Is that a bed bug bite?

10/03/2010 12:00 PM

12/03/2010 11:27 AM

Q. My family just returned from a trip to the beach. On the last morning of our vacation, our 3 year old awoke with several bug bites on her legs. How do I know if it was bed bugs? I am now worried about whether we have brought bed bugs home with us.

Bed bugs are small, oval, reddish brown insects that hide in dark crevices. They are mainly nocturnal and feed on human blood. If that’s not bad enough, they are incredibly difficult to kill because they are resistant to most pesticides and can survive for months without feeding.

Bed bugs have been around for centuries. Then in the 1940s, they were eradicated in developed countries by a pesticide called DDT. DDT was later banned because of safety issues. Since the 1980s, there has been a resurgence of bed bugs for a variety of hypothesized reasons, including increased international travel and insecticide resistance.

So, how do you know if you or your family member has been bitten by bed bugs? The answer is not very simple. Bed bug bites look similar to mosquito bites. One classic feature of bed bug bites is that they occur in clusters; however, other insect bites can also occur in clusters. If the insect bites are happening at home, then you may notice a trend of recurrent insect bites over the course of several weeks.

With a single incidence in a hotel room, the diagnosis is a little more difficult. The good news is that bed bugs do not carry diseases or pose a true health hazard.

When looking for evidence of bed bugs, inspect bedding and upholstery for the presence of bed bug excrement. This looks like tiny black spots, similar to mildew stains. Occasionally, you may also find molten skin that the live bugs have shed.

Eliminating bed bugs from an infested home is difficult; therefore, local pest control specialists should be contacted. As an initial step, linens should be washed in hot water and dried on high heat settings because bed bugs can only survive for about 7 minutes at temperatures of 115 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Finally, remember that bed bugs are rare in the United States and are unlikely to be the culprit in this case.

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