“Night, night, sleep tight; don’t let the bed bugs bite!” Did your parents ever say that to you? If so they were probably speaking rhetorically since bed bugs were almost completely eradicated from the UK shortly after 1940. However, they have been on the increase again since the end of the twentieth century, and incidences of bed bug bites and other related health problems are increasing with them. The lucky majority of people who are bitten don’t react and as a result are not even aware the bugs are there. The unlucky ones can have anything from minor allergic reactions to extensive skin rashes, blisters, and even psychological effects.
What are they?
The term ‘bed bugs’ refers to the Cimicidae, a family of small parasitic insects that feed on blood. Each species prefers a different host and in the case of the Cimex lectularius – or the common bed bug as it is known – feeds on humans. It is the most commonly known Cimicidae simply because it’s the one that prefers to feed on humans.
Its’ preferred habitat is our warm houses and more specifically our warm beds – where we conveniently bare areas of skin for their bite and lie still while they do it – is what gave rise to the nickname in the first place. Bites are usually not noticed when they happen but can then develop into low itchy welts that can take weeks to disappear.
Bed bugs are up to 5mm long and look like flattened woodlice; they are translucent when young, darkening as they mature and darker still when full of blood. They can survive for up to eighteen months in hibernation without food, but usually feed every few days and hide in secluded areas near the bed the rest of the time.
Controlling bed bug infestations is not easy since they are resistant to many pesticides (which, incidentally, can be harmful humans too) and can hibernate for long periods of time. Thorough vacuuming helps considerably although eggs and bugs hidden within the mattress itself can be missed and unless the vacuum is emptied thoroughly after use the bed bugs can simply climb out and start again.
So-called ‘cold treatment’ – keeping a room at a cold temperature for 3-4 hours a day with fans on the floor keeping the air moving and windows open/air conditioning on – is also cited as an effective treatment option. However even that cannot be guaranteed to get rid of well hidden bugs. The human worm treatment, Stromectol, can also kill bed bugs that bite a treated human and spores of the fungus Beauveria Bassiana sprayed on bedding kills the bugs over a few days although some humans react negatively to the spores as well.
Get Them Clean!
The most effective treatment is to have all beds, soft furnishings and carpets professionally cleaned. Steam cleaning treatments are available for use at home. However, they are not likely to reach the optimal temperature for eradication – around 150-170 degrees Fahrenheit – and can miss bed bugs which have burrowed into deep pile carpets. This is because steam cleaning lacks the power to lift contaminants from the bottom. A professional cleaning service will ensure a thorough clean and leave your home smelling fresh.
Bedding can be treated separately by washing as normal, however, it is important to put your freshly washed bedding into a tumble drier on a high heat for at least 20 minutes thereby eradicating any bedbugs which may have survived. This must be done in conjunction with a professional clean or the bedding will simply be re-infected on being returned to the bed.
So, with all this in mind – when was the last time you had your mattress cleaned?