Bed bug reports are increasing

Recent reports of bed bugs are increasingBed bugs have become a growing nuisance for homeowners, travelers, medical assistants and doctors in the past few years. Recent reports have found that the cases of bed bugs have been increasing within the last few months, but a seasonal pattern is emerging.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health has been studying bed bug infestations for the past several years and they have found that until recently it was difficult to determine any pattern in their contamination. Depending on the season and climate, reports of bed bugs will fluctuate, which indicates a change in their mobility. In Philadelphia, where these reports are being studied, residents made more than 230 complaints of bed bug infestations in a nine-month period, and the majority of these were made during the warmer months. Control programs to combat these bugs can be guided by seasonal trends that are emerging. 1

How health care professionals diagnose bed bug bites

Because bed bugs are hard to see, bites on the body are the most common way health care providers can diagnose whether a patient has been exposed. Red, itchy welts will appear in a serrated pattern and are commonly mistaken for hives, chickenpox or a rash. The best way for doctors, nurses and medical assisting professionals to determine if bed bugs are the culprit is to ask patients to inspect their beds or homes for signs of bed bugs. Different methods can be used to detect them. Bed bugs emit a sweet but stale odor because they release chemicals to communicate. Blackish specks of excrement left behind may be evident on bedding or upholstered furniture. Bed bugs also shed their exoskeleton, which resemble shell-like remains and can indicate they have invaded the space. Specks of blood on sheets or mattress pads near the seams is another indicator, as well as the presence of their eggs, which are about the size of an orange seed. 2

How bed bug bites are treated

People react differently to bed bug bites. In some, bites will appear after a few hours and in others they may take up to a week to manifest. Health care professionals should look for bites, blisters, hives or a skin infection that can occur if the bites are scratched. Treating the itch is the first form of defense against a skin infection, and antihistamine pills or liquids can help with this, as well as corticosteroids applied directly to the rash. If a skin infection is diagnosed, it can be treated with an antiseptic medication or antibiotic. Determining if the bites on the body are actually from bed bugs is an important step, however, because some topical medications may not treat other infections. Antihistamine injections may be necessary for those experiencing a severe allergic reaction to the bites.

How to prevent bed bug infestation

The best way to protect against another bed bug attack is to clean the area that was infested, and if possible to buy a new mattress or bedding. Vacuuming mattresses or other furniture that may have been contaminated is a good way to start as this removes the exposed bugs and their eggs. Covering the mattress in a vinyl cover with a zipper is another method, but the cover should stay on for at least a year after the initial infestation because bed bugs can live for that long without feeding. Any tears detected in the cover on the mattress should be sealed with duct tape.  Pulling the bed away from the wall is also suggested. Bed bugs can climb up the legs of bed frames, so use a talc-filled interceptor that fits under each bed leg to trap the bugs. These can be purchased or made at home with plastic cups filled with mineral oil, but they should be emptied frequently. When traveling, inspecting the room for signs of bed bugs is a good step in preventing bites. When shopping for new furniture, avoid secondhand mattresses or other upholstered furniture because they can be hard to detect. 3

1 George, John, “Penn Medicine Epidemiologists Find Bed Bug Hotspots in Philadelphia, Identify Seasonal Trends,” University of Penn Health System, Jan. 2014,  http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/News_Releases/2014/01/levy/ 

2 “Bed Bugs: Diagnosis, Treatment & Outcome,” American Academy of Dermatology, http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/a—d/bedbugs/diagnosis-treatment {make actual link}

3 Staff, “Bed Bugs: Tips for Preventing,” American Academy of Dermatology, http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/a—d/bedbugs/tips

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