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The Informed Parent

Bed Bugs

by Shanna R. Cox, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Nov. 22, 2010

Bed bug infestations are on the rise, and as it turns out they really are a blood sucking parasite! Many of you have been asking more about these pests of late during office visits. Here is some information to be more aware and perhaps active in attempting to avoid these guys.

History notes that the bed bug population had been on the decline until recent years. Some believe this lack of experience in noticing and eradicating these ecto or external parasites has allowed them to flourish. Increased travel, stays in hotels and hostels, crowded housing with frequent turnover, and pesticide resistance are also thought to allow bed bugs to move around and propagate at unprecedented rates.

Bed bugs generally hide during the light of day, retreating to crevices and creases. They are flat and brownish red, and have no wings. But they are quick, reportedly able to travel up to a hundred feet at night. They are frequently carried elsewhere in luggage, on clothing, or on furniture.

At night bed bugs seek out their blood meal from biting humans or animals. They are crafty. Along with a bite an anesthetic and anticoagulant material is also injected so that they are not discovered. After the feed, they return to their hiding places.

Bed bug presences are generally found from either a person noting typical bites, or the remains of the parasite. A person or animal may develop an allergic reaction to the bed bug bite that makes it a noticeable red wheal, typically on the hands, arms, neck and face in a linear or clustered distribution. It is possible to have a severe allergic reaction to bed bug bites, meaning urticarial or even anaphylactic response, but it is rare. 

They are itchy and may become secondarily infected making it both difficult to diagnose and more complicated to treat. You can look for bed bugs preemptively by scanning mattresses, headboards and furniture for signs of the exoskeleton left behind during molting. Or look for staining left by the blood tinged excrement left by the parasite. Helpful and disgusting pictures are available at the Centers for Disease Control Website:, search “bed bugs”.

It’s best to check in with your public health department, pest control, or the environmental protection agency if you discover a problem. There are strong resistance patterns that have been noted. It would not be wise to use an ineffective harsh chemical for eradication only to cause unintended side effects for your family. In the meantime, try to live clutter free, wash linens in hot water, be an astute traveler, and keep your eyes open…don’t let the bed bugs bite!

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