Good Night! Sleep Tight…
Most readers (especially all Baby Boomers) are quite acquainted with the admonition which follows this familiar idiom: Don’t let the bedbugs bite!
These usually unseen creatures have actually made it into the headlines because of some outbreaks in New York City hotels. Many individuals are itching to know more about these peculiar pruritic parasites.
Bedbugs are true bugs and may range from the size of an apple seed to the size of a raisin. They become active at night and live on the blood they take from animals and humans while they are sleeping.
Groups of these parasites hide in cracks and crevices during the day. At night, usually between midnight and 6 a.m., they are willing to travel from one room to another to find a tasty host.
They might pierce the skin several times before finding a vessel juicy enough to satisfy their bloodthirsty craving. They gorge on the blood of their snoozing victim for five to 10 minutes, and when satiated, they usually wait about a week before they embark on their journey to the next nocturnal all-you-can-eat buffet. They can live up to a year and can actually survive several months without eating.
Anyone can get bedbugs, so it should not carry a stigma of uncleanliness. Individuals who travel frequently, stay in hotels or share sleeping quarters are at higher risk.
These pests can hide in the seams of clothing or luggage and therefore accompany travelers totally undetected. Since they are in hiding during the day, they are frequently hard to see.
Looking for the bugs at night in the bed linens might be warranted if an infestation is suspected. As they grow and move from one developmental stage to the next, they molt their outer skin, leaving a “ghost” bug (the exoskeleton), which can be seen in the linens as well.
Additionally, small “rust spots,” which represent the blood-rich feces of the bugs, can be detected in areas where they typically cluster. The deposits might be found around electrical outlets, in the seams of furniture or bedding, along the top of baseboards or at wall/ceiling junctions.
Although bedbugs do not carry diseases, the bite can cause intense itching. Reactions range from minimal redness of the skin to severe itching, leading to infection (from a secondary bacteria) or significant allergic reaction.
Topical treatments (anti-itching cream) and over-the-counter antihistamines for itching are usually the only treatment that is needed. In the absence of an actual infection of the skin or severe allergic reaction, there is little evidence to suggest that other remedies are effective.
Infestations by these little creatures are more of a community annoyance than an epidemiologic emergency. However, due to the high volume of travel and higher prevalence of bedbug infestations, it is a public health concern.
Insecticide treatment is still the mainstay of treatment, but extreme heat is an option that has proved effective as well. With the rash of outbreaks of this pest, getting more information is the best protection, and this article only serves to scratch the surface.