Bed bugs, bed-bugs, or bedbugs are parasitic insects of the cimicid family that feed exclusively on blood. Cimex lectularius, the common bed bug, is the best known, as it prefers to feed on human blood. Other Cimex species specialize in other animals, e.g., bat bugs, such as Cimex pipistrelli (Europe), Cimex pilosellus (western US), and Cimex adjunctus (entire eastern US).
The name “bed bug” derives from the preferred habitat of Cimex lectularius: warm houses and especially nearby or inside of beds and bedding or other sleep areas. Bed bugs are mainly active at night, but are not exclusively nocturnal. They usually feed on their hosts without being noticed.
A number of adverse health effects may result from bed bug bites, including skin rashes, psychological effects, and allergic symptoms. They are not known to transmit any pathogens as disease vectors. Certain signs and symptoms suggest the presence of bed bugs; finding the insects confirms the diagnosis.
Bed bugs have been known as human parasites for thousands of years. At a point in the early 1940s, they were mostly eradicated in the developed world, but have increased in prevalence since 1995, likely due to pesticide resistance. Because infestation of human habitats has been on the increase, bed bug bites and related conditions have been on the rise as well.
If you have a very large infestation you may see bed bugs crawling in your home; however the most common first sign of bed bugs is bites on the people living in your house. These bites are most often found on arms, legs, or other body parts that are exposed while a person is sleeping. Bed bug bites usually manifest themselves as itchy welts that appear in a zigzag pattern. The actual bite of a bed bug is painless due to a numbing agent that is discharged when the bug bites, however, most people develop an allergic reaction to the saliva which causes the welts. Unfortunately bed bug bites are often hard to distinguish from other common bites like that of mosquitos, fleas, or spiders. It is also important to note that you may have two people living in the home and while one may have a reaction to bed bug bites the other person may not.
Currently it is believed that bed bugs do not pose a significant health risk to humans, however, there is a study from Penn Medicine researchers in the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics that has shown it is possible for bed bugs to transmit Trypanosoma cruzi. This is important because Trypanosoma cruzi is the parasite that causes Chagas disease, a deadly disease that is currently found in Latin America.
Even if a person does not contract Chagas from a bed bug, there are both psychological effects as well as monetary consequences from bed bugs. According to a study by Stéphane Perron, a doctor and researcher at the University of Montreal, when he looked at two groups of people, both of whom lived in unsafe apartments, those with bed bugs were significantly more likely to report anxiety and sleep disturbances than those without.
Bed bugs do not discriminate in regard to household income. They are found in both extremely wealthy areas as well as poor areas. No matter where you live, it can be difficult to exterminate bed bugs which lead to high costs for eradication. Seventy-six percent of the respondents to the 2013 Bugs without Borders Survey stated that bed bugs were the most difficult pest to treat. If you believe you might have bed bugs in your home it is imperative to look into ways to remove them immediately. The longer you wait, the worse the infestation will become.