Bed bugs are parasitic insects of the cimicid family that feed exclusively on blood.There are at least 92 bug species in the family Cimicidae, some of which are known to feed on humans, bats, birds and other warm-blooded animals. Cimex lectularius, the common bed bug, is the best known as it prefers to feed on human blood. Its name derives from the preferred habitat of this pest, as it appears in warm houses and especially near or inside beds and bedding or other sleep areas.
Bed bugs are mainly active at night, but are not exclusively nocturnal. They usually feed on their hosts without being noticed. They can provoke a series of adverse health effects such as skin rashes and prominent blisters or allergic symptoms, as they have been known as human parasites for thousands of years. No documented cases of bed bugs transmitting diseases in humans has been noted, and they are not effective vectors of disease. Their medical significance is mainly limited to the itching and inflammation from their bites, which can be treated with antihistamines to reduce allergic reactions and antiseptic or antibiotic ointments to prevent infection. However, having a bed bug infestation is quite a nuisance, so preventing the infestation from happening must be a priority in your household.
How bed bugs look, reproduce and feed
You can recognise the bed bugs by their flattened, oval-shaped body, lacking wings, and of a light brown to a reddish-brown color. Adults grow to 4–5 mm (0.16–0.20 in) long and 1.5–3 mm (0.059–0.118 in) wide. Newly hatched nymphs are translucent, lighter in color, and become browner as they moult and reach maturity. A bed bug nymph of any age that has just consumed a blood meal has a bright red, translucent abdomen, fading to brown over the next several hours, and to opaque black within two days as the insect digests its meal.
They use pheromones to communicate regarding nesting locations, feeding, and reproduction and they emit a characteristic disagreeable odor when crushed. They can also survive a wide range of temperatures and atmospheric conditions by entering semi-hibernation below 16.1 °C (61.0 °F) and their lifespan normally varies by species and also depending on their feeding opportunities.
They are bloodsucking insects, attracted by to their hosts primarily by carbon dioxide, secondarily by warmth, and also by certain chemicals. They prefer exposed skin, preferably the face, neck, and arms of a sleeping person. Their saliva contains anticoagulants and painkillers and theirs bite normally causes a swelling with no red spot, if just a single bite. However, if many bugs feed on the area, red spots may appear.
Bed bugs have five immature nymph life stages and a final sexually mature adult stage. They shed their skins at each stage, discarding their outer exoskeleton, which is somewhat clear, empty exoskeletons of the bugs themselves. Bed bugs must molt six times before becoming fertile adults, and must consume at least one blood meal to complete each molt. Fertilized females with enough food lay three to four eggs each day continually until the end of their lifespans, possibly generating as many as 500 eggs in this time. Genetic analysis has shown that a single pregnant bed bug, possibly a single survivor of eradication, can be responsible for an entire infestation over a matter of weeks, rapidly producing generations of offspring.
Finding and fighting a bed bugs infestation
Being a parasitic insect, the bed bugs can exist singly, however, they are mostly found congregating. They feed every five to seven days, which means that they are not continuously in search of food. However, once it successfully feeds, the bed bug returns to its shelter. If it did not feed, it continues to look for a host. Once a bed bug finishes feeding it moves to a place close to its host, near beds or couches, inside luggage, inside of vehicles, within furniture, amongst bedside clutter and even inside electrical sockets and nearby computers.
Due to this, bed bugs can easily travel from one host to another, or even change location completely. The bugs are stealth hitchhikers that climb onto bags, clothing and luggage and can easily be transferred from an infected hotel or restaurant chair into your home. In the case of apartments and/ or adjoining homes, bed bugs are able to travel by way of water pipes, wall voids, gutters and wiring.
They can hide inside wall or furniture cracks, travel from one room into another through pipes or even electronic devices, as they like a warm environment, and do sometimes even enter laptops, PCs and other electronic household devices. If in large number, they can be detected by the smell they produce, that of rotting raspberries.
In order to fight them, most of the times you will need to use a combination of non-pesticide and pesticide actions. By vacuuming or wrapping your mattress you can get rid of the bed bugs, and also by exposing them to a combination of heat and drying treatments, as a domestic clothes drier or steam kills bed bugs. Because they continue to adapt pesticide resistance, researchers have examined on the insect’s genome to see how the adaptations develop and to look for potential vulnerabilities that can be exploited in the growth and development phases.
People usually associate bed bugs with just hotels, but they can be found anywhere, from houses, and apartments, to hospitals, dorms, office buildings, schools, trains, cinemas, second-hand clothing shops and buses. The infestation degree with bed bugs is three times higher in urban rather than rural areas, due to the large number of city inhabitants. People also do not know that bed bugs are quite resistant, as they can survive a several months without feeding, and they can survive in extreme temperatures, by entering semi-hibernation. Having a strong survival instinct, they tend to hide during the day, as at night, they come out as they are attracted by the CO2 we exhale. Once they find a host, they can feed every 10 minutes off of it and this is due to their saliva which numbs the bitten area. This is why the host doesn’t wake up and the bed bug can easily delight itself with its meal.
The bed bugs don’t usually find a blood vessel from their first try, so while waking up, you can detect a trail of bites, due to their multiple attempts. Sensitive persons can develop allergies due to the rashes and itchiness sensation that remains. These effects are created by the anticoagulant secretion the bed bugs inject when they sting the skin. Through scratching the affected area, the sting location can get infected.
Bed bugs occur around the world. Rates of infestations in developed countries, while decreasing from the 1930s to the 1980s, have increased dramatically since the 1980s. The fall in bed bug populations after the 1930s in the developed world is believed partly due to the use of DDT to kill cockroaches. The invention of the vacuum cleaner and simplification of furniture design may have also played a role. Others believe it might simply be the cyclical nature of the organism. Cockroaches, ants, spiders, mites, and centipedes are natural predators of the bed bugs, however, biological pest control is not recommended, as it is not practical for eliminating bed bugs from human dwellings.