Bed bugs are small, wingless, oval-shaped insects. As adults, they’re only about one-eighth of an inch long.
These bugs are found across the world and can survive in places between 46 degrees and 113 degrees Fahrenheit. They usually live close to where people sleep, generally within eight feet of a bed.
Bed bugs feed on blood. They don’t spread disease but are a nuisance and their bites can be itchy and irritating.
Because they don’t have wings, bed bugs move around by crawling. But in many cases, people carry bed bugs from place to place, often without realizing. But there are a few steps you can take to help prevent bed bugs and stop their spread.
Female bed bugs lay five to seven eggs per week. This adds up to over 250 eggs in a lifetime, with proper feeding.
The eggs take approximately 10 days to hatch. After hatching, bed bugs go through five nymph (youth) stages before they become adults. In between each stage, they shed (or molt) their exoskeleton. Bed bugs need to feed at least once before each time they molt, but they can feed up to once a day. It takes two to four months for bed bugs to become adults.
Bed bugs don’t have wings, so they have to crawl to move around on their own. This means that in some cases, infestations will spread slowly. But they can move within walls, through floor and ceiling openings, and on pipes.
But most bed bugs spread from place to place when they get onto people’s clothes, linens, or furniture and into luggage. People will then move the bed bugs from place to place much quicker than the bed bugs could infest new areas on their own.
Bed bugs, unlike lice, don’t travel directly on people and spread from person to person. But they can travel on people’s clothes. In this way, people can spread bed bugs to others, without even knowing it.
The best way to stop the spread of bed bugs is to regularly inspect for signs of an infestation. That way, you can take care of any bed bugs early, before they start to spread. Other ways to help stop the spread of bed bugs include:
- Keep your bedroom clean and clear of clutter where bed bugs can hide, especially clothing.
- Avoid secondhand furniture. If you do, check it thoroughly for signs of bed bugs before bringing it into your home.
- Use a protective cover over your mattress and box spring.
- Vacuum your home regularly.
- Inspect your sleeping area when you travel.
- Use a bag stand in hotels rather than putting your bag on the floor or bed.
- When traveling, inspect your luggage and clothes before leaving to go home.
- If you use shared laundry facilities, take your clothes there in a plastic bag. Remove clothes from the dryer immediately and fold them at home.
- Seal any cracks or crevices in the walls of your home.
To see if you have bed bugs, look for:
- reddish stains on your sheets, pillows, or mattress (which may be crushed bed bugs)
- dark spots about the size of a poppy seed on your sheets, pillows, or mattress (which may be bed bug excrement)
- tiny bed bug eggs or eggshells
- small yellow skins (these are the exoskeletons bed bugs shed as they grow)
- a musty odor near your bed or piles of clothes
- bed bugs themselves
You may also realize you have bed bugs if you start to get bites. Bed bug bites are usually small, slightly swollen, and red. They may be itchy and can appear up to 14 days after being bitten. But different people have different levels of reaction to bed bug bites. You may have a large red welt or you may have no reaction.
You should see your doctor if you have:
- Many bites
- Skin infection (bites feel tender or ooze discharge, such as pus)
- An allergic skin reaction (skin red and swollen or hives)
Bed bug infestations can be very annoying. Although they don’t spread disease, you can end up covered in itchy red bites. But you can take steps to prevent the spread of bed bugs, including inspecting your room regularly for signs of bed bugs, checking your luggage and clothing when you travel, and keeping your room free of piles of clothes in which they can hide.