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Column originally published Jul 30, 2019

You Can Avoid Bed Bugs From Infesting Your Home

Question: Last week, my aging parents found several bed bugs in their apartment. They are planning to visit us next month. I am terrified that they may bring these creatures into our home. Is there anything that we can do to prevent this? Also, can we pick up these bed bugs if we visit them?


I can see that you are terrified of bed bugs crawling all over your house. Calm down! Let me tell you a little more about these creatures, and how you can prevent them from entering your home.

Bed bugs are tiny flightless insects that have existed with human for thousands of years. They are found all over the world. We are their main target, they need our blood to grow and reproduce. In this way, they are similar to mosquitoes.

They are very small, varying from one to 7 mm in size. Unless you look carefully, you can miss them. Mature females can lay up to 500 eggs over several months. After hatching, immature insects need to feed on us to grow and mature through several nymph stages to become adult insects.

Bed bugs, as their name implies, are usually found around beds. They come out at night from their hiding places: tiny cracks in bed frames, or mattresses and box springs. They can also hide in other furniture, or among clothing and clutter near the bed. They have a flat body, which makes it ideal for hiding anywhere. They can crawl fairly quickly from their hiding places and feed on our exposed areas, including face, neck, arms, and legs. It only takes a few minutes to get a full blood meal.

We cannot feel their bite because they inject a substance to numb our skin while feeding. Some may develop a rash similar to mosquito bite. Only rarely can one develop blisters or more severe reaction.

Fortunately, they don’t transmit infections; they are not harmful to our health. However, the psychological effect of having bed bug in one’s home can be quite traumatic. There is a marked increase in bed bug infestation in North America in the last few decades. Even five-star hotels are affected. They have developed resistance to many common insecticides, making it difficult for eradication.

Before you do anything, it is wise to make sure that your parents have bed bug infestation. If they have caught these insects, they can bring them to professional exterminator companies for identification. Bed bugs also produce a special odour; sniffing dogs have been trained to identify them.

If infestation is confirmed, they should consider professional extermination. They should not attempt to do this themselves. Professionals have tools that are more effective; they may have to do this multiple times to make sure these bed bugs are all gone.

In the meantime, if they are coming for a visit, take a few precautions. When they arrive, keep their luggage in your garage, or keep them in sealed garbage bags. Bring in their clothing and put them through high heat cycles of washer and dryer; this will kill the bed bugs. If you have to bring in any other belonging, inspect them carefully to make sure that eggs and insects are not hiding inside. You can go to find images of bed bugs on the internet to help with identification.

If you go to visit them, keep your luggage and belonging sealed in large garbage bags away from bedrooms to prevent insects crawling and hiding inside. Bring out the clothes that you need, and wash them with high heat cycles before you leave, and after you come home.

Remember this, bed bugs like to stay around the bed area, in the bedroom. Things around the bed, including other furniture, are their favourite hiding places. Bed bugs can hide without feeding for about one year and still survive. If you are careful, you can reduce the chance of bed bug infestation, whether from your parents, or from other places that you visit.