Biology and Management
Bed bugs are increasingly becoming a problem within residences of all kinds, including homes, apartments, hotels, cruise ships, dormitories and shelters. We have drafted this document to provide basic information about the biology and health significance of these pests, and to offer guidance on how to safely and effectively manage an infested residence.
What are bed bugs?
Hatchling bed bugs are about the size of a poppy seed, and adults are about 1/4 of an inch in length. From above they are oval in shape, but are flattened from top to bottom.
Their color ranges from nearly white (just after molting) or a light tan to a deep brown or burnt orange. The hosts blood may appear as a dark red or black mass within the bugs body. Because they never develop wings, bed bugs cannot fly. When disturbed, bed bugs actively seek shelter in dark cracks and crevices. Cast skins of bed bugs are sometimes discovered. Although such a finding confirms that bed bugs had been present previously, it does not confirm that any continue to infest the residence. Thus, inspect carefully for live crawling bed bugs. Because many other kinds of small brown bugs may be discovered, it is critical to ensure that the bugs are correctly identified (more about this below).
bed bugs cause harm or spread pathogens (disease-causing germs)?
do bed bugs occur?
do bed bugs invade a home?
can you tell if the residence is infested?
should you do if you find bed bugs?
Once their identity is confirmed, a careful plan should be devised to eliminate the bed bugs in a manner that promotes success while limiting unnecessary costs and exposure to insecticides. Dont discard furniture and dont treat until and unless you have a plan.
can you do to manage bed bugs?
Before considering treatment, collect specimens and confirm their identity (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/bedbugs/specimen.pdf). Managing bed bugs requires a multi-faceted approach that generally includes cleaning, room modifications, and insecticidal treatments to the residence.
Search for signs of bed bugs. Carefully inspect the bed frame, mattress, and other furniture for signs of bed bugs and their eggs. Although dead bed bugs, cast bug skins and blood spots may indicate an infestation occurred previously; they do not confirm that an infestation is still active. Search for live (crawling) bugs and ensure they are bed bugs before considering treating. To confirm the identity of the specimens, refer to our evaluation form http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/bedbugs/specimen.pdf.
Reduce clutter to limit hiding places for bed bugs.
Thoroughly clean the infested rooms as well as others in the residence. Scrub infested surfaces with a stiff brush to dislodge eggs, and use a powerful vacuum to remove bed bugs from cracks and crevices. Dismantling bed frames will expose additional bug hiding sites. Remove drawers from desks and dressers and turn furniture over, if possible, to inspect and clean all hiding spots.
Mattresses and box springs can be permanently encased within special mattress bags. Once they are installed, inspect the bags to ensure they are undamaged; if any holes or tears are found, seal these completely with permanent tape. Any bugs trapped within these sealed bags will eventually die.
To prevent bed bugs from crawling onto a bed, pull the bed frame away from the wall, tuck sheets and blankets so they wont contact the floor, and place the frame legs into dishes or cups of mineral oil.
Caulk and seal all holes where pipes and wires penetrate walls and floor, and fill cracks around baseboards and cove moldings to further reduce harborages.
If you own your residence, we suggest you contact a licensed pest control operator who is knowledgeable and experienced in managing bed bug infestations. Ask the pest control company for references, and ask at least a few of their customers about their experiences before you agree to any contract.
If you are a tenant, contact your property manager or landlord to discuss your respective obligations, and to agree on a plan to manage the infestation. Generally, landlords are legally required to contract with a licensed pest control operator.
Request a written integrated pest management (IPM) plan from the pest control operator. This plan should detail the methods and insecticides to be used by the pest control operator, and describe the efforts expected by the building manager as well as by the tenants.
Because bed bugs and other pests may spread through cracks and holes in the walls, ceilings and floors, it is wise to inspect adjoining apartments on the same floor as well as those directly above and below.
are your rights and obligations?
Do not apply pesticides unless you fully understand what you are applying and the risks involved. You are legally liable if you misapply a pesticide, or apply it without a license to the property of another (including common spaces in apartment buildings). Generally, landlords, owners and building managers cannot legally apply pesticides. They should, instead, hire a licensed pest control operator to confirm the infestation and to develop an integrated pest management plan.
