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Bedbugs: Your Questions Answered

WebMD readers get answers to their questions about bedbugs.
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

bedbug

Sept. 24, 2010 -- Bedbugs are like vampires. They suck your blood, and they are all the rage right now.

Unfortunately, the nasty little critters aren’t fictional creatures out of the Dracula or Twilight sagas. They are all too real. And they're not afraid of garlic.

Missy Henriksen, a spokeswoman for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), answers questions from the WebMD audience about how to spot bedbugs, how to get rid of them (no, you don’t need tiny wooden stakes), and how to prevent them from invading your space in the first place.

Bedbug Basics

What exactly are bedbugs and how do you know if you have them?

Bedbugs are bloodsuckers that feed mostly on humans. It’s a myth that they are too small to see. In fact, says Henriksen, they look like apple seeds or lentils. The first sign that you have a problem? You’ll wake up to find itchy welts on your skin, frequently in groups of three -- one each to indicate your guest’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You might also spot pepper flake-like particles that Henriksen delicately calls bedbug dirt. 

Where are these things prevalent?

Bedbugs are most commonly found in and around your bed: your mattress, where the box spring and mattress connect, and in the dust ruffle that circles the bottom of your bed. But they can also be found in the walls, in picture frames, and other pieces of furniture.

Are bedbugs attracted to the fibers or the material used to make mattresses?

No. These night feeders are attracted to carbon dioxide, which we expel with every breath. 

Cleanliness Questions

Are bedbugs attracted to dirty people?

No. Bedbugs, says Henriksen, are equal opportunity biters -- they’ll go after you whether you are dirty or clean. 

Can a person prevent them by keeping a clean place?

Again, no. “You’ll find them in budget motels as well as five-star resorts,” Henriksen says. But you can make it easier to get rid of them if you reduce clutter. That way, they have fewer places to hide when the pest pros show up. 

If caught early, could one take steps to prevent them from multiplying? [Such as] vacuuming, throwing away items they may have laid their eggs in, and putting all your personal items (such as books, pics) in a freezer?

No. Although you may be able to spot and kill a bed bug or two, that doesn’t get at the root problem, which is the infestation itself. Henriksen says that professionals consider bedbugs the single most difficult pest to eliminate. “It’s not a do-it-yourself pest.” 

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