"Sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite" is more than a quaint expression. Bed bugs, often referred to as chinches, used to be a common problem before 1950. With the widespread use of persistent insecticides, like DDT, they became rare. Current trends such as reducing pesticide use through targeting and increased travel may have inadvertently led to the resurgence of bed bugs. Reports of bed bugs have increased since the 1990s, especially in hotels, dormitories and apartments.
People are often surprised to learn that adult bed bugs can be up to a quarter of an inch long, approximately the size of an apple seed. Adult bed bugs are dark brown and have a flattened body. They hide in tight places on the mattress, box springs, bed frame and often elsewhere in the room. During feeding, as the abdomen fills with blood, it becomes dull red and more rounded. Young bed bugs look much like the adults but are smaller and may be a lighter color.
Bed bugs are night feeders, crawling out from their daytime hiding places to feed while you sleep. Each bug may bite more than once and a pattern of clustered bites or in a line is not uncommon. Bed bug bites are not currently shown to transmit diseases. The bite is usually painless but can itch and scratching can lead to a secondary infection.
Bed bugs are excellent 'hitchikers.' Small enough to remain hidden in a suitcase or clothing, they can travel from place to place quickly, setting up residence in your home or dormitory. Each female can lay a total of 200 to 500 eggs during her lifespan. Therefore, bedbug populations can increase quickly, leading to an infestation that is hard to eliminate. See "Controlling Bedbugs" for more information.
To avoid bed bugs, you can do an inspection of your sleeping area, especially when traveling. Check for bed bugs by lifting the mattress from the box spring and checking the gap for either live bugs or black spots staining the mattress which could be the remnants of digested blood. Bed bugs may also be found along seams, beading, under buttons or labels. Bed bugs may also hide behind the headboard,along the frame or in cracks or crevices of adjacent furniture. For more information, please see our Traveler's Guide.
Please be cautious when acquiring used bedding or furniture since bed bugs can live up to 12 months without food. North Carolina law requires that used bedding from a retail outlet must be professionally sanitized by a licensed sanitizer before being sold in the state. Used furniture can also harbor an infestation and should be checked completely.
If you think you have encountered bedbugs, please contact your local health department or the Sleep Products Section at (919) 733-3556. For more information, please visit: