May 17, 2009

Don’t let the bed bugs bite…



 Good night,

Sleep tight,

Don’t let the

Bed bugs bite!

      A children’s ditty, but filled with history. Travelers used to sleep on rope-boxprings (rope woven together, tightened by twisting a wood piece attached to the bedframe). Several travelers shared the same bed. It was fertile territory for bedbugs to thrive.

     According to the Harvard School of Public Health, bedbugs are small, wingless insects. They are parasitic, and seek out the nests of warm-blooded animals, whose blood they feast on.  Although some types of bed bugs (and their relatives) inhabit bird nests and bat roosts, others seek out human “nests,” eg., people’s homes.

     While clearing out information from my New England travels, I came across an article headlined “Couple claims room infested with bed bugs.” A couple was suing a South Portland (Maine) hotel for damages after finding bed bugs in their bed. Shortly after the couple climbed into their bed, the husband began to itch over much of his body. Then his wife saw a bug on her, pinched it on the bedding, and the blood-engorged pest “burst in a spay of blood on the sheets.” The couple threw back the sheets and saw dozens of bed bugs. Later, the Bureau of Health pronounced the hotel was infested.

     After finishing my task of clearing out this pile of papers, keeping a few worthwhile ones, I opened up the Internet to find a picture of a bed bug and the headline “Boom in tiny bedbugs is causing big trouble.”  It seems that “The biggest bedbug outbreak since World War II has sent a collective shudder among apartment dwellers, college students and business travelers across the nation.”

     It seems there is reason for concern, since the Harvard School of Public Health states on their site that “Bed bugs became relatively scarce during the latter part of the 20th century, but their populations have resurged in recent years, particularly throughout parts of North America, Europe, and Australia…Since bed bugs readily hide in small crevices, they may hitchhike (as stowaways) luggage, furniture, clothing, pillows, boxes, and other such objects when these are moved between apartments, homes and hotels.” The Internet news article concurs, stating that “Bedbugs have hit hotels and homes in every state. The creatures are amazing hitchhikers, experts say, and easily travel in suitcases, boxes or packages. They can live for up to a year without food.”

    Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield also concurs. He wrote a letter to congressional colleagues about legislation on bed bugs. Topped with a full-color picture of the insect sitting on human skin, it attracted lots of attention. He wrote that “Unfortunately, in recent years, the United States has seen a resurgence in bedbugs. That’s right — they’re back in the sack — and biting.”

     The nearly-white newly hatched bed bugs are about the size of a poppy seed, while adults measure about a quarter inch in length and is colored from a light tan to deep brown or burnt orange. Viewed from above, they are oval-shaped. Their body is flattened from top to bottom. Wingless, they cannot fly, but their flat body enables them to actively seek hiding places in dark cracks and crevices when they are disturbed—their favored sites being the mattress, box spring, bed frame and room clutter.

     If they are really hungry, they venture out in the daytime to seek food—a warm-blooded host, eg. a human being. However, they are most active in the middle of the night, while their hosts are sleeping. Dracula-like, they sip a few drops of blood. While so doing they inject a tiny amount of their saliva into the host’s skin. The victim becomes sensitized to the bed bug’s saliva after receiving bites over a several week period, and this sensitization can produce mild to intense allergic responses.

     Since the skin lesion produced by the bed bug bite resembles those resulting from the bites of many other kinds of blood feeding insects, such as mosquitoes and fleas, the appearance of the lesion is not definitive of the presence of bed bugs. Regardless, the victim should resist the urge to scratch the bites, which will cause intensification of the irritation and itching, and possible secondary infection. Physicians often treat patients with antihistamines and corticosteroids to reduce allergic reactions and inflammation. Despite what you may have heard or read elsewhere, bed bugs are not known to transmit any infectious agents.

     However, the presence of bed bugs apparently causes emotional problems.  Michael Potter, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky and one of the country’s bedbug experts, claims that bed bug bite victims who have suffered outbreaks say that the anxiety it induces can be debilitating. They call him about anxiety, insomnia, shame and the incessant annoyance of itchy red welts on their skin. “It’s emotionally distressing. Anyone that has never had a bedbug problem is not one to judge whether we’re dealing with a medical, emotional public health issue.”

     The couple that experienced the bed bug incident in Portland filed a lawsuit, stating that both were not only physically damaged, but they suffered emotional distress.

