Bed bugs - these little nasty bloodsuckers are pretty much in the spotlight right now. A few years ago, the insects in Europe were almost forgotten, but the topic is currently very topical. It is known, for example, that the parasites, also known as "house bugs", travel with tourists and can accompany them from accommodation to accommodation. Bed bugs are neither dangerous nor do they transmit diseases (at least not yet) - the sight of them or the very idea of them is very disgusting for many people.
Bed bugs - the most important things at a glance
- Description: At the bed bug (Cimex lectularius) it is a blood-sucking insect from the family of flat bugs (Cimicidae). It occurs all year round and worldwide in inhabited interiors. They are about four to 8.5 millimeters tall, have a reddish-brown color when fully grown, the body is heavily flattened and wingless.
- Distribution: Bed bugs spread mainly through the transport of infected (used) objects (e.g. from the flea market or from the Internet). Likewise, the animals are often transported from place to place unnoticed in their luggage.
- Occurrence: An increased occurrence has been known in the USA and Australia for several years, meanwhile many other countries (including Germany) are also affected by an increasing distribution.
- Detect bed bug infestation: During the search for food, the animals can be spotted freely. Otherwise, traces of faeces in the form of black dots, traces of blood on the bed and stitches on the skin indicate possible infestation.
- Combat: Bed bugs can only be effectively removed by professional pest control specialists. In consultation with the expert, those affected should take accompanying measures, such as temporarily storing infected items in the freezer or washing affected clothing at high temperatures.
- Prevention: In order to keep bed bugs away from your own four walls, the accommodation should be checked for possible infestation when traveling, and luggage should always be locked and kept as far away from the bed as possible. Other preventive measures include searching for newly acquired used goods.
Bed bug - definition
The bed bug is in the technical language Cimex lectularius called and can occur indoors all year round and worldwide. The main hosts for these bloodsuckers are we humans. However, they serve as an alternative to pets, birds and bats. The parasites from the flat bug family, also known as "house bugs", are unfortunately very robust and can survive for several months without food.
Detect bed bugs
This is what these insects look like: They have no wings and the body has a flattened shape. When they are fully grown, they have a reddish-brown color. The females grow to be approximately four to 8.5 millimeters in size, the males remain smaller to four to 6.5 millimeters. Their life expectancy is six to twelve months. A female lays about 150 eggs during her life. These are approximately 0.5 millimeters long and whitish.
Before they grow up, bed bugs have to shed their skin five times and they need blood each time. To do this, they leave their hiding places and look for suitable victims. In rooms where there are many bed bugs, a scent of bitter almond is sometimes perceived. This can be extremely uncomfortable at times.
There has been talk of bed bug spreading in the United States and Australia for several years. In the meantime, these little animals are also traveling in Europe and also in Germany. According to the Federal Environment Agency (UBA), the causes of the increase in bed bug infestations are travel tourism, migration and trade (especially with second-hand goods), and the lack of availability of insecticides (insecticides) with long-term effects also seems to favor the spread. According to the UBA, however, the development of resistance to chemical insecticides is considered to be the main cause of the increased occurrence of bed bugs worldwide.
Sometimes the appearance of this bloodsucker is associated with times of war and often also with poor hygiene. Above all, the latter has nothing to do with it. Bed bugs can be found anywhere, even in a 5-star hotel. It is believed that insects are attracted to human body odor. This smell is also contained in dirty laundry, which is also present in an expensive hotel. The beasts are attracted mainly by body heat and the exhaled carbon dioxide.
The little animals spread through the fact that they are carried on by infested objects such as suitcases or backpacks. This can also be used furniture, mattresses or picture frames. For example, they hide in the hinge of a suitcase.
Where are bed bugs?
They stay in private households as well as in shared accommodation, hotels, mountain huts, motels, dormitories, health facilities or even on planes, buses or trains. They only visit the human body to suck blood. Bed bugs are nocturnal.
How is an infection recognized?
If the bed bugs are looking for food, they can be spotted freely - for example on the bed. Precisely because they are as flat as paper before sucking blood, they like to stay in their hiding places. Examples of this are: slatted frames, sofas, armchairs, behind light switches, behind skirting boards etc. There they make themselves known through their legacies, their feces in the form of black dots. Traces of blood on the bed can also substantiate the suspicion. And of course the bites on the skin, which often itch massively and usually appear in a row ("bug street") or arranged in groups. Individual stitches are also possible.
