What causes bed bugs?

The first thing to understand about bed bugs is that their only food source is blood. The common household bed bug needs to feed on human blood both to live and to breed. So what causes bed bugs is essentially… us. Bed bugs don’t have the ability to leap or fly, so to get close to their food source they hitch a ride on us and our belongings. Once they’ve arrived at their destination, they seek out places where we humans nap or sleep, they hide out, and they wait. Bed bugs are able to sense, by body heat or the carbon dioxide we emit when breathing, when their human host is asleep, then they quietly crawl onto our skin and settle in for a blood meal.

Why am I hearing more about bed bugs now?

Bed bugs were nearly wiped out in the 1950s by the pesticide DDT. But in 1972, DDT was banned because it was found to be dangerous to humans, wildlife, and the environment. Bed bugs are hardy insects, and the ones that survived did so because they were resistant to DDT (and other pesticides). These super bed bugs kept living and breeding—each female can lay three to five eggs per day and hundreds in her lifetime, depending on conditions. Their resistance to pesticides combined with increasing ability to spread via global travel, population growth, and urban living contributed to the resurgence that has occurred in the United States. Today, “one out of five Americans has experienced a bed bug infestation or knows someone who has encountered these pests,” says Brittany Campbell, PhD, an entomologist with the National Pest Management Association (NPMA).

Do bed bugs live on people?

No; for the most part, the only time bed bugs are on humans is when they’re feeding, but they do rely on us to get around. “Bed bugs travel with us, so however we may travel, they will travel,” says Jody Green PhD, an urban entomologist at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln. “They do not have wings or specialized legs for jumping, so they crawl onto our belongings to hitch a ride.” And they’re not picky about their mode of transportation—backpacks, luggage, purses, car seats, wheelchairs, wigs, toys, and sleeping bags are all common forms of transit for bed bugs.

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Warning signs you're about to have a bed bug problem
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Warning signs you're about to have a bed bug problem

People you know have had bed bugs

Bed bug infestations can spread from home to home, especially in apartment buildings where they don't have far to travel. "We have more people affected by bed bugs in the United States now than ever before," says Ron Harrison, PhD, Orkin Entomologist and Director of Technical Services. "They were virtually unheard of in the U.S. 10 years ago." If you know someone who has had a bed bug problem, be safe and check your home for intruders. Try this DIY guide to getting rid of bed bugs.

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There are small, itchy bites on your body

Bed bugs can leave small itchy and inconsistent bites on your body. If you've found clusters of bites, especially if they are in straight lines of three, checking for bed bugs might be worth it. It isn't a sure sign, though. Some people won't show any signs of being bitten by bed bugs. "People may have bed bugs and not know it because many people have no physical reaction to bed bug bites," Dr. Harrison says. "That's why it's important for people everywhere to inspect for bed bugs regularly." Here's how to recognize bed bugs if you suspect you have them.

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There are dark stains on your sheets or pillowcases

Because bed bugs are messy, they can leave behind small stains in places they've lived. Any odd stains on your pillowcases or sheets should be inspected and not written off. If you find stains and you spot bed bugs, check out our 16 expert tips on how to get rid of them altogether.

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You frequently stay in hotel rooms

Hotel rooms are one of the primary ways that bed bugs spread. Orkin recommends that people who use hotel rooms often use the S.L.E.E.P. method to inspect for bed bugs. The method involves surveying the hotel room for infestation signs, checking the bed before you use it, and examining luggage when repacking. Don't miss this guide for spotting bed bugs in your hotel room.

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There are skin flakes on your bed or clothing

Skin flakes from bed bugs are small, brown, and oval, and they are one of the signs you have bed bugs. If you find any of these small casings around your home, you might have bed bugs. Don't be too discouraged, though, by the presence of bed bugs because they can happen in even the cleanest homes. "Anyone can get bed bugs in their home. They are not a sign of uncleanliness. Bed bugs only need blood to survive," Dr. Harrison says. "We have treated for bed bugs in everything from million dollar homes to public housing."

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You've only looked for bed bugs in your bed

Despite their name, bed bugs can thrive in multiple locations outside of a bed. According to a 2015 "Bugs Without Borders Survey" by the National Pest Management Association, nearly all (99.6 percent) of pest professionals nationwide have treated bed bugs in the past year, up from five, ten, and 15 years ago, and many of these cases did not involve beds at all. If you're looking for bed bugs, check the seams of chairs and couches, drawer joints, and areas of loose wallpaper too.

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There are brownish-red stains on your shets that smear when wiped

As gross as it is, bed bugs can leave clusters of their poop on sheets, and these clusters can be how to know if you have bed bugs. If you find small stains that smear when wiped with a wet rag, it might be evidence of bed bug fecal matter. If you find this alongside mattress seams or box spring edges, you might have a bed bug problem. Find out how bad it is not to wash your sheets weekly.

