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What bedbugs are

Bedbugs are small, wingless insects that have an oval, broad, flat body and a short, broad head. Adult bedbugs are usually four to five millimetres in length and will increase in size by a few millimetres after a blood meal. After feeding, adult bedbugs change from brown to a dark red colour.

Bed bug photo

A female bedbug lays several hundred eggs in her lifetime. The white eggs are usually about one millimetre in length and can be very difficult to see. The eggs usually hatch in six to 17 days. There are three stages of life for a bedbug: egg, nymph, and adult.

Bedbugs have not been known to transmit disease. However, the bites may cause itchiness and people dealing with an infestation may experience stress, anxiety and loss of sleep.

Where bedbugs are found

Bedbugs are found all over the world, often in hotels, motels, homeless shelters, work camps, apartments, private homes and sometimes in businesses or offices. Bedbugs prefer dark, cool places such as bedding and along the seams of mattresses where they can easily feed and hide. Other favourite hiding places for bedbugs are underneath wallpaper, behind picture frames, in electrical outlets and crevices in walls and furniture.

What happens when bedbugs bite

Bedbug bites can happen anywhere on the skin but most often on the face, neck, arms, legs, and chest and most often during sleep. The bites look similar to and may be mistaken for flea or mosquito bites. When a bedbug bites, saliva is injected into the skin which may cause a localized reaction, i.e. red lumps or an allergic reaction in rare cases. Most bedbug bites will heal with time and do not require medical attention. Bites may itch and scratching can result in an infection. Antiseptic creams and antihistamines may relieve the itchiness of the bites. Seek the advice of a health care provider for severe reactions to bites or for secondary infections.

How bedbugs spread

Bedbugs spread when infested items such as clothing, mattresses, books, pictures, electronics, backpacks, luggage or furniture are moved from one location to another.

How you can determine if bedbugs have entered your home

Some indicators that bedbugs are established in your home include:

  • Bites resembling flea or mosquito bites;
  • Dark, reddish brown stains on sheets or mattresses;
  • Black droppings on sheets or mattresses;
  • Cast off skins from nymphs;
  • Live or dead bedbugs; and
  • A sweet fruity smell if the infestation is heavy.

What you can do if there are bedbugs in your home

An infestation does not mean that the home or facility is not being cleaned adequately but regular inspection and cleaning may help prevent an infestation. Call your local public health inspector or a professional pest control operator to assist in bedbug identification and to confirm the infestation. Professional pest control is often the best option to eradicate a bedbug infestation. If an infestation is heavy, the room may have a sweet fruity smell. Tenants are encouraged to notify the landlord immediately after confirmation of an infestation. Tenants may also contact the local public health inspector for assistance in dealing with bed bug infestations in rental accommodations.

Bedbugs are very hard to eradicate, but there are some steps that can be taken to help address the problem.

  • Remove clutter and eliminate hiding places.
  • Discard infested items that cannot be cleaned.
  • Thoroughly vacuum corners, baseboards, box springs, mattresses, floors and any furniture near the bed. Ensure to dispose of the vacuum bag in a plastic bag. 
  • Clean the inside of the vacuum cleaner with hot water and soap.
  • Use double-sided tape or glue paper placed around walls, the legs of a bed or other locations to trap the bedbugs.
  • Use petroleum jelly around the legs of furniture to stop the bedbugs from climbing up them.
  • Wash all fabric items in hot water and then place the items in the dryer at the highest setting for 30 minutes. Older dryers or drying large items such as comforters may require longer drying times.
  • Place non-washable items in the dryer at the highest setting for 30 minutes. All stages of bedbugs will be destroyed.
  • Consider covering clean pillows and mattresses with plastic covers.
  • Use a stiff brush to dislodge bedbugs and their eggs from mattresses.
  • Steam clean infested mattresses and other furniture.
  • Remove or repair loose or peeling wallpaper.
  • Tighten loose electrical face plates.

Pesticides can be an effective solution to a bedbug infestation but may not kill all stages of bedbugs. Pyrethrin aerosols may be used in cracks and crevices to treat for bedbugs but may require multiple applications until all the eggs have hatched. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions to safely apply pesticides. Consider the services of a professional pest control company for heavy infestations.

