Long considered eradicated in most metropolitan
areas, bed bugs are making a comeback. They are being found
in cities across the country, everywhere from homeless
shelters to five-star hotels. Contrary to popular belief,
the presence of bed bugs does not indicate a lack of
Why Have Bed Bugs Returned?
In the past, insecticides such as DDT helped to keep the
bed bug population at bay with residues that continued
working after the product was sprayed. Now, with the
increase in use of bait traps instead of broad spectrum
sprays, specific pests such as ants and cockroaches are
being targeted, and bed bugs are no longer being eliminated.
In addition, people now travel more than ever before.
Places that see a great deal of turnover such as hotels give
bed bugs the opportunity to travel to new locations on
luggage or clothing.
Why Are Bed Bugs a Problem?
Bed bugs are nuisances and are generally off-putting to
people, but they do not pose any major health risks. As with
mosquitoes, people can be allergic to their bites, which can
cause swelling, itchy welts and in some cases infections.
However, they are not known to carry any blood-borne
diseases. Bed bugs are mainly active at night. As they
typically feed when people are sound asleep, their bites may
not be detected immediately. One species of bed bug feeds
primarily on humans, but there are other species that feed
on other mammals and on birds. Bed bugs are moved into and
around a dwelling through infested furniture and bedding.
They can also enter a home or hotel by being carried in on
clothing or luggage.
Identifying Bed Bugs
Bed bugs have an oval body and a short, broad head. The
body as a whole is broad and flat. Unfed adults are around 6
to 10 mm long, brown and wingless. After feeding, they swell
slightly in size and darken to a blood-red colour. The
nymphs are shaped like the adults, but are yellow-white in
Itchy welts on skin, blood spots on sheets and/or black
or brown spots on mattresses, bed frames or walls often
indicate that there is a bed bug infestation.
Bed bugs are also known by several names: wall louse,
house bug, mahogany flat, red coat, crimson ramblers as well
The bed bug eggs are white and about 1 mm long, and almost
impossible to see on most surfaces. The female bed bug lays
about 200 eggs in her lifetime, at a rate of about 3 or 4
per day. The eggs have a sticky coating and are deposited in
cracks and crevices, behind woodwork and similar hidden
locations. They hatch in 6 to 17 days.
Newly hatched nymphs feed as soon as food is available. A
bed bug goes through five moults before it reaches full
Adults usually live for around 10 months, but can live for a
year or more. In a home, where the environment is conducive
to their reproduction (their ideal breeding temperature is
between 21° to 28°C), bed bugs can breed year round. Bed
bugs are wingless and cannot fly or jump, but are able to
enter into extremely small locations in the home because of
their flattened bodies. Bed bugs can live for several weeks
to several months without feeding, depending on the
temperature. They can go without feeding for 80 to 140 days;
older bed bugs can go without feeding longer than younger
ones. Adults have been known to survive for as long as 550
days (over a year and a half!) without feeding.
What You Can Do Around Your Home
Bed bugs are small and can hide in a myriad of
places—under wallpaper, behind picture frames, in electrical
outlets, inside box springs, in mattress pads, in night
tables… You must be very thorough in order to properly
address bed bug infestations. As bed bugs can travel up to
30 m and can be transported in clothing, luggage or other
household items, you may have to treat nearby rooms to
prevent the infestation from continuing.
If you suspect that you have a bed bug infestation, you
can either choose to treat them yourself or you can call in
a professional Pest Control Operator. Most of the time, bed
bug infestations will require more than one treatment
as well as physical means of control.
Infested areas should be vacuumed carefully with a brush
attachment, and the bag should be disposed of immediately
afterwards. When inspecting your bed, examine the seams,
tufts and crevices of the mattress, box spring, bed frame
and headboard carefully. Bed bugs prefer wood and fabric to
metal or plastic. Mattresses and box springs should be
steam-cleaned. Mattresses can be wrapped in zippered bed
encasements, available from allergy supply companies, or
wrapped and sealed in plastic film. Mattress pads and sheets
should be washed in hot water and dried on the high setting.
You may have to remove the cloth underside of the box spring
to determine if there are bed bugs inside.
Bed bugs cannot easily climb metal or polished surfaces,
and they cannot fly or jump, so treating the legs of beds
will help keep them away. Coat the legs with double-sided
carpet tape or petroleum jelly. You can also place the legs
of the bed inside glass jars or metal cans.
Treating a bed effectively can be quite challenging.
Holes or worn spots in the fabric may allow bed bugs to lay
eggs in areas not easily reached, and there are restrictions
on how insecticides can be used on beds. Carefully examine
all night tables, baseboards, dressers, headboards
(especially padded ones), electrical outlets, any items
stored near or under the bed, any nearby carpeting or rugs,
picture frames, switch plates, inside clocks, phones,
televisions and smoke detectors—in short, anything and
everything that is in the room where the infestation has
been noted. Upholstered chairs and sofas can also harbour
bed bugs and should be treated with careful vacuuming and
laundering of all possible parts (cushions, slipcovers,
Controlling Breeding Sites
Any clutter must be reduced or removed entirely. Bed bugs
hide in miniscule areas, and any belongings left lying
around provide a perfect opportunity for them to hide and
continue to breed. Affected bedding and clothing should be
bagged and laundered on the high setting, or discarded, as
these products cannot be treated by the application of
Smaller items that cannot be laundered can sometimes be
treated through heating (temperatures greater than 50°C) or
freezing. Some items can be wrapped in plastic wrap and
placed outdoors on a hot, sunny day, or in sub-zero
temperatures in the winter. However, the freezing
temperatures must be maintained for a prolonged period of
time (e.g., 2 days of cold exposure at 0°C) to ensure that
the bed bugs are killed.Trying to raise or lower the
temperature in your entire house or apartment will not work
to kill the bed bugs.
Vacuuming can be helpful in removing bugs and eggs from
carpet, mattresses, walls and other surfaces. It is very
important to pay close attention to seams, tufts and edges
of mattresses and box springs, and the outer edge of
wall-to-wall carpeting. Steam cleaning carpeting can also be
effective in killing bugs and eggs not picked up by regular
While bed bugs prefer to feed on humans, they can and will
feed on other mammals and birds. Some bed bug species are
parasites of bats or birds and may bite people if the wild
hosts are not available. If bat bugs or bird bugs are
involved, roosting and nesting sites should also be treated,
and the animals excluded from the building.
In addition, be cautious about taking in second-hand
furniture, bedding, mattresses or beds. At the very minimum,
these items should be carefully inspected before being
brought into the home in order to protect you and your
Chemical Control Methods
Domestic class products available to homeowners will
generally contain the active ingredient pyrethrin or
diatomaceous earth. Always read the label carefully and be
certain that the product purchased is registered for use
against your particular pest problem. Care should be used
when using pesticides, as many may not be suitable for
fabrics, wallpaper, woods or other surfaces due to staining
or potential contamination.
Also, several commercial class products are available to
professional Pest Control Operators. These may include low-odour
sprays, dusts or aerosols; your Pest Control Operator will
select the best product for your particular situation.
Note that bed bug infestations can be challenging to
treat, and repeat applications may be required. Always
follow the label directions on the pesticide to minimize
exposure and maximize efficacy of the product. Between
applications of pesticide products, use integrated pest
management techniques to physically control ongoing or
future infestations. These techniques can be found in the
Controlling Breeding Sites section of this Pest Note.
Before Purchasing a Pesticide Product
- Identify the pest correctly.
- Use physical control methods and alternatives to
- Read the label directions and safety precautions
before buying the product. The label must include the
name of the pest to be controlled and the treatment
location (e.g., indoor, outdoor, garden uses, pet
- Purchase only the quantity of product needed for the
- Alternatively, you may choose to hire a licensed
pest control operator.
When Using a Pesticide
- Carefully read all label instructions and
precautions before using pesticides.
- Do not drink, eat or smoke while applying
- Persons and pets should vacate the area during
treatment. Cover or remove aquaria.
- If kitchen area is to be treated, cover or remove
food, dishes and utensils.
After Handling a Pesticide
- Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling any
- Do not permit persons or pets to contact treated
surfaces until residue has dried completely.
- Provide adequate ventilation of treated areas after
- Wipe clean all surfaces that come in direct contact
with food, such as counters, tables and stovetops,
including indoor and outdoor surfaces.
- Always store pesticides out of reach of children and
pets and away
from food and beverages.
In Case of Accidental Poisoning
- Call a poison control centre immediately and seek
- Take the pesticide container or label with you to
the emergency facility or physician.
- Follow the first aid statements on the label.
- In case of accidental poisoning of pets, seek
veterinary attention immediately.
When Disposing of Pesticides
- Do not reuse empty pesticide containers. Wrap and
dispose of in household garbage.
- Unused or partially used pesticide products should
be disposed of at provincially or municipally designated
household hazardous waste disposal sites.
Use Common Sense
- These are general recommendations.
- Consult the label for specific instructions.
- When in doubt, contact a professional.