Unlike cockroaches and flies that feed on filth, there is often no relationship between bed bugs and cleanliness. Since the bugs feed solely on blood, pristine dwellings can be as vulnerable to infestation as are places of squalor. That said, poverty and privation can lead to increased risk of bed bug problems, as can the inability to hire a professional exterminator.
Since bed bugs can be found throughout the world, many people have suffered from their bites. Since you are reading this, you have also most likely been a victim but don’t worry, you are not alone. Their primary diet is blood, which makes humans their meal of choice, definitely not good news for us! Based on personal experience, they can leave a rather nasty, red mark which can itch like mad. No wonder people say “Goodnight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!” What do these bites look like (and what to do if you are bitten) and what are some ways that you can get rid of them?
Checking beds for bed bugs was a common practice long ago, especially while traveling. Travelers today should consider doing the same, preferably before unpacking. This would entail examining the bed sheets and seams of the mattress and perhaps box spring for signs of bed bugs, especially along the head (pillow end) of the bed. Experts also remove and check behind headboards since this is a frequent hiding place for bed bugs in hotels. Headboards are heavy and cumbersome, however, and untrained persons should not attempt removal themselves.
Don’t forget that in some cases a person does not react to bed bug bites at all. It’s really not that easy to easily identify bed bug bites. Often a diagnosis of spider bite is given when the person really doesn’t know what is causing the lesion(s). Spider bites are often an over diagnosed condition. Also, a hot or warm dryer is much more useful than washing clothes in hot water. Certain studies have shown that some bed bugs will withstand the wash, but not the dryer.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Bites on dogs and cats will look much like bites on people, and the pet owner may actually suspect a mosquito or flea bit the pet. As with people, bed bugs do not stay on pets, but return to a protected harborage site after feeding. In addition to bites, the presence of the bug’s feces, cast skins and the animal’s irritation at night are also indicators of bed bugs biting pets. Therefore, one of the best things to do is inspect the pet’s bedding and frequently groom the animal while being vigilant for the telltale signs of bed bug presence.