Recently bed bugs have undergone a dramatic resurgence and worldwide there are reports of increasing numbers of infestations.
Bed bugs are wingless insects, roughly oval in shape, 4-5mm long when fully grown, and are fast runners. They are rust brown in colour and change to a deeper red brown following a blood meal. Bed bugs are dorsoventrally flattened and being thin means that they can hide in narrow cracks and crevices, making detection often very difficult. The two main species that bite humans include the common bed bug, Cimex lectularius, and the tropical bed bug, Cimex hemipterus.
There are five juvenile stages known as nymphs. Each nymphal stage requires at least one blood meal to moult to the next stage. The entire nymphal development takes 6-8 weeks, while the adult bed bugs can live on average for 6-12 months. Femalea lays 2-3 eggs a day throughout her lifespan. The cream coloured eggs (1mm in length) are cemented on rough surfaces of hiding places, and will hatch within around 10 days at room temperature, but longer in cooler conditions.
The mouthparts of bed bugs are especially adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood. Like most blood sucking arthropods, they inject saliva during feeding. Bed bugs respond to the warmth and carbon dioxide of a human host. Feeding occurs at night, and they generally seek shelter during the day. They can survive for long periods without feeding. While their preferred host is human, they will feed on wide variety of other warm-blooded animals including rodents, rabbits, bats, and even birds.
Bed bugs shelter in a variety of dark locations, mostly close to where people sleep. These include under mattresses, floorboards, paintings and carpets, behind skirting, in various cracks and crevices of walls, within bed frames and other furniture, and behind loose wallpaper. Bed bugs tend to stay in close contact with each other and heavy infestations are accompanied by a distinctive sweet sickly smell. Blood spotting on mattresses and nearby furnishings is often a tell tale sign of an infestation.
Spilled food, cleanliness and sanitation are irrelevant. This is why the fanciest and cleanest places can still have bed bugs; since bed bugs only feed on blood, spilled foods and cleanliness is not a factor.
Bed bugs are one of the great travellers of the world and are readily transported via luggage, clothing, bedding and furniture.
Skin reactions are commonly associated with bed bugs, which result from the saliva injected during feeding. Some individuals however, do not react to their bite, whereas others note a great deal of discomfort often with loss of sleep from the persistent biting. The most commonly affected areas of the body are the arms and shoulders. Reactions to the bites may be delayed. Common allergic reactions include the development of large wheals, often greater than 1cm, which are accompanied by itching and inflammation. The wheals usually subside to red spots but can last for several days. Bullous eruptions have been reported in association with multiple bed bug bites and anaphylaxis may occur in patients with severe allergies.
The NPMA has a great range of videos on Bed Bugs and how to avoid bringing into your home. Watch these videos for tips on how to inspect a hotel room and avoiding bed bugs in your luggage:
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