, but it requires specialist products and equipment to gain control.
Pest managers use a range of bed bug products to gain control including sprays, aerosols and powders. Some are use to deliver immediate control and some are designed to provide long lasting protection.
Bed bugs in many parts of the world have developed significant levels of resistance to insecticides, through are variety of mechanisms, including increasing cuticle thickness is contributing to resistance in bed bugs. This make them a lot more difficult to control and where the skill of the pest manager comes in, to design a bed bug treatment which uses the best combination of products to gain control.
Heat treatments are an option many pest managers use in locations where there are high levels of resistance to insecticides.
More information on bed bug insecticide resistance.
Heat treatments for bed bugs is an effective control method. Not only can heat treatments deal with insecticide resistant populations, it can allow the treated rooms to be used immediately after treatment – once the rooms has been inspected and the temperature has returned to normal.
Heat treatments involve raising the temperature in enclosed rooms up to 70oC for several hours. It is still important to make sure all hiding places are identified to ensure they are exposed to the heat and killed.
It is important to avoid accidentally introducing bed bugs into your home when returning from a trip (the main cause of infestations in homes).
For residents in unit blocks, it is possible for there to be movement of bed bugs in between units, so if they are found in one unit, all units in the block should be inspected and treated if necessary.
For hotel / motel managers
Having an active bed bug management plan is essential to prevent infestations and knowing what to do as soon a infestation is detected.
Mattress protector can be a useful component in a bed bug management plan for both homeowners and hoteliers. They eliminate the bed bug hiding places around the ribbing in mattresses. They can also encase any bed bugs in the mattress (killing them through starvation) and they are generally a good idea from a hygiene management point of view.
More information on bed bug mattress protectors…