It has never been proven that bed bugs are disease carriers in the United States. They are spread mainly by clothing and baggage of travelers and visitors, secondhand beds, bedding materials, furniture and laundry.
The mature bed bug is a brown- to mahogany-colored, wingless insect. Its size depends on how recently it has eaten a blood meal. An unfed bed bug is between 1/4 and 3/8 inches long. The upper surface of its body has a papery, crinkly, flimsy appearance. When engorged with blood, its body becomes elongated and swollen, and its color changes from brown to dull red. The color, size, and shape change from an unfed to a full bug is remarkable.
A bed bug generally pierces the skin of humans as they sleep. It injects a fluid into the human skin to aid in obtaining blood. Often this fluid causes a welt on the skin that becomes irritated, inflamed, and itchy. If left undisturbed, a full-grown bed bug becomes engorged with blood in 3 to 5 minutes. It then crawls into hiding, remaining there for several days to digest its meal. When hunger returns, the bug emerges from hiding and seeks another blood meal.
It is a myth that bed bugs live in dirty places. Bed bugs are not attracted to dirt and grime; they are attracted to heat or warmth, blood, and carbon dioxide. However, cluttered areas do offer more hiding spots.
Heavily used hiding places are evident by black or brown spots of dried blood excrement on the surfaces where the bugs rest. Eggs, egg shells, and cast skins may be found near these places. Usually there is an offensive odor where bed bugs are numerous. In early infestations the bed bugs are found only about the tufts, seams, and folds of mattresses and daybed covers; later they spread to cracks and crevices in the bedsteads. If allowed to multiply, they establish themselves behind baseboards, window and door casings, pictures, moldings, furniture, loosened wallpaper, and cracks in plaster and partitions.
Bed bug bites can often be misidentified being that these bites can look like the bite of another insect, a rash, or even hives. So instead, look for the physical signs below.
PICTURE 1: Blood stains on a pillow
PICTURE 2: Eggs on cardboard
PICTURE 3: Box spring covering housing adults, skin castings and feces
*Pictures courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency
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