how to prevent being infested with bed bugs and how to get rid of them, if you have them.

how often have parents quoted the little rhyme “good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite”, when tucking their children into bed, and thought nothing more about what that actually means?

It is no joke if you get bites during the night, because it means you have been visited by Bed Bugs! Identify the difference between bed bugs, fleas, mosquitoes and “no-see-ums,” which are also potentially nocturnal biting insects. Bed bug bites tend to be in threes, in a straight line. And they may move on to a bit further up and bite again in a row. Once identified and even if you do not see the bugs in your room, you now have to take a lot of measures to get rid of these blood sucking insects.

Bed bugs do not exclusively live in the bedroom; even though the name suggests they live only in beds. They also can be found in offices, hotels, gyms, and grocery stores, or used furniture. Surprisingly, although they can “hitchhike” on luggage, backpacks, clothing bags, or furniture, they do not like heat, so rarely will they be carried on your body. They prefer to catch a ride on the helpful articles we carry from place to place, and make new homes in the next stop, which could be your bedroom or your office. Originally from Europe, their numbers declined in the 1950’s with the use of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), however, it was found that the chemical cause health issues to humans and animals – as well as to the bed bugs – so the insecticide was banned in 1972.

They are rusty-brown in color and look like a tick, with the same oval shape.  Adults reach 1/5th of an inch in size. They can consume up to 6 times their weight in blood, and they are not picky about whether human or animal. Their bites look a lot like mosquito bites, so they may not be blamed or identified until they have multiplied and have become well established, since people are looking for the flying bloodsuckers. Bed Bugs are nocturnal, so their bites tend to happen when people are vulnerable and thus the old nursery rhyme makes sense, since these bugs bite at night when we are sleeping.

Since these bugs are “hitchhikers”, prevention is a wise and prudent step to add into all the other things to think about, when you travel anywhere outside your home. These bugs can be found even in the most expensive, exclusive resorts or office spaces. To prevent picking any bugs up when you are staying in hotels, motels or anywhere else that could potentially have an infestation, place your luggage in the bathtub, since they cannot climb the slippery surfaces. Check your room for any tiny black or brown spots near the bed or under the bed, on furniture, linens and most certainly the mattress. The spots can be indications of bed bug casings, droppings or the bug itself. Spots of blood on bed sheet can be signs of the bites, if someone is unsure where bites are coming from. These spots indicate their presence in the bed. If you are getting bites in an office environment, keep your possessions – backpack, computer bag, jacket, etc. – off the ground, and placed in a clear area, like a chair or locker.

These bugs have a lifespan of about four to six months, although they can survive in cool conditions and even with no food, for up to a year. Which makes them so difficult to eradicate. Bed bugs were starting to become resistant to DDT in the past before it was banned, and are now becoming resistant to the two chemicals in the pesticide sprays usually used, such as chlorfenapyr and bifenthrin.

Instead of chemicals that may or may not kill these bugs, try turning up the heat and blasting the bedroom with 100 degrees for a few hours. This must be done daily for at least 3 days, or until no more bugs are seen. They do not like extreme cold either. For a heat treatment, try a hand-held steamer and cook the cracks and crevices of not only the bed, but also around the boards,  and around any cracks or crevices. Remove all clutter from shelves, surfaces, floor or walls, and bag everything in plastic. Remove bedding and tumble them in a hot dryer. Sprinkle diatomaceous earth, which is actually ground up rock called diatomite, mined in certain areas in the world. It is made from the shells of freshwater diatoms (a single cell algae that has a cell wall of silica) found in ancient lake deposits that are millions of years old. It is an ancient mineral that is non-toxic and forms a natural barrier that the bugs do not want to go through, because it actually desiccates them, dehydrating their bodies and killing them. It does take a few days to take effect, so keeping the barrier fresh is necessary until all signs have gone. Get “food grade” DE and wear a mask when sprinkling into the area since it is dangerous to inhale. Put around the edge of the room and into cracks where the bugs may hide. Remove pets from the area. Remember that the bugs can live a long time without feeding. Vacuum regularly and re-apply diatomaceous earth around beds and the edge of rooms, furniture and across doorways. Make sure to empty the contents of the vacuum into a sealed bag and take straight out to the garbage.

Placing all sheets, pillows, bedding, covers into a hot dryer kills the bugs and any eggs or nymphs that might be in or around the bedding. Take all clothes, towels and anything that they might hide in, and wash in hot water and dry in a high heat. If your items need dry cleaning, you can first put them into a sealed garbage bag with lavender essential oil or lavender flowers, cinnamon, peppermint essential oil or tea tree oil.

Do not discard furniture without marking it in some way, if you suspect the items may have infestation of bugs. Destroy it or put a sign on it if left for the garbage, so someone else does not give the bugs another home to infest.

A note on foggers and other pesticides. From what I have researched, they do not kill bed bugs, but can displace them, so it is not a simple case of closing the door and blasting a bug bomb in the room. You must be proactive and do all the steps to ensure not only eradication but also to stop the spread of the bugs to other areas, apartments or office spaces. Check and steam your backpacks and bags, then keep them off the floor or areas where they can be re-infected.

There are non-toxic bed bug professional services are out there, so check that they use effective and thorough methods that do not have an impact on your health.

There is no “magic bullet” nor instant fix.  But here at Metro Integrative, we do have a good selection of essential oils and items to take the sting or itch from bites. You can order diatomaceous earth online. Stay aware to stay safe, and keep bug-free.

Sally Warren, PhD
Board Certified Traditional Naturopath
Metro Integrative

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition. The information in this article is for educational purposes only.