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Bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) are small blood-sucking insects that can live in cracks and crevices in and around your bed.
Attracted by your body heat and carbon dioxide, they crawl out at night to bite your exposed skin and feed on your blood, just as mosquitoes do.
Not everyone develops a skin reaction to bedbug bites, but some people will develop itchy red bumps one to nine days later, usually on the face, neck, hand or arm. These are often mistaken for mosquito bites, but while mosquito bites tend to be random in pattern, bedbug bites more often occur in straight lines.
The media has recently reported a huge increase in the number of bedbug infestations around the world, particularly in America. It is likely that tourists and an increasing resistance to insecticides are the main reasons for this.
Bedbugs are not dangerous. They do not transmit any human diseases and most people do not develop any serious skin reaction. However, their presence can be upsetting and stressful, and you should take action straight away.
If you think you have a bedbug infestation, or read the advice below and contact a professional pest control firm.
Adult bedbugs look a bit like lentils and are visible to the naked eye. They are oval-shaped, flat and reddish-brown, and up to 5mm long.
Females lay 200-500 eggs over a two-month period. These white specks stick to surfaces and are very difficult to spot. They hatch to form tiny straw-coloured insects that take about six to eight weeks to grow into adults. As they grow, they shed their skin. This looks like mottled brown shells on your mattress.
Bedbugs need to feed on blood to be able to mature, but they are very resilient. Adults can survive for up to a year without feeding.
They are not attracted to dirt, so a bedbug infestation is not a sign of an unclean home.
Because their bodies are flat, bedbugs can squeeze into the smallest crevice or crack, such as a mattress seam or the joints of a bed frame. This can make them very difficult to spot.
They tend to prefer fabric or wood over plastic and metal, and often hide near to where you sleep, for example under the mattress or along the headboard.
However, they are willing to travel several feet if necessary to reach you, so they can also be found away from the bed in other furniture, along the edges of carpets and even behind mirrors or inside smoke alarms. In fact, they can be found in almost any place in the bedroom where they will not be disturbed.
Once introduced into your home, bedbugs can spread easily from room to room. They do not fly or jump, but can crawl quickly.
They can soon spread within a building by getting through holes in walls or pipes, and can potentially invade blocks of flats, hotels or hospitals. The bugs can also be transported in luggage, clothing, furniture and bedding from one building to the next.
This makes is easy for tourists and commuters to unknowingly spread bedbugs.
It can be extremely difficult to get rid of a bedbug infestation from your home, so it is wise to contact a local pest control firm.
A technician will carry out a thorough inspection, which may take a few hours. They will then use specially designed equipment such as a steamer or rapid freeze system to get rid of the bugs.
If you insist on tackling the bugs yourself, the following advice may help:
It can be difficult to avoid bedbugs as they can be transported so easily.
The best thing you can do is inspect your mattress regularly for telltale signs and take immediate action if necessary. Avoid buying second-hand mattresses and be wary of old beds you might be using in rented accommodation.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.