Picture of a Bedbug

What are bedbugs?

Bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) are tiny parasites that bite people and animals to get blood for food. Most bites happen when people are asleep. These small insects are flat, brown or reddish brown, and about the size of an apple seed.

A female bedbug lays 200 to 500 eggs during her lifetime, so even a few bedbugs in your home can quickly turn into an infestation. Bedbug eggs are very small, about the size of a pinhead. They are pearly white in color. If an egg is more than five days old, it is marked with an eye spot.

On average, bedbugs live from 6 to 24 months. Bedbugs can survive for a year or more without feeding.

How common are bedbugs?

Bedbugs are found in all corners of the globe. Usually, bedbugs live within 8 feet of where you sleep at night. They are found in all types of locations, from 5-star hotels to dormitories and shelters.

Do bedbugs spread disease?

Bedbugs do not spread disease. However, when bedbugs bite people, they can cause itching and loss of sleep.

Who is at risk for getting bedbugs?

Anyone can get bedbugs. Unfortunately, infestations are possible even if you keep your home spotless. Bedbugs can come into your home on luggage, clothing, and used mattresses and other furniture items.

How do I know if I have a bedbug infestation?

You may first notice bedbug bite marks on your neck, arms, hands, or any other body part after you sleep. For some people, bedbug bites develop into welts that appear in a zigzag pattern on the body. Welts may itch severely. It can take up to 14 days before itching and other signs of bites occur.

Other signs of a bedbug infestation include:

  • A sweet, musty odor
  • Reddish or rust colored stains on bed sheets or mattresses
  • Bedbug excrement, which appears as dark spots on bedding
  • Bedbug exoskeletons, eggs, or eggshells
  • Live bedbugs in bed sheets and on or around mattresses

How do I treat bedbug bites?

Fortunately, bedbug bites do not usually present a serious threat. The best way to treat bites is to wash them gently with soap and water, then apply an anti-itch cream or lotion to your skin. If your doctor recommends it, you may also need to take an over-the-counter antihistamine medication.

If possible, avoid scratching bedbug bites. Scratching can lead to skin tears and infections.

For some people, bedbug bites cause serious reactions. Signs of a serious, even life-threatening, reaction to bedbug bites include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swollen tongue
  • Blisters
  • Fever
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Feeling extremely sick

For most people, bedbug bites disappear within a few weeks.

How do I get rid of an infestation?

You can put clothing or sheets and blankets into the washer and then dry them at high heat. Bedbugs can also be killed at temperatures of under 32F (0C), but the items would have to be frozen for days. In any case, you will probably need to hire an exterminator who uses insecticide spray to kill bedbugs and their eggs. If you rent, you should contact your landlord for information.

Can bedbugs be prevented?

You can best prevent bedbugs by frequently inspecting your home for signs of infestation. You can also lower your risk of bringing home bedbugs by following these simple steps:

  • Check all used furniture and mattresses before bringing them into your home.
  • Encase mattresses and box springs in protective plastic covers.
  • Vacuum frequently, especially in areas near where people sleep.
  • Cut down on clutter in your home, which will eliminate some hiding places for bedbugs.
  • If you live in an apartment or other shared housing, try to close off your unit. Seal cracks around baseboards, light sockets, and doors to prevent bedbugs from coming into your home.
  • If you are traveling, inspect your room for signs of bedbugs. Be sure to check the bed and all upholstered furniture in your hotel room.
  • Wash all clothing immediately using hot water upon returning home from traveling.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/23/2018.

References

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bed Bugs FAQs. Accessed 5/23/18.
  • American Academy of Dermatology. Bedbugs. Accessed 5/23/18.
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency. Bed Bugs. Accessed 5/23/18.

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