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Bed bugs are mahogany brown in colour. Adults are about 5mm long and the young are 1.3mm - 5mm. Bed bugs bite the whole body but tend to bite mainly on the upper torso. If bites are exclusively around the ankles and lower legs, then the culprit is almost certainly fleas. Blood spots on bed linen are a sign of infestation. Heavy infestations give off a sickly sweet musky smell. Bed bugs do not spread diseases, but their bites are extremely itchy and can become infected through scratching.
Due to their life cycle, bed bugs are the most difficult pests to control. Insects all ages have communal resting stages so that they can pass essential microorganisms between them. This congregating behaviour makes it easy for pest control. What makes it difficult is that a mature female lays 2-3 eggs per day and lays them individually, tucking them away in crevices such as under the skirting board, gaps in the floorboards, peeled back bits of wall paper etc. Egg development is temperature dependent; they can hatch in 5-6 days at 27C, but can remain viable for 3 months. Adults can live without feeding for 10 months. Herein lies the crux of the problem â€“ persistent insecticides such as DDT are banned, all have to degrade after about 6 months, yet the insect can survive longer than the insecticide. The bugs cannot complete their life cycle at temperatures below 13C.
Bed bugs feed at night, being attracted to their prey by CO2 . They tend to live in bedrooms but can migrate downstairs. They are spread by human contact with infected premises; adults or eggs are brought home on clothing, bags, suitcases etc. Currently there is a world-wide epidemic of bed bugs, particularly hazardous are hostels, backpacker accommodation and cheap hotels in tropical and sub-tropical countries.
It is almost impossible to successfully treat bed bugs yourself and attempts may only make the matter worse by spreading the problem throughout the house. Always seek professional help at the earliest opportunity as delay allows the problem to become entrenched. The first reaction is often to wash the bedclothes and get rid of the bed. Any item removed from an infected room for washing should be placed in a bin bag and transported to the washing machine in the bag. Dragging infected linen through the house will spread the infection. It is pointless replacing the bed until all bugs are eradicated, as the new bed will quickly become infected.
Treatment requires two applications of powerful insecticides at 7-10 day intervals. Rooms to be treated need careful preparation so that every nook and cranny can be accessed and treated. Full instructions will be given on how to prepare rooms. Insecticides used have a powerful smell and are a respiratory irritant. It usually takes 24 hours before rooms can be re-occupied. Treated rooms should be kept as hot as possible between treatments so as to accelerate hatching of eggs. Dependant upon the fabric of the building, extent of infestation and degree of preparation of rooms, a third treatment may be necessary, but this is unusual.
Unlike treatment for other pests, no guarantee can be given for bed bugs as whilst the infestation may be cured, the premises may be constantly re-infected from the original or other sources.