After 40 years of absence, bed bugs are biting again across the country, with infestations so bad the NY Times refers to them as “The Bug That Ate New York!” Scientists are unsure of the cause of this resurgence, but they do know the best way of getting rid of a bed bug infestation is to catch it early or stop it before it happens.  This doesn’t mean pouring pesticides all over your house—which the bugs may be resistant to anyway— but taking preventive measures and learning to recognize the signs of bed bugs so you can stop them in their tracks.

What exactly is a bed bug?

Adult bed bugs are small, reddish brown insects about the size of an apple seed. Juveniles are pale and eggs are whitish, both about the size of a poppy seed. Bed bugs like to hide in cracks and crevices during the day, and generally only emerge at night to feed. Besides live bugs and bites that appear at night, other signs of an infestation include the bugs’ shed skins and their small, reddish brown droppings. Their love of cracks and crevices is what makes bed bugs so difficult to get rid of.  They can hitch a ride on second-hand furniture, in luggage while traveling, or even in the folds of clothes.  Once in the home they can hide in any sort of clutter or crack, though usually near a sleeping area.

What do I do if I find them?

If you do find bed bugs, don’t panic but do act fast to control the infestation before it controls you. The most important action to take if you find bed bugs is to thoroughly clean your residence: get rid of clutter, vacuum every nook and cranny, run washables through a hot cycle, cover mattresses, and heat treat other items, like stuffed toys.  The Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides has a great list of tips. You can also trap bed bugs with a carbon dioxide trap, and you can consider using mineral pesticides made with diatomaceous earth, which kills bed bugs through dehydration.

While a nuisance, keeping a sharp eye out for bed bugs and taking action as soon as they’re found reduces them to a manageable pest instead of an itchy nightmare!

Image courtesy of flickr user bettyx1138