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Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite!

By: Shereen Semple, Epidemiologist, Communicable Disease Service, NJDHSS


Prior to World War II, bed bugs were a common pest in the United States. Improvements in hygiene and widespread use of DDT led to the disappearance of most household bed bug infestations. Unfortunately, bed bugs have been making a comeback, and in recent years, bed bug infestations have been increasing in homes, apartments, hotels, health care facilities, dormitories, shelters, and schools.


What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are small, wingless insects that feed on the blood of animals, including humans. Bed bugs are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night and hide during the day. Bed bugs are brown to reddish-brown, oval-shaped and very thin; their flattened shape allows them to hide in and travel through narrow crevices in mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, electrical sockets, walls, suitcases and even picture frames and knick knacks.


What is the life cycle of bed bugs?

Bed bugs develop from egg to adult in five stages with an average lifespan of ten months to a little over one year. In the northeastern United States, bed bugs typically have up to three generations per year. At each stage of growth, the insect must take a blood meal in order to molt, and female bed bugs require a new blood meal to lay eggs. However, bed bugs will not die without a blood meal; adult bed bugs can survive for months without feeding on a host.


Are bed bugs a public health risk?

Bed bugs are not known to spread disease. Bites produce a variety of reactions in people. Some people are not aware they’ve been bitten, while other people may have an allergic reaction and the area around the bite may become swollen and itchy. As a general rule, avoid scratching bed bug bites, as they may develop scabs or lead to a secondary infection. Individuals who experience allergic reactions to bed bug bites are advised to consult with a health care provider for more specific information.


How do infestations start?

Bed bug infestations are often mistakenly associated with poor sanitation. Bed bug infestations can occur anywhere, regardless of sanitary conditions, although cluttered homes provide more spaces for bed bugs to hide. Bed bugs are usually transported from an infested area by hitching a ride in luggage, clothing, lap top computers, infested

bedding or contaminated furniture. For this reason, it is important to never bring any discarded or second hand furniture into a home without inspecting it first. Second

hand mattresses should be certified as ‘bed bug free’ before purchasing. When staying in a hotel, it is a good idea to inspect the room for signs of bed bugs and report

any problems to the hotel management immediately. Avoid placing luggage or personal items directly on the bed and use luggage racks instead, keep all luggage closed when not in use, and search luggage and personal items before bringing back home.



Who is responsible for controlling bed bug infestations?

As per New Jersey Administrative Code Title 5, Chapter 28, both tenants and landlords are responsible for controlling bed bug infestations. Tenants are responsible for maintaining a clean and sanitary dwelling. As such, if a bed bug infestation is confined to a single dwelling, the tenant is responsible for eradication. When two or more dwellings are involved, the landlord is responsible for providing a reasonably insect proof condition. Since bed bugs often hide or travel in narrow crevices and walls, infestations are rarely confined to one dwelling.


How can I control and/or prevent a bed bug infestation?

If a tenant or owner suspects a bed bug infestation, the first step is to contact a licensed pesticide control operator (PCO). Be sure to choose a PCO with expertise in bed bug

control. The PCO will assess the extent of the bed bug infestation and should provide a written plan detailing eradication and control. Since bed bugs are not readily attracted to bait and usually travel from room to room, use of a residual pesticide is not effective

unless other control measures are implemented concurrently. Some recommended control strategies include:


Remove clutter and clean the dwelling: Keep personal items organized and neat, focusing on places where bed bugs may hide, including knick knacks, picture frames, piles of clothing and stacks of books and / or newspapers. Be sure to keep all areas in good

sanitary condition; use a household cleaner on a daily basis.

Clean and isolate the bed: Clean sheets, pillowcases, bed skirt and blankets in a hot dryer (140° F) for at least 20 minutes. Since bed bugs cannot fly, move the bed away from the wall and make sure the linens don’t touch the ground. Encase the mattress in a

plastic cover and zip or tape closed on all sides. Wrap the bed legs in tape.

Vacuum and/or steam clean: Vacuum every day, tilting furniture and linens to get between crevices, seams, creases and folds. Consider using a steam cleaner (≥ 160° F) at a high temperature. Be sure to vacuum edges where the carpet or floor meets the furniture and walls.

Seal crevices: Fill any cracks around window sills, baseboards, floorboards and on furniture. Repair or remove peeling wallpaper and tighten electrical sockets and light switch covers. If you are a tenant, report these damages and repairs to the landlord.


Where can I find more information?

Please see following: