How do I know if I have bed bugs?
Unfortunately this question is becoming more and more common. News stories abound with the horrors of picking up bed bugs while travelling, going to a movie, or even by showing up to work. Bed bugs also carry a stigma. Many people associate having them with being dirty, low-class, or frequenting unsavory establishments. Because of this, unfortunately, when someone suspects having bed bugs they often try to self-diagnose rather than going to a professional… lest anyone should find out! The internet is the first place people look for information, and there is a lot of it out there. Some is good, but a lot of it is incorrect. Hopefully after reading this post you’ll be able to better distinguish the good from the bad, and have a good idea how to go about getting rid of bed bugs if you have them.
First things first, if you think you have bed bugs *CALL A PROFESSIONAL* there is no substitute for experience. Many reputable companies with do inspections for free, or at very reasonable price. If you call a pro right from the beginning, they can most likely identify and eliminate the problem before it gets out of hand. Bed bugs can be far easier (read less expensive) to control when it is a small infestation, than they are when they get out of hand.
If you choose to look for bed bugs on your own, and have a strong determination and a high level of attention to detail, you can probably find them or at least evidence. Be aware though, more often than not, even a trained pest control technician can miss small or new infestations. It only takes having or missing one pregnant female bed bug to end up with a serious issue. A professional is much more likely to be able to confirm an infestation than the average home owner.
Should you decide that you don’t want to trouble your local pest control guy, and that you want to try to find them on your own, here are a few steps that can help:
First- Any good bed bug inspection begins with an interview to find out possible sources of the infestation. Ask yourself: Have I had any visitors in the last six months to a year (Longer for larger infestations)? Have I taken any trips, used an airplane, bus or train? Have I stayed at a hotel? (even the best hotels can have occasional problems) Have I been to the theater? Are you aware of any co-workers or friends that could have this problem? Is it possible they brought them to your work, or you visited their home? This may seem like a broad list of possibilities, and most people would have to answer yes to at least one question. Be aware, it is entirely possible to get an infestation through any of these sources…
Next, using the information you got from your self interview, begin your inspection. The best place to start looking for bed bugs is – wait for it – the bed! Focus on the beds of anyone or any room that answered yes to the questions above. Bed bugs hide easily along the seams around a mattress, on and in sheets and blankets, in box springs, and on the bed frame. To properly check them out you should begin with the outermost layer and slowly, methodically, work your way in. Pay particular attention to seams, cracks, crevices, and any undisturbed area. On the box springs the cheese cloth on the bottom of the mattresses needs to be removed. Look around bumper guards on box springs, and inside the box spring itself. Next check the headboard, look at and around baseboards, wheels/feet of the bed, the bed frame, in furniture and electronics, on and around picture frames and on/in luggage. The first time you do this it should be a slow and painstaking process.
Bed bugs start out white, and almost clear. As they feed, molt and grow, they take on the coloring of their food. When these immature bugs feed you can clearly see the blood in their abdomen. As the bed bugs grow, they shed their outer layer or exoskeleton. With each molt they become darker and larger, until they are full-grown. Adult bed bugs are a dark reddish-brown, and very slightly translucent. They are about the shape and size of a watermelon seed.
Bed bugs can be hard to miss. It is even common for experienced technicians to miss bed bugs on an inspection. There are a few keys that definitely help though. You aren’t just looking for live, adult bugs. They often can hide inside of pillow tops or other areas that aren’t visible. They will often move deeper or run away when disturbed. It is usually easier for someone new to inspections to find some of the evidence they leave behind.
When there is a bed bug infestation that has been established for any length of time they leave behind dark fecal and blood stains. These can range from small black dots to larger reddish-brown smears. These stains will be visible both in the areas the bugs are hiding in, and possibly on the bed sheets. Some of it is feces, some a bit of bleeding after the bug detaches from the host, and some will be vomit from when the bugs overfeed.
Another sign of a bed bug infestation is to find little white eggs. These eggs are very small, about the size of a grain of sand, but oval in shape. They are fairly white, but can easily be missed because they are so small. Each of these eggs will have anywhere from 10-50 little bed bugs that are ready to come out and have their first meal.
If you find eggs, fecal spots, blood stains, molted exoskeletons or live bugs then you have successfully confirmed an infestation. If you don’t find anything, but still think you may have them, you can make or buy and set up various monitoring tools to help trap some of the bugs and confirm the infestation that way. In fact for people who regularly travel, or come in contact with possible sources of infestation, there are some really great tools that can be installed to help identify an infestation early on before it gets out of hand.
If at any point you confirm you have a bed bug infestation, call a professional! Even the most stringent DIY’ers should turn over the reins, finding the bugs is by far the easiest part of the process! Unfortunately many attempts by DIY’ers to self treat end up spreading the infestation. In fact it’s likely the case that by the time an infestation is suspected, it has already begun to spread.
If you live in the Athens, Madison, or Huntsville Alabama areas and are worried about bed bugs, give us a call! We will be happy to take care of the issue for you. We can discuss various options that range from inspections to treatment, to monitoring devices.
– Jared Toone