Where Do Bed Bugs Come From?
In the summer of 2015, New York had such a plague of bed bugs in its hotels and residential dwellings that one science writer was inspired to write an entire book on the subject.
Unfortunately, the news about bed bugs wasn’t “new”. Bed bugs arrived in the US with the Pilgrims (Native Americans were free of them), and it wasn’t until 2005 that the nasty little bugs even made the mainstream media.
In 2011, the United States actually held a National Bed Bug Summit in Washington, D.C. This was quickly followed by an international news report that described the U.S. infestation (of bed bugs, aka cimex lectularius) as “epidemic”, and asking if the epidemic might actually cause a war.
What Are Bed Bugs?
Small (about the size of an apple seed), brown, flattish, and turning red after they have ingested enough human blood, bed bugs – also called bedbugs – cannot fly, jump, or hop, but they can move very fast.
Bed bugs start out as an egg about the size of a dust mote. A female bedbug will lay hundreds of eggs, which mature from eggs to nymphs. These “juvenile” bed bugs require a meal of blood to shed their skins the requisite five times before maturity. After that, bed bugs can survive for months without feeding again.
Depending on the supply of humans, and human blood, bed bugs can mature as quickly as 21 days, and produce three or more successive generations in a year.
Unlike mosquitoes, which are attracted by the various chemicals in human blood rather than the blood itself, bed bugs need only the blood. They find it – and us – by the carbon dioxide emitted when we exhale, and by the heat of our bodies.
Moreover, bed bugs are not confined to beds. They can also be found in chairs or sofas, or wherever humans rest or recline. And although bed bugs tend to be more active at night – primarily because humans rest at that time – they can bite any time of the day or night. Turning on a light does not make bed bugs inactive.
Dirt is Not the Cause
Bed bugs are not attracted to human leavings, refuse, or dirt, like cockroaches, which carry and spread dysentery, typhoid fever, and cholera; fleas, which spread plague and rickettsiosis, and flies, which cause everything from intestinal illnesses to river blindness.
Bed bugs will live very comfortably in clean homes, as long as humans are present and the nest is not disturbed. They are also extremely difficult to eradicate, thanks to the tremendous resistance they have developed to the chemicals we invented to get rid of them.
Like bacteria, which routinely find their way around our newest and best antibiotics, bed bugs have found their way around even the modern pyrethrums, or plant-based insecticides, originally developed in ancient Persia (modern Iran) and synthesized in the late 1990s.
Bed Bugs and Disease
Because bed bugs do not thrive in nasty environments, they are not disease carriers, or disease vectors. However, they do bite, and the bite can be sufficiently itch y and annoying that some people scratch until they open the skin.
When this occurs, it can lead to secondary infections like impetigo, ecthyma, and lymphanigitis. Such open wounds also invite MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, an antibiotic-resistant bacterium that can lead to necrotizing fasciitis, or “flesh-eating disease”.
Some people are not affected by bed bugs, and do not react to bites or become aware of their bed bug problem until they see either a bug or the “blood spots” that indicate bed bug activity (see more about this in Symptoms).