Bedbugs are very small insects that can live in furniture. They tend to bite at night. They are becoming more common. Although the bedbug bites do not cause any diseases they can be irritating.
What are bedbugs?
There are two types of bedbug. The most common type of bedbug is the common bedbug. There is also the martin bedbug which usually lives in birds' nests but they can sometimes bite people.
The common bedbugs are very small (around 5 mm long) oval insects. They do not have wings. They are red/brown in colour and are usually flat. However, they become more rounded and their colour changes to red/purple after they have had some blood.
Where are bedbugs found?
They can live in many different places in your home. For example, the bed mattresses, bed frames, within plug sockets, in clothing or in soft furnishings. They can even live behind picture frames. They can move to different rooms, usually on clothing or furniture. They live in both clean and dirty environments. They tend to occur more in messy areas. However, having high standards of hygiene and housekeeping can help to ensure that the presence of bedbugs is revealed at an early stage.
Bedbugs are not usually seen in the daytime. They come out at night when they are attracted by the warmth of sleeping bodies and also the carbon dioxide in breath.
The adults can live for up to 18 months. They breed by laying eggs which hatch after around 10-20 days and take between 9-18 weeks to become adults. Females can lay around 300 eggs in their lifetime.
Why are bedbugs becoming more common?
Bedbugs seem to be becoming more common. It is thought that increases in international travel and immigration have contributed to an increase in bedbugs. In addition, there has been more resistance to some of the pesticides used in the past to kill bedbugs.
How do I know I have bedbugs?
The following may indicate that you have bedbugs in your home:
- Seeing spots of blood on bedding.
- Noticing brown spots on bedding, from their excrement.
- A sweet almond smell may be noticeable if there are many bedbugs around.
There are different degrees of infestation with bedbugs. This can vary from light, causing 1 or 2 bites a week, through to heavy infestations where more than 50 bites per night occur.
Do bedbugs cause diseases?
Although bedbugs have not been proven actually to cause any diseases, they are usually a nuisance. When you are sleeping they inject a fluid which aids them to obtain your blood.
These bites can be very itchy and irritating. The bites can vary from being very small red marks on your skin to larger red areas with some swelling around. Three to four bites forming a line or a curve on your body (usually on exposed areas of skin) are very suggestive of bedbug bites.
Sometimes the bites can become infected. The area where you have been bitten may swell.
Having bedbugs can keep you from getting a good night's sleep, which, over time, can be bad for your health.
Is there any treatment for bedbugs?
The bites usually improve without any treatment. However, if your bites are particularly bothersome - for example, itchy or swollen - then antihistamines may be beneficial. Antihistamine tablets can either be bought from the chemist or obtained from your GP. Sometimes hydrocortisone cream is recommended by your doctor.
If your bites become infected then your doctor will give you some antibiotic cream or tablets to clear up the infection.
How can I get rid of bedbugs?
Any affected bedding or clothes should be washed in a hot wash (at 60°C). Tumble drying of affected linen or more delicate items has been shown to be effective. Also, freezing any affected materials for at least two hours has also been shown to decontaminate infested clothing.
If bites occur when you are on holiday then you should carefully inspect any hotel rooms for signs of bedbugs.
Your local pest control team should also be able to help to eradicate them by using an insecticide which is usually sprayed on and around the affected areas of your house. They usually use a combination of insecticides. This is usually very effective. In some cases, re-treatment at a later date is required.
Further help and information
The US Environmental Protection Agency has produced some comprehensive information about bedbugs. This can be accessed on www.epa.gov/pesticides/bedbugs.
Further reading & references
- Schwartz RA; Bedbug Bites, Medscape, May 2011
- Bernardeschi C, Le Cleach L, Delaunay P, et al; Bed bug infestation. BMJ. 2013 Jan 22;346:f138. doi: 10.1136/bmj.f138.
- Naylor RA, Boase CJ; Practical solutions for treating laundry infested with Cimex lectularius (Hemiptera: Cimicidae). J Econ Entomol. 2010 Feb;103(1):136-9.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.
Dr Louise Newson
Dr Louise Newson
Dr Hayley Willacy