Creepy Crawlies: Don’t bug me!

by Dr. Najjia Ashraf

Bedbugs get their name because they like to hide in bedding and mattresses in hotels, hostels, shelters and apartment complexes where lots of people come and go.

As if there weren’t enough things to worry about already that bedbugs, those pests from the old bedtime rhyme, are making a comeback.

More of a nuisance than health hazard, these scrounging bugs are feasting on human blood in hotels, college dorms, hospitals and in people’s own homes. But to fight them, one needs to take an informative look at bedbugs first and learn what they really are, where they lurk, and how to spot them before they get you.

Bedbugs are small, flat, wingless insects with six legs and like mosquitoes; feed on blood from animals or people. They range in colour from almost white to brown, but they turn rusty red after feeding. The common bedbug doesn’t grow much longer than 0.2 inches or 0.5 centimetres and can be spotted by a naked eye to the astute observer.

Bedbugs get their name because they like to hide in bedding and mattresses. They are most often found in hotels, hostels, shelters, and apartment complexes where lots of people come and go. Because bedbugs hide in small crevices, they can hitch a ride into your home on luggage, pets, furniture, clothing, boxes, and other objects. Bedbugs are found worldwide, but are most common in developing countries.

These nocturnal creatures can hide in beds, floors, furniture, wood, and paper trash during the day. Humans usually become their dinner during the night, with peak biting activity just before dawn. They can obtain their meal in as little as three minutes, after which they are engorged and drop off the host, then crawl into a hiding place to digest their meal. Bedbugs can live for 10 months, and can go weeks without feeding.

Amazingly, these sneaky little bloodsuckers dine on you without waking you. You don’t feel their stealthy bite because they inject a numbing agent into your body, along with an anticoagulant to keep your blood flowing as they suck. The first sign of bedbugs may be itchy, red bites on the skin, usually on arms and shoulders. They tend to leave straight rows of red itchy bites on the skin.

Bedbug bites do not usually require treatment. If a secondary infection occurs (usually from scratching) one could apply a local antiseptic lotion or antibiotic cream or ointment. Creams with corticosteroids and oral antihistamines may be advised in the presence of allergic reaction or larger skin reactions. In these more severe cases, you may need to see your doctor. Bedbugs are not known to spread diseases to humans, although they may be host to the organisms that cause hepatitis B and Chagas’ disease.

However, it is important to not assume that all your bites are caused by bedbugs. Bites can be hard to identify, even for doctors. Rule out mosquitoes, fleas, mites, and biting gnats by conducting a visual inspection. It’s best to collect and identify bedbugs to confirm bites. Look for the bugs themselves or their bloodstains, especially along the seams of mattresses. Further, look for dark spots of insect waste where bedbugs might crawl into hiding places on furniture, walls, and floors.

Get rid of infested mattresses and box springs or cover them with a plastic mattress bag to trap the bugs. Wash clothes and bedding in hot water, and dry on high heat. Clean furniture and vacuum cracks in wood floors and doors where bugs may hide. Shake out suitcases. Use an insecticide in the cracks of floors or bed frames, but read the label; do not apply to areas that come in direct contact with skin. If you still can’t get rid of them, call an exterminator. Keeping your house clean will do the trick and keep your life bug free.