Do Bed Bugs Really Bite?

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‘Don’t let the bed bugs bite’ is a phrase many of us heard at bed time as kids. If it occasionally left you with nightmares once the light was switched off, don’t worry – you’re certainly not the only one! Although the last thing we want is to make those bad dreams resurface, it’s true; bed bugs do bite, they’re a common occurrence worldwide, and they’re resilient little creatures. However, there are countless myths floating around about these harmless bedtime companions. Here’s what you need to know about them.

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs (or ‘cimex lectularlius’ to give them their official name) are thought to have existed for as long as humans and may have even originated in the same place. They have flat, oval shaped bodies and are up to 5mm in size. They are parasitic insects, and they feed exclusively on blood. While they probably started off by bothering bats, they soon discovered that human blood was much tastier and as the human population of the world increased, so did the number of bed bugs. Females lay up to 300 eggs during their lifetime – those eggs hatch after about 10 days and are fully grown adults within 8 weeks. Their life span depends on their living conditions, but they can live for up to 400 days without feeding – so they’re tough little critters.

Are they dangerous?

Bed bugs may be inconvenient and persistent, but they’re not dangerous. While theoretically they could transfer diseases to humans, there has been no proof of this ever happening, so it seems that the risk is miniscule if it exists at all. Contrary to popular belief, they can’t fly or jump, but they can crawl quite fast for a bug of such small size – they cover an average of 1 metre per minute. Their bites have no poison, so the worst that can happen is a small, itchy welt much like a mosquito bite that will fade after a few days.  They don’t burrow into your skin either; all they do is bite – usually at night while you sleep – feed, and then hide until they get hungry again. How polite.

Why do they like the bed so much?

Bed bugs feed on human blood, and they’re nocturnal; so nesting in or close to your bed is the best bet for a plentiful food supply. They thrive in conditions that are warm, dark and rich in CO2. If you have an infestation, you’ll most likely find them in the various seams, folds and gaps of your mattress or behind your headboard. However, they’re happy to make a home in any other spot with similar conditions – it’s not uncommon to discover them around sofas, in rucksacks, and various other places around your home too. They’ll usually stick close to the food source, but if there’s not enough to go around, they tend to spread out in search of more.bedbug2

Can I see them?  

Many believe that bed bugs are microscopic and are present in all but brand new mattresses. Not true. Although small, bed bugs are visible to the naked eye. Depending on when their most recent feed was, they range from dark to light (almost translucent) brown. If the bites weren’t a dead giveaway, you’ll know they’re hanging around because there may be tiny spots of blood on your sheets or tiny brown shells – they shed their skin regularly. Their eggs are much harder to see since they’re white in colour and obviously much smaller than adult bed bugs – but rest assured if the bugs themselves are there, their eggs will be too.

How do I get rid of them?

Bed bugs hate dirt, so the silver lining to an infestation is the proof that your house was clean to begin with! The bad news is that they’re difficult to get rid of. Start by inspecting your mattress to gauge the extent of the infestation. You can purchase special (safe) pesticides to spray on your mattress to kill them, but beware that bed bugs are becoming more and more resistant to these. Wash all of your bed linen on the hottest setting, and vacuum the surfaces of your mattress too. If the infestation is bad, then you’ll probably need to call some professional exterminators and maybe even get a new mattress. However, the chances of an infestation getting that bad and going unnoticed are second to none!

How do I stop them coming back?

There are plenty of steps you can take to make sure your mattress is as bed bug un-friendly as possible. Firstly, protect the surface you sleep on from dust, bugs, and just about everything else by lining it with a mattress protector. These are placed over the mattress before your bed sheets, adding another layer between you and the bugs and preventing them from burying inside the mattress.

Regularly inspect your mattress to check for any bug reappearances. Vacuum it too; not only will it stay clean and fresh for longer, it will suck up any stray bugs that managed to make their way back in. Don’t forget the headboard, underside of the bed, support rails, and any other surface touching the mattress. If you’re purchasing a new mattress, consider opting for one with latex. While no mattress is impervious to the humble bed bug and the materials don’t really make much of a difference to them, latex is hypoallergenic and if you have had a reaction to contact with bed bugs or other allergens, it will make your life much easier.

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