How to Spot a Bed Bug Infestation

by Matt Solis


A pest control professional can identify and confirm the presence of bed bugs in your house. Photo: Osborn Spray Service (2013)

While they may be best known for their allusion in the famous bedtime children’s rhyme, bed bugs are a real and rising concern in American households. Primarily nocturnal and parasitic, bed bugs are so named because of their preferred habitat: warm houses, particularly around and inside bedding. What the name doesn’t signify is the fact that bed bugs feed exclusively on blood, usually from a sleeping human host.

Although nearly wiped out in America by the early 1940s, bed bugs reemerged in the mid 1990s as a legitimate concern. While it remains unknown why and how they made a comeback, the subsequent rise in home infestations has led to exponential increases in bed bug bites and related health conditions. Homes can become infested with bed bugs in a variety of ways—often it’s an unknowing carrier bringing them in from the outside, but in some cases, the bugs will find a way themselves if easy routes are available.

While the elusive manner of bed bugs can make detection difficult, there are a few signs to look for if you sense their presence. Aside from bite symptoms like skin rashes, other ostensive clues include fecal spots (small, dark, sand-like droppings that occur in patches around and beneath nests), blood smears on sheets (which are actually fecal spots that have been re-wetted, giving the appearance of smeared blood) and the presence of empty molted exoskeletons.

Getting rid of bed bugs often requires a combination of chemical and non-chemical measures. While pesticides such as pyrethoids, dichlorvos and malathion have been effective in the past, resistance to pesticides has increased significantly over time and negative health effects from their use are of concern. While industry researchers continue to experiment with new ways to chemically eradicate bed bugs in a safe and effectual manner, mechanical approaches such as heat treating mattresses and vacuuming are commonly implemented.

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