Bedbugs are true bugs (Hemiptera), belonging to the family Cimicidae. All members of this family feed on blood from warm-blooded animals in order to develop and to reproduce. (Most bugs feed on plants).
Bedbugs can spread rapidly – a female adult can lay up to 10 eggs a day, and 200-500 eggs in their lifetime. This means prompt detection and taking swift, effective action are key to controlling an infestation.
Bedbug eggs are about 1 mm long and 'glued' into cracks and crevices in bed frames, furniture and any dark places. They hatch in 10 to 20 days. Development time is highly influenced by temperature. Below 13°C all development ceases, females stop laying and any eggs that have been laid do not hatch. Bedbugs are therefore usually more active and common in the warmer months of the year, but many homes will provide the right conditions all year round.
At night, bedbugs crawl out from where they have been resting, to feed on blood.
What do they look like?
Adult bedbugs are brown in colour, but when filled with blood, their colour ranges from red to dark brown. They are oval in shape and adults are about the size of an apple seed, around 7 mm in length. Their mouths are adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood.
The egg and first nymphs are about 1 mm in length. They will go through a total of five cycles of moulting before they will reach their adult size. You may see the moulted skins that the nymphs leave behind.
Bedbugs do not have wings, but they have six well-developed legs, which enable them to crawl up vertical surfaces such as bed frames.
Where are they found?
Bedbugs are becoming an increasing problem in the UK and their rise may be related to an increase in international travel.
Bedbugs will stay close to where their host rests or sleeps - in the bed frame, mattress, bedside furniture, sofa, skirting boards or wallpaper - places that provide a dark hiding place during daylight hours.
Bedbugs can be passively transported in clothing, or in luggage and furniture. Once introduced into a building, they can spread easily from room to room.
What are the risks?
Bed bugs are not known to spread diseases to or between humans. Bedbug bites can however cause acute irritation and distress.
Health risks include allergies to their droppings and remains, which can cause asthma. Additionally, reactions to the bite, or multiple bites, can cause itching, and trigger rashes or eczema. More rarely, some people develop severe systemic reactions such as infections and anaphylaxis.
Advice on treating bites can be found at Bedbugs - NHS (www.nhs.uk)
You can treat bites by putting something cool, like a clean, damp cloth, on the affected area, which may help with the itching and any swelling. You should also keep the affected area clean. Excessive scratching of bedbug bites can sometimes lead to infections.
You should consult a pharmacist for advice and treatment if you develop an itchy rash or eczema. For itching, your pharmacist may recommend creams or lotions for insect bite relief, a hydrocortisone cream or antihistamine tablets.
How to prevent a bedbug infestation
Bedbugs are usually transported in clothing, luggage, books, and furniture; anything that provides them with a small place to crawl into.
To help prevent a bedbug infestation:
- keep your home clean and regularly vacuumed
- wash bedding regularly
- do not keep clutter around your bed
- seal cracks and crevices in door frames and behind skirting boards
To reduce the risk of bringing bedbugs home:
- do not bring second hand furniture indoors without carefully checking it first
- if you have been somewhere where you know there were bedbugs, do not take luggage or clothing indoors without checking it carefully first
Getting rid of bedbugs
Small and sometimes difficult to see, these pests can cause discomfort but are rarely dangerous.
There are a number of factors that are helping to maintain the numbers of bedbugs, including the increased use of central heating - warm conditions stimulate continuous activity and feeding over the winter months.
The British Pest Control Association has some useful information on controlling bedbugs.
If you have found bedbugs in your home, you are likely to need professional help from a pest control contractor. It's can be very difficult to get rid of bedbugs yourself because they can be hard to find and may be resistant to some insecticides.
A trained professional will have the technical knowledge needed, plus access to a range of professional use products and equipment not available to the public.
If you find bedbugs, there are a few things you can try:
- wash everything at a hot (60°C) temperature setting; tumble dry at a hot setting for at least 30 minutes
- dry clean things that cannot be washed, or place everything into a bag and then in the deep freezer for 3 or 4 days
- clean and vacuum regularly – bedbugs are found in both clean and dirty places, but regular cleaning will help you spot them early
If you use insecticides yourself, always follow the instructions on the label.
You might have to dispose of soft furnishing and mattresses in some cases.
The Council are only able to treat bedbugs in YHN properties. Please use this link to Report this pest.
If you live in privately rented accommodation, or wish to report bedbugs in a commercial premises such as a hotel, please contact: Public Safety & Regulation Civic Centre Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8QH. Telephone: 0191 278 7878 and ask for "environmental health", or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The role of the Council
Any property infested with bedbugs can be classified as being in a “verminous condition” under the Public Health Act 1936, and therefore owners may be obliged to have their premises disinfected. Bedbugs are not, however, regarded as disease carriers but can cause severe irritation and their spread should be controlled.
The question of who is responsible for dealing with infestations in privately rented housing depends in part on:
- whether there are any relevant clauses in the tenancy agreement
- whether the property was already pest or vermin-infested when the tenant moved in or was caused by a structural defect or disrepair, or
- whether the infestation may have resulted from some act or omission of the tenant
When dealing with pests in and around homes, local authorities have various powers at their disposal, including the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949, the Public Health Act 1936, and the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Local authority powers and duties under the Housing Act 2004 may also be relevant.
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