Detect bed bug bites
The stitches are often not noticed immediately. Skin reactions can take up to a week. These are itchy, reddish pustules, possibly with blisters and wheals. And the reaction of the individual is individually different. Some people suffer from massive skin symptoms, others not at all.
However, the stitches alone do not make a diagnosis reliable. Especially in summer, when other stinging insects are on the move, a clear diagnosis is not easy. Finding the insects, their feces in connection with the skin reaction - all of these together can give a legitimate indication of bed bugs. If the stitches mentioned above occur, this may mean that the infection occurred a few weeks ago. Increased attention is required if you know of an infestation during a trip.
Treat bed bug bites
You can treat the stings or bites with pure aloe gel. This cools, heals and relieves the itching. As an alternative, lemon juice, a cut onion or clove of garlic are recommended. In addition, homeopathy or Schüßler salts can help some sufferers. However, it should be noted here that there is no scientific proof of effectiveness for these healing methods.
If the stings are very itchy, the homeopathic agent Rhus toxicodendron can provide relief. If the stitches are very swollen, Apis Mellifera is ideal. Schuessler Salt No. 8, sodium chloratum, is also suitable here. Make a porridge from a few tablets and a little water and dab the affected areas with it. When taken in addition, the stitches may heal faster.
Fight bed bugs
Fighting bed bugs is definitely in the hands of a specialist. Under no circumstances should you get yourself any insecticides and handle them. In order to get rid of the annoying and stubborn insects, long-term contact insecticides are necessary. To avoid resistance, the active ingredients are even used in combination. And this absolutely requires specialist knowledge. As a rule, control with a one-off measure is not guaranteed. Multiple treatments are often necessary. This can take a few weeks.
In the optimal case, the pest control agent determines all the hiding places and treats them by direct spraying. Eggs are removed manually with the help of an adhesive tape or a vacuum cleaner. This requires a few precautions: pieces of furniture are dismantled, baseboards removed, light switches removed, etc. But even then it cannot be said with certainty whether all the stoves have been removed. For this reason, the specialist takes additional measures. These are so-called insecticide barriers, which means that the pesticides are also distributed on the walkways (floors, walls, etc.) and in potential hiding places.
It is important that the agents used have a long-term effect. However, this also means that the insecticide must not be wiped out, except for use areas such as tables. A follow-up check is necessary after two to three weeks.
Dangerous to the environment
Unfortunately, the use of chemical insecticides to control bed bugs is often unavoidable. And of course these also have a harmful effect on the environment and people. That is why it is so important that the fight against pests is done by experts and not carried out at home. If insecticides are used incorrectly, the damage to the environment and people is even greater.
Fight through heat
Bed bugs can also be fought with heat. Before an entire room or even a house is treated with heat, the heat-sensitive objects are removed. This includes things that are under pressure, such as fire extinguishers or deodorant sprays, and flammable items such as perfume. Medicines cannot withstand the high temperatures either. All of this is packed tightly in plastic and specially treated. Everything that serves as a bug hiding place is moved away or even dismantled or unscrewed (sockets, baseboards etc.).
All cracks must be sealed to prevent the blood suckers from escaping. If there are gaps or gaps that are difficult to reach, use gravel. In the worst case, chemistry is also used - when unreachable areas remain. In order to destroy the vermin, a temperature between 50 and 60 degrees Celsius is necessary, which must be reached for at least 12 hours. Depending on the size and nature of the room, heat treatment takes between 24 and 48 hours.
The heat treatment is not only possible for entire rooms, but also for individual objects. These are then treated in special devices at the same temperatures for at least 60 minutes. Individual objects can also be gassed with nitrogen or CO2. In the meantime, hut owners take advantage of the heat treatment. Arrivals must put their backpacks in a microwave on arrival.
Dogs, thanks to their unique olfactory organ, can sense the various things they have been conditioned to. In the meantime, this includes the bed bugs. To be recognized, these dogs, together with their owner, must complete training and then an examination as a team. Such bed bug detection dogs are, for example, at Frankfurt Airport. The sniffer dog detects the bed bugs, then the infestation must also be confirmed by a specialist in pest control. Only then are measures initiated.
