Dr Neil Stanley Independent Sleep Expert
© Dr. Neil Stanley 2013-2019
The Truth about Bedbugs Adult bed bugs are about 5mm long and reddish-brown, with oval, flattened bodies. They feed solely on the blood of animals. The most important thing to understand that bed bugs don’t just live in beds. Bed bugs can live in any area of the home although true to their name they do tend to be most common in areas where people sleep. However it should be noted that they prefer to live in the cracks and crevices associated with the bed frame and mattress rather than the actual sleeping surfaces of beds. Other sites where bed bugs often live include curtains, edges of carpet, corners inside other furniture; amongst clothing and clutter stored in closets and under beds; and even inside bedside electronic equipment such as clocks, phones, etc. Bed bugs prefer to hide close to where they feed but will crawl several feet to obtain a meal. This means that no bed, regardless of what the mattress is made of, is immune to bed bug infestation and mattress covers that claim to protect you from bed bugs can only stop those in the mattress getting to you but offer no protection against those living elsewhere. How do you know you have them? Because during the daytime bed bugs prefer to hide close to where people sleep, look for areas near the bed marked by dark spotting and staining caused by the dried excrement of the bugs. Another less frequent sign is rusty or reddish blood smears on bed sheets or mattresses resulting from the crushing of an engorged bed bug. Why are bed bugs a problem? Bed bugs usually bite people at night while they are sleeping, yet the person seldom knows they are being bitten. After feeding bed bugs usually crawl off and hide elsewhere to digest their meal. Symptoms of being bitten vary from individual to individual, many develop an itchy red welt or localised swelling within a day or so of the bite, whilst others have little or no reaction. Bed bugs feed on any skin exposed while sleeping (face, neck, shoulders, back, arms, legs, etc.). However it is important to recognize though that not all bites or bite-like reactions are due to bed bugs. A common concern about bed bugs is whether they are able to transmit diseases to humans. It is true that bed bugs can harbour pathogens in and on their bodies, however expert opinion suggests that transmission to humans is unlikely. How do you ‘get’ bed bugs? Bed bugs are usually transported from place to place on luggage, clothing, shoes, beds, furniture, and other items. This is a particular problem for places such as hotels where turnover of occupants is high. Buying 2nd-hand beds and furniture is another way in which bed bugs can be transported into previously non-infested dwellings. What to do? In most cases of infestation it will probably be wise to employ the services of a professional pest control firm. Bed bugs are not dust mites. It is common for people to confuse dust mites and bed bugs. Dust mites are microscopic creatures that thrive in warm, moist places like the insides of pillows and mattresses. Dust mites live solely on the dead skin cells that are shed from humans and pets, called dander, and they live wherever this is shed i.e. in mattresses, settees, and other frequently used furniture or carpeting. Some people have an allergic reaction caused by the dust mite’s faeces and this can also exacerbate asthma, but if you’ve never noticed you have dust mites living in your house, don’t worry as you are obviously not allergic to them.  All types of mattresses and pillows can have dust mites, however interestingly a study in Allergy in 2002 (here) found that spring mattresses contained considerably less dust might faeces than was found in foam mattresses, the authors concluded that “A simple replacement of foam mattresses with spring mattresses may reduce the exposure to house-dust-mite allergens”.