Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Bed Bugs: Recognizing an Infestation

The first clue many people have is a mysterious rash.  This rash may appear very differently in members of the same family getting bitten by the same population of this icky insect.  Sometimes it shows as tiny to medium sized spots which can be darker, lighter, or redder than the surrounding skin.  These spots can be raised similar to a mosquito bite or they can even be slightly sunken like a tiny indentation.  They may itch, hurt, or burn.  Some people experience the itching, pain, or burning without any visual rash at all. 

The rash can be much worse for people who are allergic.  Individual bites can appear as large mosquito bites.  They sometimes itch, burn, and hurt all at once.  Small or large raised red areas that resemble welts, hives, a slap mark, or a burn may appear and persist.  They can become infected and they can cause scarring.  

Elderly people and young children may have infected feeding areas that they are not aware of.  Bed bugs inject an anesthetic when they bite.  This anesthetic can be very effective.  It is important to encourage everyone to do full body checks on a weekly basis.  Children and the elderly may need help and encouragement.  Many other health issues can be detected by skin checks, so it is a good habit for everyone to cultivate in any event.

Keeping that anesthetic in mind, some people can be living with a fairly heavy infestation and not have a clue.  This makes it very important to inspect bedding and mattresses for bed bug signs on a regular basis.  Before you start stripping your beds to do your inspection, you want to gather some supplies.  If you disturb bed bug nests and are not prepared to kill them on sight, they are going to head into your walls.  Once they get into your walls they are very hard to kill.  However, if they are already there, do not despair.  If you think you are in this situation, let me know.  I will cover it in a future article.  

Meanwhile, arm yourself with a spray bottle full of isopropyl alcohol (70%); a good sized magnifying glass; and a bright penlight, flashlight, or other movable light to help illuminate the bugs and their eggs.   

Seventy percent isopropyl alcohol is an effective contact poison for bed bugs.  Do not use a higher concentration.  The higher concentrations evaporate too quickly to do the job, they are highly flammable, and they are more toxic to you.  Lower concentrations won’t kill the bugs.  Keep in mind that even the 70% isopropyl alcohol is toxic to human beings.  It is less toxic to us than most insecticides; but you should still take it seriously.  Having a set of goggles close by and a face mask or a bandana is a good idea.  Open the windows as well.  If you find a few large bed bug nests you may be spraying quite a bit of the alcohol.  

Now that we have our supplies we are ready to begin our inspection.  Start by looking very closely at the top of the bedding.  If there has been any bed bug activity, you may notice feces.  Like the rashes bed bugs cause, their feces can take many forms.  They may look like fly specks, tiny gritty grains of ‘dirt,’ small spots of goop, or irregular stains—in shades of black, brown, amber, or red.  In small infestations the stains may be pale in color and tiny.  As the infestations grow, the stains also tend to grow and darken in color.  A new small infestation can be hard to detect.  But a large well established one is not something you want to be faced with. So, look carefully.

While you are inspecting for feces, keep your eye out for the bed bugs themselves.  Adults are about the size and shape of a sesame seed. Add a tiny head to the narrow end, with piercing mouth parts, and legs extending out to the sides slightly back from the head.  Color the creature red and you have the general idea.  The bodies are somewhat translucent, and they are segmented as well, which allows them to swell and elongate as they feed.  Bed bug eggs look a lot like tiny grains of rice.  They vary in size quite a bit, but 2 – 4 of them could sit on top of a sesame seed.  When first laid they glisten and are sticky, allowing them to adhere to many surfaces.  When first hatched, bed bugs are translucent and about half the size of their egg. The hatched egg cases remain attached to the surfaces they are laid on, and will dull and darken in color and collapse over time.  As the immature bed bugs feed, they slowly take on pigment.  Right after a meal the digestive track may appear black. The insect itself will slowly change color as it matures; from cream to yellow, amber, and finally the red of the adult.

If you find bugs or eggs, and you may need the magnifying glass and the flashlight to find them, spray them immediately with the rubbing alcohol.  Soak them well.  Keep an eye on them.  If they try to escape, spray them some more.  They like to hide in tucks, seams, and folds, and by blending in to the patterns on fabric.

After you finish inspecting the top layer of bedding, do not pull it off the bed and inadvertently shake it over the floor or carpet.  This will just spread any of the bugs and eggs around that you missed and help them escape.   Roll each layer up separately, looking for bed bug signs as you go.  If bugs or feces are found, place bedding in a plastic garbage bag and seal tightly with a twist tie or something similar, right away. Repeat your inspection for each layer of the bedding, right down to the mattress(es), and then carefully inspect the mattress(es) as well, spraying any bugs or eggs you find as you go.  Also inspect the bed frame and headboard very carefully.  Bed bugs are known to nest in narrow cracks in wood, recessed screws and bolts, and in hollow metal tubes and fittings.

Hopefully, you won’t find any bed bugs. If you do, or if your friends or family members do, you can find simple tips on killing bed bugs when doing your laundry, as well as tips for helping friends and family members in my previous bed bug article published in the December 21st issue.  If you don’t still have it on hand, you can read it on my blog, where I have added bold subheadings so you can find the specific information easily.  <http://harvestsgardeningsecrets.blogspot.com/2016/12/avoiding-bed-bugs.html>  

If you find bed bugs or feces, repeat the entire inspection process on a weekly or even twice weekly basis.  Every bed in the house needs inspected, as well as any other places that people tend to sit or lounge for long periods of time.  If you continue to get bit, find bugs, or new feces on subsequent inspections, I can share more tips on treating an infestation in a future article.  Please feel free send me an e-mail with your request.  Your personal information will be kept completely confidential, of course.  (You can also leave your questions or tips in comments.)   Harvest McCampbell, harvest95546@yahoo.com.  


 Published by the Willapa Harbor Herald, January 4th, 2017.  Posted here with permission.

Copyright 2017,  Harvest McCampbell.  Please feel free to use the buttons below to share.  All other rights reserved.