The Dallas County Health Department occasionally receives calls asking about bed bugs, which are insects that feed on the blood of animals and people. Bed bugs look like a flat apple seed and are attracted to body heat and exhaled carbon dioxide.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control ranks the health risks related to bed bugs as low. Bites may cause itching and very rarely an allergic reaction. Excessive scratching could cause a secondary skin infection.
Bed bugs can survive several months without eating — hiding in furniture, mattresses, bedding, luggage, carpet or clothing.
Bed bugs move from place to place when we accidently carry them in these items. If everyone is cautious about buying and trading used items, fewer bed bugs will spread from one household to another.
If you find or suspect the presence of bed bugs on mattresses and box springs, seal them for at least five months in a heavy plastic encasement with a zipper that prevents escape. The mattress can be used during this period.
Blankets, pillows, clothing and soft toys can be treated by putting them in a hot dryer for at least 40 minutes.
Having to replace furniture and beds because of a bed bug infestation could be very expensive. It’s less costly to encase and kill bed bugs than to buy new mattresses and box springs.
According to pest management professionals, encasing mattresses or using heat on a whole house often is more effective than treating with pesticides. Treatments using aerosols (bug bombs) are ineffective against well-hidden bed bugs and can present a fire or explosion hazard. Their use is not recommended.
Research has shown that freezing bed bugs for 30 days can work, but the temperature must consistently stay below 32 degrees the entire time. Professionals can apply freezing carbon dioxide as a “snow,” but this only kills bed bugs it touches and not those hidden inside items.
Bed bugs traps are used to detect infestations, to estimate how many are present, but the traps do not control the problem.
You can stop the spread of bed bugs. Treat the infested items — don’t put an infested mattress or couch on the curb or by a dumpster where someone else might claim it. Beware of used furniture, books, luggage and boxes. Bed bugs can even hide in seams of wooden and plastic furniture. Consider treating garage sale items before use.
Ann Cochram is the health navigation coordinator in the Dallas County Public Health Department.