Bed bugs rely on blood to survive.
Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite. Most people chanted this rhyme at some point during childhood. But until recently, bed bugs seemed to be mythical creatures of the past. In fact, at one point during the 20th century, the use of the synthetic pesticide Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane (DDT) almost completely eliminated bed bugs from North American beds altogether. But with the decreasing use of DDT, bed bugs are making a comeback, wreaking havoc in apartments, houses and hotels everywhere.
Unlike cockroaches, which are attracted to dirty or crumb-filled environments, bed bugs can function very well in hygienic surroundings. That's because they don't rely on garbage or food for sustenance. Actually, they rely on something far more insidious: blood. Though bed bugs will feed on just about any mammal, including household pets, these creepy-crawly insects also love to feast on sleeping humans, which is why the bed is an ideal location for them to set up camp.
Unfortunately, it's extremely difficult to prevent bed bugs. Bed bugs are tiny creatures that can travel by any number of means, including hitching a ride on shirt collars, pant cuffs, backpacks, duffel bags, pillows and boxes. That's why experts recommend being wary of buying used furniture that may harbor these insects or their eggs. Additionally, furniture found on the street -- a common way for young people to furnish their apartments -- is at higher risk for being infested with bed bugs.
Staying in a hotel with a bed bug infestation (even upscale hotels have reported bed bug problems in recent years) can lead to a bed bug problem when the bugs find their way into a suitcase and are transported home.
Additionally, a large number of bed bug infestations occur when household pets inadvertently carry them in from outside.
Although bed bugs are most common in tropical climates, they can survive just about anywhere. Apartments and rooming houses have a higher incidence of bed bugs. This is partially because of the higher rate of turnover in these types of residences, but also because bed bugs are able to travel between cracks in walls and holes made for electrical wiring from one room to the next.
Often, people with bed bugs don't realize that they have an infestation until hundreds or even thousands of the insects have moved into their home. This may not take long. According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, a female bed bug can lay up to 500 eggs per year. However, one telltale sign of a bed bug problem is awakening with itchy red welts, similar to mosquito bites.
Other signs include red splotches on the sheets where bed bugs were crushed during the night, as well as dry husks of molting bed bugs in the sheets or corners of the mattress.
Dealing with a bed bug infestation is not easy. Bed bugs are hardy creatures, able to go up to a year without feeding, and can be difficult to detect in their preferred hiding places, like baseboards and bed frames. Even worse, traditional insecticides have no effect on bed bugs, which means even professional exterminators have to go through a complicated procedure to completely eradicate them.