Bed bugs are a surprisingly common problem, and research suggests they are on the increase.
Many people don't realise that these pests don't just live in beds: as well as mattresses and sheets and pillow cases, they live in upholstered furniture, crevices and cracks in furniture and even in books. Tell-tale signs include tiny droppings, eggs and blood stains.
These tiny insects feed mainly on human blood. A newly hatched bed bug is semi-transparent, light tan in colour, and the size of a poppy seed, while adult bed bugs are flat, have rusty-red-colored oval bodies, and are about the size of an apple seed. They can be easily confused with other small household insects, including carpet beetles, spider beetles and newly hatched cockroaches (nymphs).
Some people do not react to bed bug bites, but for those who do, bite marks may appear within minutes or days, usually where skin is exposed during sleep. They can be small bumps or large itchy welts. The welts usually go away after a few days. Because the bites may resemble mosquito and other insect bites, a bump or welt alone does not mean there are bed bugs.
Bed bugs are most active during the night. When they bite, they inject a mild anesthetic and suck up a small amount of blood. They need your blood meal in order to grow and lay eggs: if they get a meal, a female will lay around five eggs per week and if fed, will lay 200-500 eggs in her life. The eggs take about 10 days to hatch. Bed bugs are fully grown in two to four months and can live as long as a year.
Bed bug bites can be very itchy and irritating. Most welts heal in a few days but in unusual cases, the welt may persist for several weeks.
An anti-itching ointment might help, but if bites become infected, people should see their doctor.
If you suspect you have been around bed bugs, immediately wash and dry your clothing on hot settings or store it in a sealed plastic bag until you can. Seal cracks and crevices with caulk: this is worth doing even if you don't have bed bugs as it will help prevent bed bugs and other pests from coming in.