Bedbugs? There’s Help for That

Cleveland Clinic shares strategies to help people who are troubled with bedbugs.

picture of bedbugs“Don’t let the bedbugs bite” is most likely a very old saying, as those little critters have been around for a long time. Bedbug infestations are on the rise. Although all 50 states have reported bedbug infestations, New York City and Philadelphia have been particularly hard hit in recent years.

The Cleveland Clinic recently published an article detailing why bedbugs have had such a resurgence and what doctors can do to help their patients.

The article authors are Omer Ibrahim, MD, of the Department of Dermatology, Cleveland Clinic; Usama Mohammad Syed, MBBS, Bsc, of the Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, UK; and Kenneth J. Tomecki, MD, of the Department of Dermatology, Cleveland Clinic.

The common bedbug, Cimex lectularius, has been co-existing with humans for at least 3,500 years. Bedbug infestations were relatively common prior to the introduction of insecticides during World War II.

Unfortunately, pesticide resistance has increased and many of the more effective bedbug pesticides have been banned because of negative effects on human and environmental health. Physicians are often the people who wind up helping their patients deal with the problem.

Bedbugs live in dark habitats such as mattress seams, box springs, wallpaper seams and electrical outlets. The bugs typically feed on their human hosts between 1 AM and 5 AM for a period of three to 20 minutes. Once fully sated at a single feeding, the bedbug can survive for year without eating.

Refugee camps and lower income neighborhoods where many people live in a single apartment are more likely to have bedbug infestations, although bedbugs can also be found in clean, high income areas.

Bedbug bites are red and itch; they commonly show up first thing in the morning. Other signs are blood stains on sheets or pillowcases and an offensive, musty odor. The bites may cause a chronic dermatitis.

The first thing to do is confirm the infestation, which involves examining bedding and mattresses for signs of nests or the bugs themselves (adults are about the size of an apple seed).

All bedding, linens and curtains must be washed in hot water and dried in a dryer on the high setting. Items that can’t be washed can be placed in a hot dryer for 30 minutes. Extensive cleaning of mattresses, the bed and surrounding area is required – seams in a mattress should be brushed with a stiff brush prior to vacuuming.

Tightly woven zippered covers can be placed over mattresses to prevent bedbugs from getting into or out of the mattress. These are methods of control, not extermination

Professional pest control is usually required to exterminate bedbugs, as over-the-counter insecticides are typically ineffective and may be toxic to humans.

Physicians can treat patients who have dermatitis with antihistamines and corticosteroid creams, and treat secondary infections from scratching bedbug bites with antibiotics.

The article was published in the March issue of the Cleveland Clinic Journal.

Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, “Bedbugs: Helping your patient through an infestation”
WebMD, “Bedbugs”

Written by: Beth Greenwood, RN | Medically reviewed by: Dr. Robert Carlson, M.D.