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You've recently purchased secondhand furniture without washing it

Getting a great deal on furniture is awesome, but secondhand furniture can invite unwanted pests like bed bugs into your home. Orkin recommends thoroughly inspecting any furniture that comes into your home for bugs before agreeing to purchase it. Next, don't miss these 13 secrets about bed bugs, termites, and other creepy pests.

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Can bed bugs travel the globe?

Yes, and travel is a big factor in what causes bed bugs. “Global travel has increased exponentially in the last several decades, as it has become cheaper and more accessible for a wider percentage of the population,” says Eric Braun, a board-certified entomologist for Rentokil Steritech, a pest control company. “That has made it much easier for bed bugs to hitchhike and move on personal items, planes, ships, and people.” If you travel a lot, you definitely want to know how to spot bed bugs in your hotel room.

Do bed bugs like cities better than rural areas?

Bed bugs aren’t partial to any particular locale; they will make a home just about anywhere they find us. What causes bed bugs to choose a location is based on how and where humans live. “In the last several decades, North Americans have become increasingly urbanized, moving closer together in cities. The closer we live in proximity to one another, the easier it is for bed bugs to spread,” says Braun.

Do bed bugs only bite in beds?

Given both their common name and scientific name—Cimex (bug) lectularius (bed)—one might assume the insects will only bite you in bed, but bed bugs don’t care whether you sleep in a bed, a recliner, or a sleeping bag. Once they’ve found their way to a sleeping spot, bed bugs will make it their home, hiding during the day and coming out at night to feed. If you’re wondering how a bed bug finds its way to a recliner, Green offers this example: A home healthcare worker unknowingly picks up a bed bug in her purse or bag when visiting a patient. On her next visit to a different patient, she sets her bag down on a chair and the bed bug crawls out of or off of the bag and scurries down into a crevice in the chair. As long as there is a human around, bed bugs will gravitate to where that human sleeps, and its host may not even be aware until he notices the first bite. Here’s how to identify common bug bites, including those from bed bugs.

Can I bring home bed bugs from a thrift store?

It’s hard to pass up a good deal on a nearly new sofa, but before you buy it, consider what could lie in its folds and crevices. “That sofa could harbor bed bugs or bed bug eggs, which might not be observed immediately,” Braun cautions. Be vigilant and inspect furniture thoroughly before bringing it into your home.

How far can bed bugs crawl?

Bed bugs are champion crawlers and move quickly. “Over the course of a night, they could find their way down a long hallway,” says Braun. Plus they can survive without a blood meal for 6 to 12 months, Green says, which is part of the reason they’re so hard to spot and get rid of.

Can bed bugs live in cold climates?

“Climate does not affect bed bugs because they live with us in our homes and we keep it at the optimal temperature for both us and them,” says Green. Do chilly temps kill bed bugs? Only under the right conditions. According to Green, the temperature has to drop to 0°F for four days to kill a bed bug. So bed bugs could survive a while in your car before hitching a ride into your house. That’s why you’ll want to know the telltale signs of bed bugs in your car.

Is getting bed bugs inevitable?

Green offers this helpful analogy: “Think of bed bugs like germs. We carry germs around; they need people to survive, but sometimes we leave germs in places, and other people pick them up and get sick. All people are exposed, everyone can get sick from germs, but not all people do get sick. Not every case is the same, but all cases can be preventable with awareness, communication, and education.” Knowing these 16 secrets about bed bugs will help you to keep them at bay.

The post What Causes Bed Bugs? appeared first on Reader's Digest.

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15 things you should never, ever do in a hotel room
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15 things you should never, ever do in a hotel room

Steal the bathrobes

"Guests sometimes take home essential amenities that the hotel provides during their stay, like shampoo, lotion, and other vanity products," says Ryazan Tristram, photographer and travel blogger for everythingzany.com. "However, people sometimes take home the bathrobes as well, which is a no-no." You could be charged extra or fined for taking pricier items, including linens, artwork, and electronics. Find out what you can take from hotel rooms without getting in trouble.

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Break something and lie about it

Accidents happen, but damaging something in your room and keeping it a secret can actually harm staff or future guests. Matthew, founder of thetravelblogs.com, says a guest once cut his foot on a shard of glass. "[Glass is] very hard to spot, even if you know it is there, so although the room was cleaned, there was one piece that the housekeeper missed," he says. "We ended up comping that man's night in the hotel all because the previous guest didn't make the team aware of broken glass in his room."

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Cook anything without a proper kitchen area

"We always want to save money when we travel," says Tristram. "Some guests will bring their portable cooking appliances with them during their stay, and this can cause a few problems, primarily if the hotel room doesn't have any kitchenette area." These cooking appliances can set off a hotel's fire alarm system or cause an actual fire, so stick with no-cook meals if you want to save a few bucks on food. Find out 9 ways to travel cheap, according to travel agents.