A professional pest control operator may assist in bedbug identification and confirmation of an infestation.

What you can do if there is a bedbug infestation in your building

Eliminating bedbug infestations in multi-unit complexes such as apartments or condominiums that share common walls can be challenging. If you are aware of an infestation in your building, adhere to the following.

  • Educate yourself – Learn how to prevent, identify and treat bedbugs.
  • Monitor – Check for bites on your body and blood stains on bedding and clothing.
  • Get rid of clutter – Bedbugs thrive in a cluttered environment.
  • Pest-proof your home – Eliminate bedbug hiding places by sealing gaps in walls. Use caulking to seal baseboards and trim. Expandable foam sprayed in areas around drains and water pipes can prevent entry. Use kick plates and weather stripping on doors to prevent the entry of bedbugs.
  • Take action right away – If you find any evidence of bedbugs, immediately contact your landlord or property management and ask for pest control treatment.
  • Be prepared – Thorough and proper preparation before professional pest control treatment is essential to successful bedbug control.
  • Make your bed an island – Ensure that your mattress, box spring, and pillows have plastic coverings. Remove bed skirts and make sure sheets do not touch the floor. Keep the bed 10 cm away from the wall and place petroleum jelly around each leg of the bedframe to prevent the bedbugs from crawling up the legs of the bed.

How to prevent bedbugs from entering your home

Know what a bedbug looks like and where to look for them.

Be mindful of possible sources of bedbugs.

  • Closely inspect items such as used books, furniture, clothing, and garage sale and antique store purchases for the presence of bedbugs.
  • Ensure new mattresses are completely sealed in plastic before accepting them into your home, as used mattresses are often in the same delivery truck which can lead to infestation of the new items.
  • If helping someone move, inspect the items before placing them in your vehicle and be sure to inspect your vehicle after the move.

Reduce or remove places where bedbugs can hide.

  • Declutter to minimize hiding places.
  • Vacuum often and thoroughly, including under all furniture and mattresses.
  • Seal cracks, baseboards and other areas where bedbugs might hide.

Take precautions when travelling.

  • Before you leave
    • When reserving accommodations, inquire about the presence of bedbugs in the facility.
    • Pack large white garbage bags in the event you need to separate some of your belongings while travelling.
    • Use light coloured plastic luggage as bedbugs are less attracted to light colours and plastic surfaces. Cloth luggage may be sealed in plastic to protect it from becoming infested.
    • Do not travel with your pillow as this gives bedbugs a chance to come home with you.
  • At your destination
    • Before bringing luggage into the hotel room, be sure to inspect the room.
    • Alternatively, you may place your luggage in the tub while you check your rooms as bedbugs have difficulty climbing up smooth, polished or metal surfaces.
    • Be sure to inspect: linens, mattress seams, bed frames, nearby furniture and under carpet edges for live insects or evidence of bedbugs. A UV flashlight can help locate the insects and their droppings. Look for tiny blackish-red spots and smears on sheets and mattresses, which may be their droppings.
    • If you identify a problem, request another room or relocate to another hotel. Be sure to inspect your belongings to ensure you are not relocating bedbugs from one location to another.
    • Infested clothing and any other items that may be infested should be treated to kill the insects. Place them in a hot dryer for 30 minutes to kill all stages of bedbugs.
  • When you return home
    • Before bringing your luggage into your home, place it on a smooth hard surface, e.g. driveway or garage floor, which will make it easy to detect any bedbugs that may have come home with you.
    • Inspect all your belongings carefully.
    • Wash all fabric items, whether worn or not, in hot water and then place the items in the dryer at the highest setting for 30 minutes. Older dryers or drying large items such as comforters may require longer drying times.
    • Place non-washable items in the dryer at the highest setting for 30 minutes. All stages of bedbugs will be destroyed.
    • Vacuum your luggage and place the vacuum bag in a plastic bag and in the trash. Wash any attachments and the interior cavity of the vacuum cleaner in hot water and detergent.

Questions regarding bedbugs may be directed to the public health inspector in your area.

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