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Don’t lose sleep over bedbugs

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Bedbugs, or cimex lectularius as bug experts call them, are tiny blood sucking insects that make their home in and around beds.

At night, they sense a person's body heat and the carbon dioxide they breathe out, and can bite exposed skin.

Bedbug bites do not carry diseases, but they can cause itchy red bite marks. While bedbugs don't pass on infections, some people do have a reaction to their bite.

Having bedbugs isn’t a sign of having a dirty home, but they may be an unwelcome stowaway in suitcases from holidays and travel.

Know the enemy

Adult bedbugs are wingless insects about 5mm long and oval in shape – similar to a lentil. Their colour is nearly white after moulting, then ranges from tan to burnt orange. After a blood meal, they'll appear dark red or black.

Adult Bedbug

Their flat bodies enable them to hide in dark, cosy cracks and crevices in beds, skirting boards, sofas and drawers, and even behind wallpaper and electrical socket plates. That's where they nest during the day, typically not far from where they'll find their host - that's you - at night.

Bedbugs dine on you without causing you to lose sleep. The next morning, you'll discover lesions that resemble the bite of a mosquito or other insect.

Bedbugs are not attracted to dirt, so having bedbugs doesn't mean a hotel, home or dorm is not clean.

Although they live on blood, adults can live for a year between meals. So just because a room hasn't been used for some time doesn’t mean it will be bug-free. They could just be dormant.

Bedbugs and public health

Bedbug bites can lead to itchy red bumps 1 to 9 days later.

These often happen on the face, neck, hands, or arms, although not everyone has a skin reaction to a bedbug bite.

Bedbugs don't transmit any human diseases, but that doesn't mean they should be ignored. Females lay 200-500 eggs in two months, so you could have lots of unwanted company very quickly.

Getting rid of bedbugs

Because bedbugs live where you sleep, extra care is needed with pesticide to avoid over exposure where you sleep.

Getting rid of bedbugs is usually a job for professionals. The NHS recommends getting a professional to handle a bedbug infestation who can use specialised equipment and monitoring systems to kill the bedbugs by heat. You should contact your local authority, the British Pest Control Association (BPCA), or the National Pest Technicians Association (NPTA) for advice.

Specially trained technicians can use hot or cold with steamers or rapid freeze systems to kill your bedbugs.

If you do decide to use special bedbug insecticide spray yourself, always read the label. Never use these treatments on clothing, linen, or a mattress.

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