Better Me

Don’t Fall for These 9 Myths About Yucky Bed Bugs

You might think you’d only spot bed bugs in a sketchy motel or a run-down apartment building. But there’s a reason you see so many signs attached to telephone poles advertising bed bug removal. These persistent critters can infect all kinds of spaces—including clean ones. And they aren’t only found in beds. 

Tara Adams, a senior quality safety and infection program manager with Banner Health, helped us learn the truth behind nine common myths about bed bugs. 

1. Myth: Bed bugs are too tiny to see.

Fact: You can spot bed bugs if you know what they look like. Adults are usually 5 to 7 millimeters long (or about a quarter inch) and they’re reddish-brown with oval bodies. They look a little like an apple seed. Younger bed bugs, called nymphs, are small and clear but can look red if they are full of blood.

“When you’re traveling, look before you jump in bed. Pull back the covers and use a flashlight to check for bed bugs and eggs in all the nooks and crannies, including the mattress seams,” Adams said. 

Bed bugs can also hide behind peeling wallpaper, behind picture frames and in cracks and crevices near beds. Always keep your luggage out of the room until you check for bedbugs.

2. Myth: Bed bugs are only found in beds and mattresses.

Fact: While it’s most common for bed bugs to infest beds, they can be found in things like: 

  • Bedding
  • Bed frames
  • Luggage
  • Clothing
  • Boxes
  • Second-hand upholstered furniture

To prevent bed bug infestations, inspect these items carefully before bringing them into your home and use protective covers on mattresses and box springs. 

Bed bugs can stow away, so you can take them with you from place to place. If you don’t see the bugs themselves, these signs of bed bugs could point to an infestation:

  • Small dark stains or spots on bedding
  • Shed bed bug skins
  • A sweet, musty odor
  • Bites on the skin that look like red bumps

Not everyone reacts to bed bug bites, so you could have an infestation without seeing bites.

3. Myth: You’ll feel it when a bed bug bites you.

Fact: You may not know you are being bitten. “Bed bugs inject an anesthetic and an anticoagulant (prevents blood from clotting) that prevents a person from realizing there is a bite,” Adams said. Many people notice red, swollen, itchy bumps later—you might think it’s a rash, skin infection or some type of allergic reaction. 

4. Myth: You’ll know where you picked up the bed bugs.

Fact: If you find bed bugs in your home, you might not know where they came from. “Bed bugs hide, and they are excellent at it because of their slim bodies. They can live without blood ‘food’ for weeks,” Adams said.

5. Myth: Bed bugs transmit diseases.

Fact: “Bed bugs do not spread infection,” Adams said.

6. Myth: Bed bugs are only found in low-income areas or cheap hotels.

Fact: You can find bed bugs anywhere, so you want to be careful not to bring bed bugs home after you travel. Inspect your hotel rooms and rental homes or spaces, and don’t forget to check the luggage racks. Keep your luggage from touching the floor and keep it away from the beds. 

When you get home, wash and dry your clothes with high heat. Reduce the risk of bed bugs by reducing clutter and regularly inspecting your sleeping areas. 

7. Myth: Bed bugs can be eliminated with DIY methods alone.

Fact: You don’t want to be killing bed bugs yourself. If you have an infestation, you need pest management. You’ll want to call in experienced and reputable pest management professionals to get rid of bed bugs. A pest control company can use:

  • Chemical treatments, which kill bed bugs with insecticides, usually pyrethrin and pyrethroids. 
  • Heat treatments, which heat the environment to 118 degrees F (47.8°C) to kill the bugs and eggs.
  • Integrated treatments, which use information about bed bugs to find the safest and most effective treatment.

While you’re waiting for professional treatment, it’s a good idea to isolate any items you know are infected and to wash bedding and clothing in hot water. Removing clutter and thoroughly vacuuming your home can help you be ready when the pros arrive.

8. Myth: Bed bugs can jump or fly.

Fact: Bed bugs can’t jump or fly, but that doesn’t keep them from moving from place to place. They can cling to luggage and clothes and start a new infestation at your next stop. That means you could be bringing bed bugs into your home. 

9. Myth: Bed bugs are only found in dirty environments.

Fact: “A bed bug infestation can happen to anyone. It doesn’t mean you are dirty,” Adams said. Still, there’s no avoiding an “ick” factor when it comes to bed bugs. These infestations can bring an emotional toll. If you or your family struggle to manage the emotional stress of a bed bug infestation, connect with professional support or seek a support group.

The bottom line

When you’re traveling, or even buying secondhand furniture or clothes, you don’t want to bring home bed bugs. While they don’t spread disease, the bites can be itchy and annoying. And getting rid of the infestation can be time-consuming and expensive. 

Check for bed bugs and their signs in places they might hide, so you can keep them from taking up residence. For help with treating bed bug bites, reach out to Banner Health. 

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