Do not dispose of furniture that is useful. Infested furniture can be cleaned and treated. Placing infested furniture (particularly mattresses) into common areas or on the street may simply help spread bed bugs to the homes of other people. Infested furniture intended for disposal should be defaced to make it less attractive to other people. Officials in some municipalities affix to potentially infested furniture a label to warn of bed bugs. To reduce opportunities of infested furniture re-entering their building, building managers should ensure that any disposed furniture is locked within a dumpster or immediately carted away to a landfill or waste facility.
can you have specimens examined?
should you know about insecticides and other methods for treating bed
Carefully read the label before applying any pesticide. Apply the product only if you fully understand the instructions, and if you have the appropriate training/certification and equipment.
Do NOT apply any insecticide or pesticide to mattresses or to surfaces that would be in direct contact with a person, unless the label instructions specifically state that the product can be applied in that manner. Some products can be harmful to people and pets. READ and UNDERSTAND the label.
Insecticide formulations used to treat bed bug infestations consist mainly of the following:
-Insecticidal dusts abrade the insects outer waxy coat and cause the bugs to dry out quickly. Some consist of a finely ground glass or silica powder. These dry dusts may be applied in cracks and crevices, as well as within the hollow interior of a tubular bed frame. Some dust formulations include another kind of insecticide.
-Contact insecticides are those that kill the bugs shortly after they come into direct contact with the product or its residue. These mainly consist of one or more kinds of pyrethoids (synthetic analogs of the extract of chrysanthemum flowers). These products tend to rapidly knock down bugs that wander over or otherwise contact the insecticide. Because pyrethroids can be irritating and repellent to many insects, bed bugs may avoid treated surfaces. A different kind of contact insecticide, chlorfenapyr, is now available in a product available to pest control operators. This product is non-repellent and effective for a longer period.
-Insect Growth Regulators (IGR) affect the development and reproduction of insects. Although these products can be quite effective in reducing the population of the pests, they do not kill bugs quickly. Thus, pest control operators often use these products as a supplement to other kinds of insecticides.
A pest control operator may consider and propose a variety of other methods to manage bed bugs. An infestation that affects most or all units in a building may be best managed by treating the entire building with insecticides. This requires close cooperation by managers and tenants, and may require the tenants to leave the building for a few hours or even several days. Only licensed and knowledgeable pest control operators should attempt such treatments.
Be aware that you may spread bed bugs from your own infested residence if you move to another apartment, home or hotel. Generally, it is best to leave your possessions in your home or apartment when it is treated. All food and eating utensils should be protected from insecticidal products.
Some building managers have allowed infested apartments to remain vacant of tenants for extended intervals in attempts to out wait or starve the bed bugs. This strategy would rarely make good sense, as bed bugs are well adapted to patiently wait for the return of their hosts. Each bed bug needs only one full blood meal to develop to the next developmental stage, and they can readily wait months between feeding opportunities. Under ideal conditions, adult bed bugs can survive for more than one year between meals. Thus, infested residences should be aggressively managed to eliminate bed bugs.
might you do when returning from a visit to an infested residence?
We hope this information will help you to more effectively identify and safely manage a suspected bed bug infestation. This document has been assembled to assist homeowners, property managers and tenants with information relevant to the identification and management of bed bugs. Brand names have not been mentioned, nor do we endorse any particular commercial product. This web site is intended for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by a medical professional. Always consult a physician if you have personal health concerns.
Costs associated with assembling this information and responding to inquiries are borne by our general laboratory funds. Please feel free to contact us if you found this information useful and are inclined to assist with support of our work. We encourage inquiries regarding the support of further research and educational efforts.
For information about the biology and management of head lice, visit our site at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/headlice.html
For information on identifying other kinds of pests, visit our site at: http://www.massinsects.com/default.htm
To contact the Harvard School of Public Health with suggestions, comments, or questions, please use our feedback form at: www.hsph.harvard.edu/email.html.
Copyright 2005 President and Fellows of Harvard College
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