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Leave important jewelry in your suitcase or dresser

Hospitality businesses can't always stop thieves from putting their sticky fingers where they don't belong, so don't leave your precious jewels, wallets, or purses in your room, unless it's in a hotel-provided safe, says a Farmers Insurance Group representative. Your homeowners or renters policy may provide coverage for your belongings while you are traveling, so it's important to report any lost or stolen items as soon as possible. Don't miss these other tips for protecting your belongings in a hotel.

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Keep your bathroom door ajar when taking a shower

There's nothing wrong with enjoying a steamy shower at a hotel, but beware what the vapor can do if released into your room. "A hotel's hot showers can cause a lot of steam, and as a result, can trigger the hotel's fire alarm system inside your bedroom if you leave the bathroom door open," says Tristram. Learn 22 tips for making your hotel stay as safe and healthy as possible.

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Cover up smoke alarms

Certain hotels still allow smokers to smoke cigarettes inside their rooms. Despite this, some guests insist on smoking in non-smoking rooms. The biggest problem: Guests who do this cover the smoke alarm so they can smoke in bed, risking their safety and that of all other guests, says Bryony Summer, owner and editor of coastingaustralia.com.

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Forget to inspect the bed

Even the finest hotels and housekeepers can't keep creepy critters from making their way into bedrooms. "I always advise travelers to put their luggage in the bathtub until they inspect the bed for bedbugs," says Mitch Krayton of Krayton Travel. Think hotel beds are dirty? Learn the 11 germiest spots in every hotel room.

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Restock the minibar

There's no crime in enjoying a drink from the hotel fridge. After all, that's their purpose. "But if you plan on taking a bottle of whiskey out of there, just accept that you'll still be paying for it," says Sophia Borghese, a consultant for La Galerie Hotel in New Orleans. "Don't try to fake the hotel staff out by replacing the liquor with a half-sipped bottle of Diet Coke. This happens more often than you might think, and those who do it still get charged for taking that $30, two-ounce bottle of spirits."

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Boil your undies in the kettle

Funny? Yes. Disturbing? Absolutely. Has it actually happened? You bet. After 12 years of managing, Summer says the worst thing she came across was having guests boil their underwear in kettles, pots, or steamers to "freshen them up." Check out the 13 craziest things people have seen in hotel rooms.

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Use the throw pillows

"If you notice the throw pillows on the bed or the couch have no removable sleeves, you can be sure they are never thoroughly cleaned," says Kashlee Kucheran, seasoned traveler and co-owner of traveloffpath.com. "After they get so stained or smelly that they become offensive, the hotel will just replace them. In the meantime, you can bet there have been many faces, bottoms, and other things lounging on those pillows, so steer clear!"

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Use the fire sprinkler as a coat hanger

Closets are great for hanging clothes. Fire sprinklers are not. Bob Tupper, author of Drinking In the Culture: Tuppers' Guide to Exploring Great Beers in Europesays he saw people using the safety devices as coat hooks—a silly stunt that could not only set off a hotel's fire alarm but also burst the pipes causing water to flood into rooms. Watch out for these 13 hotel room hazards you didn't know were putting your kids in danger.

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Send sensitive information over hotel Wi-Fi

"No one should ever, ever send any sensitive information or conduct any important business over hotel Wi-Fi—at least not without encryption," says Harold Li, vice president of ExpressVPN. "Given how easy it is to hack public Wi-Fi hotspots, you might as well be yelling your passwords and bank details down the hall." Travelers should use encryption to shield their Internet activity when sending important information.

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Forget that you recently dyed your hair

As a courtesy to the hotel, you might want to wait until you get home before you change the hue of your 'do. "The ruined towels and bed linens are unrecoverable," says Leslie Mulcahy, co-owner of Rabbit Hill Inn in Vermont. If you have recently dyed your hair, avoid washing your hair—or bring your own towel or disposable sheets to wrap your hair until it dries. On that note, you might want to bring your own hairdryer after hearing the gross reason you should avoid hotel hair dryers.

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Walk with heavy feet

Loud music and voices aren't the only things you should keep in check when you're in a hotel room. "In my experience, no matter how luxurious a hotel is, they are still built with materials that don't allow a lot of soundproofing, especially from upstairs guests," says Kucheran. Avoid walking around with weighty steps so you don't become "that annoying guest."

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Sneak in your pets

It's tempting to bring your furry friends on trips with you, but don't do it without asking if the hotels you're staying in are pet-friendly. If the answer is "no," don't try to pull a fast one on the staff—animals leave trails of evidence, from hairs to prints to smells, and your cleaning fees will skyrocket if you've broken the rules. Check out these other 21 secrets hotel clerks won't tell you.

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