Are You Sleeping With Bed Bugs?

In recent years, the medical community has been trying to deal with organisms that have developed resistance to antibiotics. Now we have a new issue stemming from resistance to pesticides--bed bugs are back!

Over the past few years, there appears to have been a decline and/or elimination of pest control programs. In addition, because bed bugs have not been an issue for so many years, there is a lack of knowledge on how to deal with this problem. Public health agencies have been receiving calls from all over the country regarding bed bug control. Many new and expensive products have appeared in the marketplace but buyer beware! Be sure that you do some homework before spending valuable resource dollars.

Homework begins with understanding some key facts about bed bugs. First, it is clear that they need a blood source to survive. While they do bite humans, there is no science to support that they spread or cause disease in humans. Although bed bugs do not spread disease, some people may experience a mild allergic reaction from the bites.

Secondly, bed bugs take up residence in or near sleeping areas in places such as shelters, rooming houses, hotels, hospitals, long-term care facilities and even fire stations. They hide during the daylight hours in seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, cracks /crevices, behind wallpaper and in cluttered areas around a bed. They tend to live within eight feet of where people sleep. Bed bugs can be transported in luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes--fire/EMS bags in sleeping quarters are another example of a transport method. In 2008, the City of Cincinnati firefighters/EMS personnel and law enforcement personnel started having problems with bed bugs. Problems also arose in Denver this year.

Thirdly, it is important to recognize the signs that they are present. Usually, this is by bite marks. Bites are not felt, as bed bugs inject an anesthetic and anticoagulant into their victims. Marks are usually in a straight line and look like mosquito bites. There may be intense itching as a result of the bites. Bed bugs can live for several months without a blood meal. It should be noted that persons who share living and sleeping quarters where others sleep are at an increased risk--shelters, hotels, even fire stations.

Female bed bugs lay about five eggs per day in areas such as mattress seams, crevices in box springs and under baseboards. Eggs hatch in 4-12 days and adults usually live 6-12 months. This is important information when planning an approach to elimination of this problem. It is important to have a comprehensive approach that is practical and cost effective that includes the following:

  • Removing clutter in sleeping areas
  • Frequent vacuuming and discard the bag after use
  • Sealing cracks & crevices
  • Wash linens and clothing in hot water (120 degrees) and use a hot dryer
  • 91% isopropyl is an effective killing agent. Use in a spray bottle (kills on contact). Be sure to ventilate the area and ensure areas are dry before using for sleeping
  • Use mattress covers/clean sheets and roll linen instead of pulling it off
  • Steam cleaning may also be effective. Clean every 5-10 days until the problem is resolved.

91 % Isopropyl can be purchased at almost any drug store for about $1.50 per bottle. You do not need to purchase expensive equipment or burn/destroy bedding items. Consider a contract with a pest control company. Remember, we each share a role in prevention and maintenance.


Joint Statement on Bed Bug Control in the United States from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Dos and Don'ts If You Have Bed Bugs. American Pest Control Company.

Brian Hamrick, WLWT News 5, Cincinnati, Sept. 24, 2008.

Katherine West, BSN, MSEd, CIC, is an infection-control consultant for Infection Control/Emerging Concepts in Manassas, VA, and a member of the editorial advisory board for EMS World Magazine.