Just the idea of bed bugs makes folks squirm…which is understandable, but here in Arizona we have scarier bugs like Rhipicephalus sanguineus or Culex quinquefasciatus that actually transmit diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever and West Nile virus. Bed bugs don’t transmit disease but they can cause skin reactions and psychosocial stress (e.g., anxiety and sleeplessness).
Bed bugs feed on human blood, and can cause itchy skin welts. If people scratch their welts with dirty hands, it’s possible they can get a skin infection, but bed bugs themselves don’t spread disease. Bed bugs like to hide in small dark places close to humans or animals (think mattress seams, stuffed animals, and piles of dirty clothes). They typically live within a meter of where people sleep and they shed their exoskeleton routinely, so you might suspect a problem if you see bed bug shells or rusty-colored blood spots around your sleeping area.
Aristotle and ancient historians tried desperately, but unsuccessfully to eradicate bed bugs from their homes by spreading dust, hanging a dead rabbit at the foot of the bed, and placing legs of the bed in pans of water. Modern attempts seem equally scattered, we’ve tried using natural predators, insecticides, and even room heaters. The current standard is to employ integrated pest management – a combined approach of chemicals and common sense practices to eliminate bedbugs from the home.
The best intervention is really prevention. Bed bugs usually hitchhike into your home (they can’t fly)…so watch what you bring inside. Leave the “free” curbside couch on the street, carefully inspect consignment store purchases, spread your own sheets when other children sleep over, and leave your luggage outside for a few nights after returning from a trip. If you see or suspect a bed bug, act immediately. If not, you might be tempted to add dust, rabbits and pans of water to your extermination plan!