Get rid of bed bugs - what you can do yourself
You can also do something yourself if you are affected by bed bugs. First of all, however, as already mentioned, you should definitely consult a pest controller. This person will give you recommendations that must be followed. Items with heavy infestation that are not required should be packed in plastic bags or plastic wrap after the pest treatment and disposed of. It is important to ensure that any insects that are still alive cannot leave the film.
Not all items can be treated with a chemical agent, as is the case with books, for example. Alternatively, they are stored in the freezer at minus 18 degrees Celsius for three days. Here they are to be packed loosely and well sealed in plastic bags so that the blood suckers cannot escape. Garments are best washed at 60 degrees Celsius (at least 40 degrees Celsius) in the longest washing program with enough detergent. An alternative is the tumble dryer at 60 degrees Celsius.
Put heat-insensitive objects in the oven or put them in your sauna at at least 55 degrees Celsius. This kills the bed bugs and their eggs at the same time. If the little beasts are still running around, the best thing to do is to use a vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner bag is then enclosed in a plastic bag and frozen in the freezer. The same applies to the collection container for bag-free vacuum cleaners.
The eggs of the insects can also be picked up with strong adhesive strips. These also end up in the freezer afterwards. In the whole campaign, it is important that objects from the infested room are never moved to another room, as this could further increase the number of bed bugs. All in all, it is important that bugs and eggs are absolutely destroyed.
Home remedies for bed bugs
As already mentioned, a professional procedure is unavoidable in the case of bed bug infestation. However, home remedies can also be used to force the fight against the beasts and to put an end to the whole thing more quickly. Danger: The sole use of home remedies should be avoided. Please also discuss your own procedure with the pest killer.
A home remedy for bed bugs is turmeric, which has an antimicrobial effect. Sprinkle the spice into the bug hiding place and then seal it with silicone. Another possibility is to spray the affected objects with isopropanol. Place scented candles in the room that smell of mint, cedar or clove. Smoking with smoking sticks is also an option. In the case, lavender is worth trying. Simply place lavender sachets or lavender soap between your garments. You can place heat-insensitive objects in the blazing sun for a few hours. However, it must be at least 45 degrees Celsius there.
Prevent bed bugs
In any case, everything should be done so that bed bugs do not settle in their own home. When traveling, the hotel room is best examined for the small insects or their legacies. Not only should the entire bed be checked, but also lamps, bedside tables, sockets and wall cladding. Suitcases and bags are preferably locked and kept away from the bed.
If you discover bed bugs, report it and ask for another room. If you have already slept in the "infested" room, the luggage must be checked carefully. This is best done in the bathtub. There you can spot bugs that make themselves out of the dust. Such a piece of luggage could also be fumigated by a pest controller. In the following days and weeks, pay attention to whether any stitches show up on you. Used items should be checked for bug infestation before purchase.
Always keep the used laundry in a closed container when traveling. Also with a piece of lavender soap. At home, first empty the container in the washing machine. Change your bedding regularly and wash everything at at least 45 degrees, better still at 60 degrees Celsius. The dryer supports the whole thing even more. As an alternative, wet clothes are hung in the sun. (sw)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Federal Environment Agency (UBA): Bed bugs: Detect, prevent, combat (accessed: January 30, 2019), UBA
- Vander Pan, Arlette: Studies on pyrethroid resistance in the bed bug Cimex Lectularius in Berlin, Germany, dissertation, Free University Berlin (accessed: January 30, 2020), FU Berlin
- Dang, Kai; Doggett, Stephen L .; Singham, G. Veera; Lee, Chow-Yang: Insecticide resistance and resistance mechanisms in bed bugs, Cimex spp. (Hemiptera: Cimicidae), in: Parasites & Vectors, 10 (1): 318, June 2017, BMC
- Lai, Olivia; Ho, Derek; Glick, Sharon; Jagdeo, Jared: Bed bugs and possible transmission of human pathogens: a systematic review, in: Archives of Dermatological Research, 308/8: 531-538, October 2016, Springer