‘Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite’: New WSU Extension Fact Sheet Outlines Strategies

YAKIMA, Wash.—Warmer weather means more travel and a higher likelihood of picking up unwanted hitchhikers—bed bugs. Washington State University Extension has just published a fact sheet to help individuals and families recognize and manage bed bugs, both at home and while on the road.

Written by Yakima County Extension Entomologist Michael Bush, the publication is available online.

Bed bugs, which feed on human blood, are very small and paper thin. Click image for a high-resolution version.
Bed bugs, which feed on human blood, are very small and paper thin. Click image for a high-resolution version.

“In today’s highly mobile society, bed bugs have reestablished themselves as household pests,” Bush wrote in the paper’s introduction. “Bed bugs are not known to transmit human diseases, but they can cause skin welts, local inflammation and contribute to insomnia. Bed bugs have been found in homes, apartments, rental units and even hotels throughout Washington with increasing frequency.”

In the Yakima extension office, Bush said he’s seen a marked increase over the past six years in the number of people who bring him possible bed bug samples. In 2007, only two cases of bed bug infestations were confirmed. In 2010 and 2011, there were nine and eight cases, respectively. Three have been confirmed this year so far.

“To be fair, some of these are mailed in to me from other locations in Washington,” he added, “and a couple of local pest control specialists like to have an extension entomologist confirm the existence of bed bugs in a household before proceeding with an eradication program.”

According to the fact sheet, bed bugs are very small, from 1/16th of an inch as immature nymphs to ¼ inch as mature adults, so spotting them can be a challenge. The best way to confirm their presence is to examine furniture that is slept on, since bed bugs come out at night to feed on human blood. Carefully examine upholstered chairs or couches, mattress seams, box springs, bed frames and bed springs for blood spots, shed bed bug skins or the insects themselves. They can also be found behind baseboards or floorboards, under carpeting and rugs, and inside a room’s cracks, crevices, wall sockets and picture frames.

Because they’re wingless, Bush explained, bed bugs move from place to place by hitching rides in luggage, baggage, clothing, bedding, upholstered furniture and even on people. Once introduced into a new home, an adult bed bug can live for up to 10 months and survive for several months without feeding. If a food source is not readily available, bed bugs are likely to go to nearby rooms in search of one.

To manage the pests, Bush recommends several strategies, including quarantining second-hand mattresses or upholstered furniture for several months before bringing them into your home; cleaning and vacuuming upholstered furniture and mattresses and washing bedding weekly; and establishing a barrier or space between the bed and the floor so bed bugs can’t climb on. If you have bed bugs in your home, consider hiring a pest control professional to get rid of them, since bed bugs are difficult to eliminate. Remove or replace infested materials, including mattresses, box springs and upholstered furniture.

When staying in motels or hotels, Bush suggests thoroughly examining the room’s headboards, mattress seams, baseboards, picture frames and more for signs of bed bugs. Also, be aware that any piece of clothing and travel accessories that come into contact with infested furniture, especially at night, can provide access to the pests—which can then come back home with you. Luggage stands are one way to elevate luggage from floors and furniture, but check to make sure the stands are free of bed bugs too.

“I have had a pest specialist insist on placing his luggage in the bathtub when not in use, as the porcelain or plastic does not allow insects to crawl in or out of the bathtub,” he said.

Once home from overnight trips, Bush advises washing all travel clothing immediately and storing luggage cases in sealed plastic bags as far from the bedroom as possible. “If you should ever have the misfortune of waking up with mysterious and itchy skin welts during one of your trips, be doubly sure to follow this tip.”

For copies of other publications from WSU Extension, call 1-800-723-1763 or visit http://pubs.wsu.edu.