Dr Neil Stanley Independent Sleep Expert
© Dr. Neil Stanley 2013-2024
Creepy crawlies – the truth about bedbugs and dust mites It is hardly suprisng that if you ask a bedbug extermination company if there is an issue with bedbug infestation you will be told what a massive problem they are, so to cut through the self-serving nonsense here is teh truth about bedbugs. What is a bedbug? Adult bedbugs are about 5mm long and reddish-brown, with oval, flattened bodies. Their usual life cycle is about 6 to 12 months. The female bedbug lays approx. 5 to 8 eggs each week and each egg hatches in 5 to 10 days. Bedbugs don't like the light and thus live in dark locations, usually only feeding when their human hosts are inactive or sleeping for long periods of time. [1] Bed bugs prefer to live close to where they feed but can and although wingless, will crawl several feet to obtain a meal from their human host attracted by emitted heat and carbon dioxide. Once attached to human skin, the bedbug's salivary gland releases enzymes and chemicals that facilitate bleeding. It is these substances that are responsible for skin irritation. [2] A bed bug will for anywhere between 3 to 20 minutes, with their length and weight increasing by 50% to 200%. After a hearty meal, a bedbug can survive for a year, in cool conditions, until it needs to feed again. [3] The term bedbug refers to the arthropod, Cimex lectularius (the common bedbug) and, in tropical climates, Cimex hemipterus. Other members of the genus Cimex are parasites of bats and so it is believed that what we now call bedbugs developed their liking for human blood when we lived in caves. The ancient Egyptians were certainly aware of bed bugs 3,500 years ago. [4] During World War II, the introduction of pesticides led to a marked decrease in bed bug numbers and for a while, they almost became forgotten. However, with the coming of the jet age and the increase in international travel, pesticide resistance, and the banning of certain pesticides, bedbugs have re-emerged worldwide. For instance, in Australia, infestations have risen by more than 4,500% over the last few decades and New York City experienced a 2,000% increase in bedbug complaints between 2004 and 2009 Why are they called bed bugs? Bed bugs can live in any area of the home; although it is true to say that true to their name, they do tend to be most common in areas where people sleep. However, the most important thing to understand is that bed bugs, despite their name, don't just live in beds. They prefer to live in the cracks and crevices associated with the bed frame and mattress rather than the actual sleeping surfaces of beds. Bed bugs prefer to live in dark places and can be found; on curtains, at edges of carpet, corners inside other furniture, amongst clothing and clutter stored in closets and under beds, behind mirrors and even inside electronic bedside equipment such as clocks, phones, etc. 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 an engorged bed bug's crushing. Why are bed bugs a problem? Bed bugs usually bite people at night, typically between 1:00 am and 5:00 am. while they are sleeping. However, the majority of the time, the person seldom knows they have been 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 exposed skin while we are sleeping (e.g., face, neck, shoulders, back, arms, legs, etc.). However, it is important to recognise that not all bites or bite-like reactions are due to bed bugs. Bedbug infestations are known to exacerbate asthma, anxiety, and insomnia. [5] A common concern about bed bugs is whether they can transmit diseases to humans. Bed bugs can indeed harbour pathogens in and on their bodies; some 45 known pathogens have been isolated, including hepatitis B, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. However, there is no evidence to demonstrate the transmission of any of these pathogens to humans. [6] How do you 'get' bed bugs? Bed bugs can be transported from place to place on luggage, clothing, shoes, beds, furniture, and other items. This is a particular problem for sites such as hotels where the turnover of occupants is high. Buying 2nd-hand beds and furniture is another way bed bugs can be transported into previously non-infested dwellings. What to do? In the 17th-century, bedbug cures such as the smoke of ox dung, horsehair, arsenic, lupines, and cypress were all believed to be effective. One nineteenth-century medical recipes suggest a concoction of saltpetre, soft water, shaving soap and Aqua ammonia to eliminate bed bugs. [7]. Another author suggests that a night light and oil of turpentine sprinkled between the sheets and on the pillow will "keep the bugs at a respectful distance" . While the old-fashioned cures are not to be recommended, some modern remedies are also not much help. For instance, you often see advertised beds and bedding claiming to offer protection from bed bugs; however, given that they don't necessarily live in the mattress itself, no mattress, regards less of what it is made of, is immune to bed bug infestation. Also, mattress covers that claim to protect you from bed bugs can only stop those in the mattress from getting to you but offer no protection against those living elsewhere. In most cases of infestation, it will probably be wise to employ the services of a professional pest control firm. Once an infestation is confirmed, patients should contact an exterminator who can confirm the presence of bedbugs. Professional exterminators will use special equipment that can heat a room to 48 to 50°C (118–122°F) for 90 minutes, sufficient to kill bedbugs. In addition, the infested area should be vacuumed daily. Vacuum bags and unwanted items should then be sealed in plastic before discarding. Clothing, bed linen, and other infested fabrics should be washed at 60°C (140°F) or greater. Mattresses and pieces of furniture should be sealed in a special plastic that allows treatment with heat, steaming, or pesticides. 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 dander from pets. They live wherever shin 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, which can exacerbate asthma, but if you've never noticed you have dust mites living in your house, don't worry as you are not allergic to them. All types of mattresses and pillows can have dust mites; however, interestingly, a study found that spring mattresses contained considerably less dust mite 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". [7] 1. Reinhardt K, Siva-Jothy MT. Biology of the bed bugs (Cimicidae). Annu Rev Entomol. 2007;52(1):351–74. http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev.ento.52.040306.133913 2. Goddard J, Edwards KT. Effects of bed bug saliva on human skin. JAMA Dermatol 2013;149(3):372–3. http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.878 3. Goddard J, deShazo R. Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) and clinical consequences of their bites. JAMA [Internet]. 2009;301(13):1358–66. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jama.2009.405 4. Bain A. Irritating intimates: The archaeoentomology of lice, fleas, and bedbugs. Northeast Hist Archaeology 2004;33(1):81–90. http://dx.doi.org/10.22191/neha/vol33/iss1/8 5. Goddard J, de Shazo R. Psychological effects of bed bug attacks (Cimex lectularius L.). The American journal of medicine. 2012 Jan 1;125(1):101-3 6. Doggett SL, Dwyer DE, Peñas PF, Russell RC. Bed bugs: Clinical relevance and control options. Clin Microbiol Rev 2012;25(1):164–92. http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/cmr.05015-11 7. Dr. Chase's recipes, or, Information for everybody: an invaluable collection of about Eight Hundred Recipes for .... A. Taylor, London, Ontario.1864: 277 8. Chavasse, Pye H. Advice to a mother on the management of her own health: and on the treatment on the moment of some of the complaints incidental to pregnancy, labour, and suckling; with an introductory chapter especially addressed to the young wife. Hunter Rose, Toronto.1879: 81 9. Schei, M.A., Hessen, J.O. and Lund, E., 2002. House‐dust mites and mattresses. Allergy, 57(6), pp.538- 542