Bedbugs are small wingless parasites that live in bedding and soft furnishings. They feed on the blood of their victim and are pale coloured when hungry and reddish brown after a feed from their host.
These insects come out of their hiding places at night, attracted to the carbon dioxide that we breathe out and to our body heat, which is why they particularly like a sleeping host – thus the name ‘bed bugs’.
All homes are at risk of a bed bug infestation, but outbreaks often occur where there is a high turnover of visitors, such as hostels and hotels. The insects bite the host and inject a numbing substance in their saliva which is why their bites go unnoticed. The saliva also has an anti-clotting agent so they can enjoy a lengthy feed of your blood.
The inflammation and red marks resulting from bed bug bites is thought to be as a result of these substances, but often people are only aware of having been bitten is the presence of tiny spots of blood or animal faeces on their sheets.
Bed bugs are opportunistic, and hide well, so an infestation is not a sign of an unclean place to stay. However in order to rid a place of bed bugs you will need to be persistent, clean thoroughly and often use insecticides several times to ensure the area is bed bug free.
Anything that can be washed should be washed using hot water. Any other item that cannot be washed may be placed in a plastic bag and frozen for 24 hours. Furniture must be dismantled and drawers and cupboards opened before thorough spraying with a suitable insecticide. All foods and pets must be removed before the insecticide is sprayed, and bathroom items such as toothbrushes removed or sealed away from the insecticide.
The insecticide must be allowed to dry before the rooms are reassembled, with consideration given to repeating the fumigation to ensure that the infestation is successfully eliminated.
The source of any infestation must also be considered, it is not uncommon for second hand furniture to act as the mode of transmission from one house to another, so careful inspection before use is often a useful preventative measure.
In order to treat the bites you will need to use the same sort of treatments as you would any other insect bite. Often the allergic reaction is persistent, so you may need oral antihistamines, as well as mild anti-inflammatory creams such as hydrocortisone cream. Remember to keep the skin well moisturised in order to limit the damage caused by scratching or sharp fingernails.
Talk to your pharmacist about suitable treatments for both the bites and to rid the infestation. Your pharmacist will be able to advise you about managing the effects of any infestation as well as prevent their return.