     Potter said many sufferers have to throw out their furniture, and spend thousands of dollars on repeated treatments from pesticide companies.

     He noted that bed bugs fall through the cracks of health departments, many of whom claim they don’t deal with the critter, since the bug carries no known diseases and thus is not considered a public health threat. However, federal officials have noticed the bed bug resurgence. In April, the Environmental Protection Agency held a first—a bed bug summit.

     According to Butterfield “apparently no state has a central reporting system for bedbugs.” The congressman is challenging the insect by introducing the Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act of 2009, a legislation which will authorize fifty million dollars to train health inspectors to recognize signs of the insect. The money is already in the Department of Commerce budget.

     The legislation would require public housing agencies to submit “bedbug inspection plans to the federal government,” it “would add bedbugs to a rodent and cockroach program in the Department of Health and Human Services,” and it would “require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research bedbugs’ impact on public mental health.”

     One sign of the presence of bed bugs is experiencing bites that occur while sleeping. To detect bed bug infestation, carefully examine the bedroom and other sleeping areas for signs of their activity. In particular, examine the folds and creases in the bed linens, and seams and tufts of mattresses and box springs for the insect or its eggs. Also check the “pleats of curtains, beneath loose areas of wallpaper near the bed, in corners of desks and dressers, within spaces of wicker furniture, behind cove molding, and in laundry or other items on the floor or around the room.” You may see a characteristic dark brown or reddish fecal spots of bed bugs in the bed linens, mattress or walls near the bed, or you may detect a peculiar coriander-like odor in some heavily infested residences. Cast skins of bed bugs, dead bugs and blood spots are not necessarily signs of a current infestation. It might only confirm that bed bugs have been present previously. Inspect carefully for live crawling bed bugs.

     Because many other kinds of small brown bugs may be discovered, it is critical to ensure that the bugs are correctly identified. Collect suspected specimens, being careful not to damage or crush the sample, in small break-resistant containers, eg. a plastic pill bottle, a zipper-lock plastic bag, or secured to a sheet of white paper with clear packaging tape. Send the sample to a knowledgeable expert for positive identification. The Harvard School of Public Health provides a form that may be downloaded and printed for this purpose:

     Thus ends my evening of cleaning house. I hope you never need to utilize the information I’ve shared. Good night, sleep tight…

Sources: Sun Journal, Lewiston Maine, Saturday, August 2, 2003


Additional reading:


Everyday angels




The Old Rocker
A Singapore Pine Tree & Kampong Buangkok, Singapore

Site Links:


  1. Thanks for writing,I really enjoyed your newest post.I think you should post more frequently,you obviously have talent for blogging!

    Comment by Jack Home — June 6, 2009 @ 11:58 pm | Reply

  2. HAHA Adding this to my bookmarks. Thank You

    Comment by print shower curtain — June 22, 2009 @ 11:50 pm | Reply

  3. How can I find out if the South Portland hotel infested with bed bugs is the one we frequent in the winter???? I do not want to take the chance of going there until I am absolutely sure it is not the hotel……perhaps we just can’t go anymore. Is there any way to find out state inspection results of hotels to know which ones would be safe?? Thanks for any information you can give me..The Hotel we like to stay at is the Best Western Merry Manor Inn in S. Portland. Thank you

    Comment by coleen swan — September 13, 2010 @ 9:38 pm | Reply

  4. Perhaps you could contact the local Chamber of Commerce or other local overseeing group, like the Better Business Bureau. Carolyn

    Comment by carolyncholland — September 14, 2010 @ 12:34 am | Reply

  5. Thank you for choosing to stay here at the Best Western Merry Manor. We are not the hotel referenced in the article but I appreciate your concern. We have a routine inspection and preventative treatment program that has been in place here at the Merry Manor for the past three years. We also train our housekeepers on what to look for while cleaning the room and what to do to contain the problem if it is discovered. Hopefully they will never need to use their training!

    Best Western Merry Manor Inn, Manager

    Comment by Greg Goforth — March 24, 2011 @ 2:28 pm | Reply

  6. Today these pests appear to be getting even worse.

    Comment by — August 9, 2012 @ 1:26 am | Reply

  7. Excellent pieces. Keep posting such kind of info on
    your page. Im really impressed by your site.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about how to get rid of bed bugs.

    Comment by The infected by bugs Site — September 4, 2012 @ 10:38 pm | Reply

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