Sleep Tight, Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite

Bed bug populations are on the rise in the United States. (Photo by Piotr Naskrecki, Courtesy CDC/ Harvard University, Dr. Gary Alpert; Dr. Harold Harlan; Richard Pollack)

Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite is a phrase sometimes told to children at bedtime. However, in recent years, this saying has turned from a cutesy rhyme to an admonition worth repeating. The bed bug population across the United States has experienced a resurgence. What exactly are bed bugs? What is causing this explosion in bed bug population numbers? Is this something you should be worried about? And, what can you do to avoid bed bugs?

What are bed bugs?

The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) belongs to a family of insects that feed exclusively on the blood of [warm-blooded] such as birds and mammals. One interesting fact about bed bugs is that, though they typically feed on blood every five to ten days, they can actually survive for over a year without feeding. Bed bugs feed by piercing their victims skin with an elongated beak through which they intake the blood. The bites typically go unnoticed because the bed bugs saliva contains a mild anesthetic that numbs the pain of the bite. The saliva also contains an anti-coagulant that keeps the blood flowing as they feed.

The bed bug uses its piercing mouthparts (shown in red) to feed on its victims. (Photo credit: Steve Gschmeissner/Photo Researchers, Inc.)

Bed bugs are particularly tiny–an adult bed bug is between four and five millimeters long. This small size lets them hide in really small spaces. Adult bed bugs are brown in color and have a flat, oval-shaped body. Nymphs (young bed bugs) are smaller in size and lighter in color than their adult counterparts.

These tiny insects are common nest parasites and are well-known inhabitants of bird nests and bat roosts. Over time, some bed bugs adapted to living among humans and have found the bedroom and other living areas the perfect place to set up their own home.

Bed bugs get their name from where they are commonly found in–that is, in beds. When not feeding on unsuspecting sleeping victims, bed bugs tend to hide within the crevices of beds mattress, box springs, or headboard.

Where are they found?

Bed bugs are not only found in private homes or residences. In fact, hotel rooms are one of the primary places where bed bugs can be found. Some researchers think the increase in international travel may be one why bed bug populations have boomed in recent years. Unsuspecting travelers may be transporting bed bugs in or on their luggage back to their homes.

However, bed bugs have been branching out in their choice of real estate lately, and have left the bedroom for offices, shops, and even movie theaters in some cases. New York City has particularly been affected by bed bugs in location outside their typical bedroom abode.

Dr. Jerome Goddard, a bed bug specialist and an associate extension professor of medical and veterinary entomology in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at Mississippi State University, doesn’t see a world overrun by bed bugs in our future.

I think bed bugs will remain mostly a problem where people spend a lot of time sleeping or sitting, like a hotel, dorm, apartment, or perhaps trains and movie theaters, he said. I’m not too worried about them becoming widespread in retail stores where people just walk around.

Why are they back?

Due to the use of insecticides such as DDT, bed bugs were virtually eradicated from the United States after World War Two. Scientists point to the ban on DDT and other insecticides as one reason why bed bugs are back with a vengeance.

Dr. Goddard says that there is not one single reason as to why bed bug populations have surged. Instead, he points to several explanations, including changes in pest management practices, the development of insecticide resistance to the products we use for control, and a rise in international travel.

What are the signs of an infestation?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, signs of a bed bug infestation include:

  • Dark spots about a mm in size
  • Eggs and eggshells that are white in color, about 1 mm wide
  • Shed nymph skins
  • Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses from crushed bed bugs
  • Live bed bugs

Those bitten by bed bugs typically experience a mild allergic reaction including raised itchy bumps on the bitten areas. Some people have no reaction to bed bug bites, while others have severe allergic reactions including anaphylaxis (closed airways). Though they feed exclusively on blood and may feed on more than one person during the course of their lifetime, several research studies have shown that bed bugs do not transfer diseases from one biting victim to another and, unlike mosquitoes, are not known to be vectors for infectious diseases.

Bed bug bites often result in red welts on the victim’s legs or arms. (Photo credit: Ted Pink/Alamy)

How can I avoid bed bugs?

Methods to avoid bed bugs in general include checking hotel room mattresses, box springs, and headboards for evidence of bedbugs; keeping your luggage off the floor (some bed bug experts leave their luggage in the bathroom for the duration of their stay); reducing household clutter; and avoiding used mattresses or bed frames.

Combating a bed bug infestation takes a multi-faceted approach. Successfully treating a bed bug infestation requires the use of proper pesticides, the elimination of bed bug habitats, and cleaning items in the affected area. Non-chemical treatments for infected items include washing and drying bedding and clothing at high temperatures and/or heating infested items or areas to a temperature of at least 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) for one hour or freezing infested items to -19 degrees Celsius (0 degrees Fahrenheit) for a period of at least four days.

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  1. i would not want to have bed bugs, if i did i would move to a different places. bed bugs just scare me. how they look and sound.! i hope they find a way to get rid of them.

  2. i hate bugs. How can i make sure i don’t have any bed bugs in my house???????……..

  3. Wow really cool I never knew that makes me kinda scared to sleep in my bed but really cool facts and stuff

  4. candace oty says

    well i like this page it gives ideas of what to look out for so thanks and keep up the good work 🙂 and i never knew some of this stuff well thats y they say u learn something new everyday thank you for letting me on your website ill b on it more often peace out

  5. they are gross an they need to go back were they came from fi people have bed bugs they need to not go to other ppl house cause they will spread

  6. Whitleigh(: says

    They Are Discusting & I Will Never Sleep In My Bed Again ! This Was Really Distrubing & If I Ever Wake Up With Bed Bug Bits I Will Go Crazy & Burn Every Mattress In The Entire World !

  7. that gave you alot of info

  8. them things are nasty I would freak out if i woke up with bug bites on me!

  9. i think thats nasty and that they should get rid of them.

  10. yep dont get bedbugs they are really hard to get rid of

  11. thats crazy i would kill every bug there is on this earth i know there gods creation but dang.

  12. Taranyyy ( : says

    That Is NASTY . ! Bed Bugs Need To Go Extinict . Get Rid Of Them Danggg ! |:[ That Makes Me Mad !

  13. Sienna Powell says

    I think bed bugs are terrible.And now it seems as where we go there might be bed bugs.Bed bugs are now In stores,movies and schools.Some kids bring them to school sometimes.I think someone should come up with a spray or something to get rid of the Bed bugs.Some people might not be worried but some people don’t wanna go to the movie’s or shopping at Goodwill or something.Now Bed bugs seem to be just everywhere! I really wish we could stop this problem ASAP!

  14. That it just weird and creepy if u do have bed bugs in your furniture take your couch or what ever they are in and take it and sit it out side in the cold for 5 to 6 hours.

  15. thats disgusting and i couldnt sleep in my no more…ever

  16. ew dats so nasty i dnt know wat they look like n i never wanna know wat they look like ew they bite yuckie yuckie yuck so pithetic

  17. * – Ewww ! , That’s Nasttyy !


  19. shirley and kierstan. says

    sleep tight dont let the bed bugs bite ew thats so gross

  20. annonomous says

    i think there gross and i would never sleep in my bed again

  21. wow thats digusting ma cousin has bed bugs im not allowed at her house no more bt exterminate them thangz ew

  22. i dont like to see bed bugs and don’t like bugs

  23. they are really nasty but really kul i swear if any bugs get in my bed i dnt even know wat i wuld do!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  24. Jeremy South says

    i was told that bed bugs give you fed bumps on your skin an itch
    really bad.If i ever i got bed bugs i would move out of my home to a diff. house.The people that live next door to me just got rid of them and Im scared that i will get them an i really don’t want to get bed bugs cause those things look ugly an nasty.I was told that they have some kind of bed bug spray in stores that get rid of bed bugs.I feel sorry for people that get bed bugs because i was told that they have some kind of bacteria in them that can make you really sick so i really really hope that i don’t get them bed bugs.We need to get rid of bed bugs ASAP!!!!!

  25. i thought this was very nasty and hope i never get them

  26. Astoudin Deonshae says

    thats kinda funny lol see the girl with the pink arm lol 😉 anyways I AINT GOT THEM SO I AINT WORRIED BOUT IT

  27. thanks you helped me with a science project

  28. coolio

  29. thanks you helped me with a science project

  30. Thanks for the help on a science project!

  31. I think I found one today. Now Im really scared and creeped out.

  32. tyler nicole says

    do bed bugs make a sound???????????????????… im glad iv never had bed bugs cause i wouldnt beable to sleep

  33. ew I dont like bed bugs.Im glad I never had bed bugs.But if someone has bed bugs,how do you get ride of them?Do they make a sound?If I ever got them that would be gross!!!!

  34. weird

  35. Interesting article.

  36. Thats pretty gross, makes me not wanna go to movies anymore

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