Bed Bugs and their Control

Extreme close-up of a bed bug on human skin

Bed bugs, Cimex lectularius, are small, flattened, wingless insects that preferentially feed on human blood. They have evolved to live among humans in and around areas where we sleep. They hide during the day emerging only at night to feed: and we're the main course.

Until recently, bed bugs were thought to have been eradicated in North America. Certainly they were rarely, if ever encountered by exterminators in California's Bay Area or elsewhere in the Unites States since the mid-1940's. All that changed in the mid-1990's, however, and bed bugs are now one of the most pervasive insect pests in America.

Most entomologists believe that the roughly 50-year disappearance of bed bugs had to do with the general insect pest control methods that were in use during that period. The broad-spectrum, sprayed insecticides that were routinely used for the control of most household insects are believed to have kept bed bugs at bay even though other insects (like ants and cockroaches) were usually the pests being targeted.

By the mid-1990's, however, pest control underwent a paradigm shift away from both spraying and the use of broad-spectrum insecticides in favor of a more precise approach that emphasized precision application of narrow-spectrum insecticides. These products were designed to be effective against only one or a few species of insects, and were applied in tiny amounts to minimize pesticide exposure.

This shift in methodology was intended to minimize pesticide exposure for health and environmental reasons, and it did that very well. But most entomologists believe that it also allowed bed bug populations to recover and thrive.

Bed Bug Biology and Health Significance

Bed bug bites on a person's lower back. They are red and blotchy and about the size of a nickel, on average.

Bed bugs are true bugs, meaning that they belong to order Hemiptera. They undergo gradual metamorphosis, which basically means that the nymphs look lot like the adults, only smaller. Both the adults and the nymphs feed on human blood, but do not live on people's bodies. They live in protected areas like cracks and crevices, as well as inside mattresses, box springs, and other furnishings. When infestations are severe, they impart a strong, putrid odor to the infested area.

Bed bugs in North America are not believed to transmit any human diseases. There have been a number of studies out of Canada that suggest the possibility that bed bugs might transmit MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), but the studies are not conclusive. At present, the U.S. CDC's position is that bed bugs do not transmit disease.

What we know for sure, however, is that bed bugs bite; and for most people, those bites result in a non-contagious rash ranging from mild to extremely serious. Scratching can cause the rash to get worse or become infected. Perhaps worst of all for most people, the rash is a really gross reminder that bugs are eating you every night.

Because bed bugs don't live on people's bodies doesn't mean that people can't spread them. Bed bugs often try to hide in clothing, luggage, purses, and other carried items and wind up accidentally hitchhiking in those items to new locations. They frequently get off at a hotel, motel, public transportation conveyance, or other place when the movement stops for a while, and then they spread further from there.

Bed Bug Control

Bed bug control is one of the most difficult pest control jobs there is. Because of their small size and secretive habits, bed bugs can hide almost anywhere; and because they are blood feeders, they don't readily ingest insecticides on surfaces. Thoroughness and precision are therefore required to achieve bed bug elimination. Every single place where bed bugs may hide has to be treated.

More so than with other types of pest control, effective bed bug control also requires an extraordinary amount of cooperation from the customer. We're not going to sugar coat it: It requires some work on your part. Specifically, before our technicians show up to perform the job, we'll need you to do the following:

Remove all linens from bed and place in a closed large plastic bag.
Take all personal clothing and place it in closed large plastic bags.
Clear all items from shelves and counter tops and place in closed plastic bags.
Empty all closets completely and place contents in closed plastic bags.
Remove all items from under the bed and cabinets into closed plastic bags.
Unplug and remove all electronic equipment.
All drawers in the bedroom and living room must be empty.
All shoes must be taken out of the room.
All pets and animals must be taken out, remove all mirrors and picture frames from walls.
The only things that may be left in bedrooms and living rooms are empty furniture.

An almost-empty room containing nothing but an empty bookshelf.

This will allow our technicians to access all the areas they need to assure a complete, effective treatment. The treatment will include a thorough, precision application of insecticides to all cracks, crevices, and voids where bed bugs hide including bed frames and other furnishings, baseboards and trim, and any other harborage areas, so we need access to the entire room.

Depending on the severity of the problem, we may also perform crack-and-crevice treatment of mattresses, box springs, and upholstered furniture. Whether to treat these items or replace them is a decision that has to be made on a case-by-case basis, so we'll make our recommendation when we perform the inspection. Most people prefer to replace furniture that has been heavily infested by bed bugs because the fecal stains are unsightly and may produce lingering odors.

There also are things that you'll need to do after the treatment, but they're a lot easier than the preparation:

Residents must stay out of the home for 8 hours.
Bed linens, pillow covers, and clothes MUST be placed in drier on HIGH heat for at least
40 min.
Any clothing item that is drier safe MUST be placed in drier on HIGH heat for at least 40
min. The Drier on High kills all bed bugs and their eggs that may be on any clothe item.
DO NOT wash carpet for at least 30 days.
DO NOT wash walls or rinse areas treated.

Yes, it's a lot of work. Unfortunately, there's no way around it.

For your convenience, we have printable checklists that you can use as a guide to prepare for your bed bug treatment, in English and Spanish.

Bust-A-Bug Pest Management provides bed bug control services to single-family and multiple dwellings (apartments and condos) in Brentwood and throughout the Bay Area, including Contra Costa County, Alameda County, and San Francisco. Please contact us for more information about bed bug control or to schedule an inspection. We look forward to hearing from you.