Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) haven’t really been a problem in AZ for the last few decades. Sure, we’ve had reports of bed bug infestations, but they’ve mostly been limited to areas around the Grand Canyon where lots of international travelers come and go toting their sleeping bags. After all, bed bugs are basically hitch-hikers, so it makes sense that they’d be where there are a lot of bedrolls coming and going.
For whatever reason (probably a combination of lots of things), it’s gotten a lot worse lately- statewide. Luckily, bed bugs don’t transmit disease, although they can be a public health issue because of the physical and mental health problems (e.g. anxiety) they can cause. Bed bugs are basically blood-sucking parasites similar to head lice. They feed on human blood. Like I said, they don’t transmit disease, but some people can have an allergic reaction to the bites. Plus if people itch the bites with dirty fingernails, they can get infected with things like Staph. The bottom line is that they’re gross and nobody wants them around.
In your home, the key is prevention. The most important thing to remember is that they’re hitch-hikers, so preventing them from getting in your house in the first place is important. For example, if your kids have sleepovers, discourage guests from bringing their own bedrolls, provide the sheets yourself. Cimex are experts at hiding… in places like in the seams of mattresses, stuffed animals and under any clutter or objects around a bed. They’ve got small flat bodies allow them to fit into real small spaces and can stay there for a long time even without a blood meal. They can travel over 30 meters in one night, but they tend to live within a meter or so of where people sleep. They molt their “skin” (exoskeleton) occasionally, so one way to tell if you have a problem is if you find their “shell” around beds.
Think prevention, because once they get in your house it’s a real challenge to get rid of them. Controlling them in multi-family homes is more challenging because bed bugs frequently travel between units. Integrated Pest Management is the most effective way to prevent and get rid of infestations. It’s an approach that focuses on prevention, observation and intervention. It’s an ecological approach that significantly reduces the use of pesticides while at the same time managing pest populations at an acceptable level. The CDC & EPA have a helpful fact sheet that explains more.