Bed Bugs Bite but Not Disease Carriers
Recently, one of my customers from a social service organization asked if I could present a workshop on bed bugs to their risk management team. While not an entomologist by education, I accepted the request and proceeded to review the plethora of information available on the web including some interesting micrograph images of Cimex lectularius as the insect is taxonomically named. Owing to the fear with other disease-causing organisms such as ticks and mosquitoes, the emerging abundance of bed bugs strikes a similar concern with regard to possible health effects.
Fortunately, bed bugs are not vectors of disease transmission though their bite can lead to welts, a rash in sensitized individuals, and a chance of secondary infection from an open wound. Psychologically, these buggers can cause anxiety and insomnia from the standpoint of the stigma surrounding infestation and the challenge of eradicating them totally from a dwelling. Bed bugs lurk in cracks, crevices, and concealed spaces, typically in bedding and cushioned furniture near a warm-blooded food source. Bed bugs don't care about the socioeconomic class of their victim and could care less about crumbs left on the mattress or sofa. They are all about seeking out a blood meal in dark spaces much like the modern-day vampire of the Twilight series.
Bed bugs are visible to the naked eye with adults about the size and shape of an apple seed and burnt orange to reddish brown in color. They're dependent on blood to reach maturity and can go several months without feeding. Eliminating bed bugs requires integrated pest management with inspection, heat treatment, laundering/encasement, steam cleaning, and pesticide application a few of the methods used for mitigation. The Maine CDC recommends pest control professionals licensed by the Maine Board of Pesticides Control be used for pesticide application. The agency's motto is Think First - Spray Last!
Unless we decide to become hermits, there's a real chance that we can encounter bed bugs from leisure and business congregation. Bed bugs are adept hitchhikers so vigilance to self-inspection including our travel items is an important step in minimizing infestation. The EPA and U.S. CDC have joined forces on bed bug awareness and control with factsheets available on their websites. I encourage you to review these and other resources to save you from buggin' out.