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Bed Bugs - Public Health Sanitation Program

Table of Contents

What are Bed Bugs?

bed bug closeup

Bed bugs are small, wingless insects that have not been known to transmit disease. Adult bed bugs have flat, oval shaped bodies. They are between 1 to 7 millimeters in length (about the size of an apple seed). The size of an adult bed bug varies, because their bodies become larger after a blood meal. After eating they change to a reddish color. Bed bugs are usually active at night and bite humans and animals while they are sleeping. They can live several months without feeding.

Click on picture for a larger view
Photo courtesy of Louis N Sorkin, BCE

Where are Bed Bugs Found?

another close up view of a bed bug Bed bugs can be found anywhere, such as houses, apartments, group living situations, hospitals, hotels/motels, and public transportation vehicles. These places have areas where people sleep or spend significant amounts of time. Their usual hiding places are in seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, and along and/or directly behind headboards. Once a bed bug population multiplies, they can be found: behind baseboards; in cracks and crevices in furniture, floors, or walls; under cluttered areas; and in electronic appliances. A bed bug infestation is apparent by noticing black or brown spots (which are their waste products) on surfaces. The eggs, egg shells, and exoskeletons of the bed bugs can be found in their hiding places as well.
Click on picture for a larger view
Photo courtesy of Louis N Sorkin, BCE

How are Bed Bugs Transported?

Because bed bugs can be found in homes and a variety of public places, they can easily be transported from place to place by people. They can hide in the seams of luggage and in the folds of clothing. They can also be transported in furniture.

Can Bed Bugs Make You Sick?

Bed bugs are not known to transmit disease, but many people have mild to severe allergic reactions to the bites. Bed bug bite marks usually appear on the face, neck, arms, hands, but can appear on other body parts. The marks are slightly swollen, red areas that can itch or be irritating.

How Can I Get Rid of Bed Bugs?

It usually takes multiple visits by licensed pest control operator who has experience in elimination of bed bugs. Please seek the advice of a licensed pest control operator for treatment options. Over the counter foggers and pesticides will not eliminate bed bugs.

Is There Effective Treatment for Bed Bug Bites?

If you are experiencing bed bug bites and feel that you are having an allergic reaction, please contact your physician. Topical antihistamine or anti-inflammatory medication may provide relief.

mild bed bug bites on human handsevere bed bug bites on human hand
Click on picture for a larger view
Photo courtesy of Louis N Sorkin, BCE

Bed Bugs and Apartments

large adult bed bugs
Click on picture for a larger view
Photo courtesy of Louis N Sorkin, BCE

If you suspect your apartment may be infested with bed bugs:

  1. Seek confirmation from a Licensed Pest Control Operator
  2. Once confirmed the apartment needs preparation for treatment
    • Clean and organize apartment getting rid of clutter.
    • Caulk and seal apartment crevices around room and on furniture.
    • Seal floors or the spaces between floor boards and tiles.
    • Seal items in plastic bags and airtight containers. These items may need to be stored outside the apartment for at least 6 months to a year to insure re-infestation does not occur.
    • Remove sheets, blankets, coverlets, stuffed animals, pillows, quilts, bed skirts and drapes. Launder these items in hot water and use the highest heat setting in the dryer.
    • Move furniture away from walls.
    • Place a knee high stocking over the vacuum handle attachment of your vacuum cleaner. Vacuum the mattress, box springs, floors, furniture, and baseboards.
    • Once the mattress has been vacuumed, encase both mattress and box spring in plastic mattress covers. Remove the bag from the vacuum and discard the stocking in an air-tight bag immediately after use. Discard the sealed bag immediately.
    • If infested furniture is discarded please mark the items with visible indelible paint “BED BUGS” to prevent someone from picking up the infested furniture and transmitting bed bugs to other dwellings.
    • Contact licensed pest control operators for proper treatment. Treatment may be extensive and require more than one application. Treatment of surrounding units may be required depending upon recommendation from the licensed pest control operator.

Bed Bugs and Schools and Daycares

Bed bugs prefer an environment where they can hide during the day and come out at night to feed. Most schools or daycare settings do not offer this type of environment; however, bed bugs can hide in clothing and personal belongings such as backpacks and lunch bags. This provides them an opportunity to migrate and spread to other individuals.

Bed Bug Prevention

Schools are required to have a school Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM) in place that should address all forms of pests. Trained staff should be available to identify bed bugs in the classroom, on children’s items, and be able to identify bed bug bites on children. Please treat students respectfully and handle the situations discreetly. Information should be sent to students for their families and educational seminars should be held for the benefit of the school community.

Bed Bugs and Hotels

bed bugs living in box springbed bugs living in mattress
Click on picture for a larger view
Photo courtesy of Louis N Sorkin, BCE

In some cases bed bugs are unknowingly brought into hotels in luggage, clothing, blankets and pillows from hotel guests. Hotels with high turnover are especially vulnerable to infestation. No hotel is immune to a bed bug infestation.

Several steps may be taken to reduce the incidence of bed bugs in a hotel:

  1. Have an inspection plan in place so staff can identify a bed bug infestation before guests arrive.
  2. Train staff to inspect rooms upon vacancy for signs of bed bugs and make a visual inspection for bed bugs part of the staff’s cleaning routine every time a room is vacated.
  3. If bed bugs are identified, remove all mattresses, box springs, and draperies from the room.
  4. Store infected mattresses and box springs in zippered plastic mattress covers isolated and offsite for one year to insure the elimination of the bed bugs.
  5. Wash all linens, draperies, and towels in hot water and dry at the highest heat setting for at least 20 minutes.
  6. Vacuum furniture; including areas behind paintings, dressers, desks, floors and carpeting with a heavy duty HEPA vacuum paying special attention to cracks and crevices along the seam line of the carpet, and baseboards. Remove vacuum bag immediately and discard in a sealed, airtight bag. Keep any vacuum utilized in bed bug removal isolated and wash all attachment in hot water. Before vacuuming place a knee high stocking over attachment handle to capture bed bugs, eggs, and nymphs.
  7. Repair cracks in plaster and loose wallpaper. Seal cracks around the baseboards with caulking material.
  8. Have the room treated by a licensed pest control operator and do not offer the room for occupation until it has be certified as bed bug free from a licensed pest control operator.

Remember over the counter pesticides and foggers are NOT Effective treatments for bed bugs.

Bed Bug Tips for Travelers

bed bugs and droppings present on shoe
Click on picture for a larger view
Photo courtesy of Louis N Sorkin, BCE

Be careful when you travel. You can come into contact with bed bugs anywhere. Here are some tips that may help you while traveling.

  1. Take only what you will need to use for the trip
  2. Take all toiletries and place them in plastic zip-loc bags and pack additional large kitchen garbage bags to store worn clothes.
  3. Inspect your hotel room prior to bringing your luggage and belongings into the room.
  4. Turn back the comforter, sheets and mattress pads and look for bed bug fecal spots, bed bugs, and eggs in seam line of mattresses and between mattress and box springs, behind hanging pictures and headboards.
  5. Store suitcases on the luggage racks NOT on the floor.
  6. Worn clothing should be placed in an airtight bag and not in the suitcase.
  7. Before packing to leave the hotel inspect your luggage for bed bugs and place all personal effects in bags, then in the suitcases.
  8. When you arrive home, leave your luggage outside -- DO NOT take it into the home if at all possible.
  9. Remove the items and inspect for bed bugs immediately; wash all clothing in hot water and place in the dryer at the highest heat setting for a minimum of 20 minutes.
  10. Items that can not be laundered and dried at high heat should be dry-cleaned.
  11. Place your luggage in tightly sealed plastic bags and leave in the garage if possible.

Bed Bug Management in Shelters and Group Living Facilities (Dormitories)

bed bugs of various sizes presented on graph paper for scale
Click on picture for a larger view
Photo courtesy of Louis N Sorkin, BCE

A good Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach should utilize all possible methods of prevention and treatment available that reduce the risk of pesticide exposure. Facilities should have an IPM plan in place to deal with bed bug issues before they become a problem. IPM methods include:

  1. Inspect infected areas, and the surrounding units or living spaces.
  2. Train maintenance personnel on proper identification of bed bugs.

Once bed bugs have been identified:

  1. Remove all clutter from the infested area.
  2. Wash all clothing and items including curtains, area rugs, and personal effects in hot water and utilize the highest drier setting for drying (20 minutes minimum). Items not washable should be dry-cleaned.
  3. Place a knee high stocking over vacuum cleaner attachments to capture bed bugs, nymphs and eggs. Discard stocking in air tight plastic bag after use.
  4. Vacuum all cracks and crevices paying special attention to carpet seam lines along base boards.
  5. Vacuum all fixed furniture with a Heavy Duty HEPA vacuum, remove contents, place in air tight plastic bag, and discard immediately. The vacuum cleaner should be designated for use in bed bug removal only. Wash all attachments in hot water and store vacuum cleaner in an area separate from living facilities.
  6. Repair any damaged or peeling wall paper and seal all cracks and crevices.
  7. Contract a licensed pest control operator who has experience in the treatment and removal of bed bugs to treat the living space and the surrounding spaces to insure eradication.
  8. Encase all mattresses and box springs in plastic covers, remove them and store in location away from living units for at least one year.
  9. Do not allow residents to re-inhabit the area until the area has been certified as bed bug free.
  10. To prevent future infestations all sleeping mattresses and box springs should be encased in plastic mattress covers and only metal bed frames should be utilized.

Additional Information

Do it Yourself Bed Bug Treatment: http://citybugs.tamu.edu/factsheets/biting-stinging/others/ent-3012/

General Information: http://citybugs.tamu.edu/factsheets/biting-stinging/bed-bugs/   

Handbook for Tenants rights: https://www.texasbar.com/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Free_Legal_Information2&Template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=25969

Last updated March 5, 2021