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 bed bugs 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 bed bug infestations.
Although bed bug infestations can occur in residential homes, bed bugs are a major problem for the hospitality industry. Guests receiving bed bug bites are a serious PR issue for any hotel suffering a bed bug infestation, not only loss of business from closed rooms whilst treatment takes place, but the loss of business through adverse publicity.
Bed bug 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 bed bug outbreaks.
There are two main species of bed bug:
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. Bed bugs 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 bed bugs live indoors they can be a problem throughout the year. Although they don’t live in nests, bed bugs 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 mouthparts to pierce the skin and suck up blood. They become round, when engorged with blood after feeding.
The female bed bug 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 the bed bug makes a series of bites trying to find a blood vessel.
There is no known disease transmission with bed bug bites. The main issue is the itching at the bite site that occurs after the bite. However, some 30% of bite victims don’t produce any reaction to bed bug bites. Of course the idea of sharing your bed with bed bugs is a major of concern to many.
Spotting – small spots of blood on the bed sheet may also be an indication of a bed bug infestation.
As bed bugs are reliant on blood meals to survive, and primarily 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 for bed bugs.
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, bed bug 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 of bed bugs is missed, it can quickly turning into a major infestation. For example, a bed bug infestation generally required 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 control bed bugs including sprays, aerosols and powders. Some are use to deliver immediate control and some are designed to provide long lasting protection from bed bugs.
Bed bugs in many parts of the world have developed significant levels of resistance to insecticides, through are variety of mechanisms. 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 one of the effective bed bug control methods. 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 that all bed bug 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 bed bugs are found in one unit, all units in the block should be inspected and treated for bed bugs if necessary.
For hotel / motel managers
Prevention of bed bug infestations and having an active bed bug management plan is essential to prevent infestations and knowing what to do as soon a bed bug infestation is detected.