Mature bedbugs are about the size of an apple seed, reddish-brown in color, and oval and flat in shape. During the day, bedbugs hide in cracks and crevices. In a sleeping area, this may include headboards, bed frames and mattresses and box springs.
If you are traveling, bedbugs may hide in your clothes, shoes or luggage. While humans sleep, bedbugs emerge to feed. It takes about 10 minutes for a bedbug to become engorged on blood. Then it crawls away to digest. Bedbugs can crawl great lengths in search of food and can easily travel between floors and rooms in apartment complexes or hotels.
Some people have no reaction to a bedbug bite, while most experience an allergic reaction that can include severe itching, blisters or hives. Bites appear as red welts often with a darker red spot in the middle. The bites are often in an uneven line or in a cluster on the arms and hands, neck, or face.
Redness and itching usually go away within a week or two. Skin creams containing hydrocortisone will alleviate symptoms. There is no evidence that bedbugs transmit any disease to humans.
While traveling, be on the alert for bedbugs. Examine mattresses and bedside furniture for bedbug excrement. This will look like dark specks usually found along mattress seams. Bedbugs molt five times before becoming adults. Empty exoskeletons appear as light-brown empty skins.
To avoid the possibility of picking up a bedbug, place luggage, backpacks, purses and clothes on tables or dressers, or even in the bathroom, instead of on the floor.
If you are worrying about bedbug exposure from a hotel stay, try the following suggestions to keep bedbugs from hitchhiking into your house: Empty the contents of your suitcase directly into plastic bags before entering your home. Empty the bags directly into the washing machine or dryer. Wash clothes and other items in water that is at least 120 degrees. Or run clothes or other items in dryer set at a high heat for 20 minutes. Place luggage in sealed garbage bags until you can wash it.
One final comment: Be cautious about purchasing secondhand furniture or bedding. Don’t salvage discarded bedding or upholstered furniture. If bedbugs do get into your home, seek professional help to eradicate them.
Shirley DeAcetis has her master’s degree in social work and supervises the Maino Community Health Library at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation.