Public Health Significance
Bed bugs have been following humans around since cave dwelling days. Since the 1940s (when bed bug populations dropped to very low numbers) they have developed resistance to many of the pesticides that were once used to control them. People travel more often and to farther destinations now compared to 50 years ago. Bed bugs travel with us by hitchhiking on our luggage, clothing and other belongings. For the last several decades scientists and pest control professionals haven't had to deal with them.
Although bed bugs feed on the blood of humans, they are not known to spread disease. Bed bugs impact several dimensions of our health, including physical, mental, social and economic. The physical effects from bed bug bites range from no mark to an itchy, red, slightly swollen bite mark. Bed bugs and their bites can lead to emotional stress, anxiety and insomnia. Misunderstandings about how someone gets bed bugs might make people feel ashamed, as if somehow their social status is to blame. This is not true, anyone can get bed bugs. Bed bugs do not discriminate, they have been found in luxury hotels, hospitals, houses, apartments and shelters.
Preventing Bed Bugs
Vacuum and clean regularly with soap and water. Eliminate clutter. While cleaning look for bed bugs, their eggs or their empty skeletons that they leave behind after molting.
Avoid setting your luggage on or near the bed. The bathtub and the hallway right as you walk into your room are considered to be the least likely places for bed bugs to hide. Ask lodging staff about their bed bug history, prevention and control policies. If you think you were in an area with bed bugs wash and dry your clothes on the hottest setting as soon as you get home. High heat for at least 20 minutes should kill adults and eggs. If you can't launder clothes right when you get home, store them in a sealed plastic bag until you can.
Getting Rid of Bed Bugs
Don't panic. Bed bugs are difficult to get rid of but not impossible. Anyone can get bed bugs. If you find them be sure to let people who visit or live in your home know so that they can be on the lookout. Follow the prevention tips listed above. There are many online resources that can help you. Depending on the extent of the infestation you might do best by contacting a pest control professional who has experience with Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and bed bugs.
It is not safe to spray your body with insect repellents (like DEET) before you go to sleep. Insect repellents are not meant to be trapped on your skin for long periods of time. Call the Oregon Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 if you think you are experiencing health effects from doing this. Use products labeled for indoor use. Using pesticides that are for outdoor use puts people and pets in your home at risk for health problems. Avoid using products that do not list bed bugs as a pest on the product's label. Doing so could make them harder to control by forcing them to hide in even harder to reach places. Avoid bug bombs and foggers; they are not effective at reaching the cracks, crevices and hidden spaces where bed bugs hide.