AMES, Iowa – Discovering bed bugs in your home can turn your stomach in an instant. You may not even see the bugs, which are small and often hidden.
Instead, you may see dark stains from their excrement, or signs of nymphs and eggs. Or, you may notice an unexplained skin reaction, such as inflammation, dermatitis and itching.
“When people find out they have bed bugs, there’s kind of a tendency to panic and I think that is totally normal,” said Laura Iles, extension entomologist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. “After all, it’s an insect that feeds on us while we’re in bed.”
The actual health risk of bed bugs is low. They are not known to transmit diseases, and not everyone reacts to the bites.
But these small invaders are still a nuisance, and can be costly to eradicate. In a recently updated ISU Extension and Outreach publication called “Prevention, Detection, and Control of Bed Bugs in the Home,” Iles provides detailed information about what people can do to prevent bed bugs, and eliminate them if they become an issue.
“Through some basic precautions, you really can reduce the risk of moving them and accidentally introducing them to new environments,” she said.
Prevention involves knowing what bed bugs look like, and being mindful of your luggage and where you place it. Travelers should inspect their hotel room before unpacking their luggage, and then store their luggage off the floor, on a luggage stand or a piece of furniture.
If bed bugs are found, seal the items you plan to bring back home in plastic bags or bins. Collect a couple specimens and notify the building or hotel manager. Once you return home, take your clothing directly to the washing machine. Clothing should be washed and dried on the hot setting, and inspected afterward.
If your home does become infested, Iles said it’s almost always better to hire a professional than to use do-it-yourself remedies. Part of the reason is that bed bugs are resistant to over-the-counter chemicals, and there are health concerns with using pesticides in the home.
Iles said hiring a professional can be costly, but it’s also the most effective.
Learn more about bed bug control by reviewing the publication. Images of what to look for are also available.
PHOTO: immature and adult bed bugs.