Texas Tech University
Scholarly Messenger
They’re Back: Return of the Bedbug
By Paul Cotter

Bed Bugs Like an unwanted relative coming for a visit, the lowly bedbug has been making its way to Lubbock. Heavy infestations of bedbugs initially in the northeast, then in the Midwest, and recently in Texas would indicate bedbugs may soon show up in greater numbers on the High Plains, as well. To be sure, pest control experts have been finding and treating small localized infestations in residences and businesses for a few years now. It is important that each of us make the effort to become more educated about bedbugs before they begin to show up in large numbers. Education is one of the primary cornerstones of an effective integrated pest management program. Knowledge can go a long way to minimize the potential impact of these pests on our lives.

Bedbug History

Bedbugs have been a companion of mankind for hundreds of years. In the 1950s and ’60s bedbug populations in the U.S. were almost eradicated due to the widespread use of insecticides such as DDT. However, the removal of many insecticides with long-term persistence, coupled with the relative ease of travel to foreign countries and a global economy, have resulted in a significant resurgence in bedbug populations.

Unlike mosquitoes and other arthropods such as ticks, bedbugs are not known to transmit human diseases such as malaria and Lyme disease, but severe infestations have impacted the health of vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and very young, due to anemia.

Bedbugs are small (adults are about 3/16 inch long) oval-shaped insects with a flattened body. They may appear to be redder if they have recently fed. Bedbugs are wingless but can crawl rapidly if disturbed. They are typically found in close proximity to a host, primarily a human, but a pet living in the household also can be affected. Bedbugs typically feed at night when the host is asleep. During the day, bedbugs hide in hard-to-detect locations, such as the edges of mattresses, behind headboards, and under dressers and nightstands. Bedbugs generally mature in approximately one month if a host is readily available. However, bedbugs can go from two to six months without a blood meal if necessary.

Bedbug Detection

The most obvious way to initially detect bedbugs is by a bite mark. Typically, the bite mark will be in the form of a red welt that is itchy. However, not all people react the same way. Some people will experience almost no reaction while in others the red welt can be large and may have a pus pocket. Bite marks only indicate bedbugs might be present, as other arthropods may leave similar bite marks.

Identification of the bedbug is the surest and easiest way to confirm their presence. When looking for bedbugs, check the linens for small, round brownish stains, which may be bedbug droppings. Larger reddish stains could be the remains of an engorged bedbug that was crushed by the host species. Use a flashlight to check the darker locations in a room. A magnifying glass can be helpful since the newly hatched bedbugs are about the size of a poppy seed.

Travel Tips

Prevention is another tool that can be used to minimize the potential for a bedbug infestation. Travel to areas where bedbug infestations are more common can transmit bedbugs into a non-infested location. When you check into a hotel, don’t be afraid to check out your room before moving in. Carefully check the locations in the room where bedbugs may be hiding, and check the linens and pillows for the telltale signs. Don’t bring your luggage into the room until your investigation is complete. If you see bedbugs or even signs of a bedbug, ask for another room immediately. Don’t be embarrassed to request a new room, as you are paying for it—and who knows, they may not know they have a problem. You need to check the new room out as well, don’t just assume it is OK. When you are coming home, place your laundry into a plastic bag and seal it tightly. When you get home either leave the bag of soiled laundry and luggage in the trunk of the car if it is a hot day for about one hour. If you take the items directly into the house, put the soiled laundry into the washing machine dispose of the laundry bag. Wash the laundry in hot water and dry under hot temperatures, if possible. Take dry cleaning directly to the cleaners. Do not mingle any clothing from your trip with the normal household laundry.

Infestation Help
If you think you have an infestation in your home, contact a qualified pest control specialist with experience and training in the control of bedbugs. Don’t be afraid to ask for qualifications and references. Then, be sure and follow any recommendations given to you as part of the treatment plan. Household clutter often must be reduced in order for the treatment plan to succeed. Bedbugs are not easy to control, and success is often due to the efforts of everyone involved. For more information on bedbugs, go to the Texas Tech Housing Services website or the Centers for Disease Control.

Paul Cotter is a unit manager in the Texas Tech Department of Environmental Health and Safety.