By Kayse Hinrichsen, Head Start Services Supervisor
What are they?
Bedbugs are small reddish-brown bugs that often live in houses and feed off human blood. Bedbugs cannot fly and can be seen by the human eye, although they prefer to hide during the day and come out to feed at night.
How do I know if I have them?
People know they have bedbugs first if they actually see the bugs in their home, but also if they wake up with bug bites that often irritate the skin and create a rash or swelling. To know for sure if you have bedbugs, take a flashlight and look in the seams of your mattress or furniture to find the bugs in their hiding spot. You may also notice small specks of blood on your bedding from their nighttime feedings. Remember they are most active at night, so you may find it easiest to see them by turning off your lights and using a flashlight.
How do I prevent them from entering my house?
Bedbugs are transmitted by hitching a ride on clothing or other items moved from place to place. Travelers are at risk if they leave their luggage or clothing on hotel floors or beds in places where they could be infested without your knowledge. If you are concerned about bedbugs make sure to take caution not to sit on couches or beds in homes that you think may be infested. Sit on hard chairs or the floor and do not leave your jacket or bag in an area where something could easily crawl onto it and hide.
If you are concerned your clothing or bag may have been contaminated, do not bring it into your home. Inspect the seams and every crevice then put it directly into the washing machine. This may not kill everything, but it will lessen the odds of you bringing bedbugs into your home. Some people have had success in using DEET as a replant when they enter a location that may be infested. You can spray it on mattresses, clothing or your bag if you are concerned about transmission; just make sure to read the warning label about the impacts of DEET on pregnant women and children.
How do I get rid of bedbugs?
Bedbugs are difficult to get rid of, but not impossible. To get rid of bedbugs you must be VERY diligent in your cleaning. You must get rid of all piles of clothing, bedding or other items that offer a place to hide, seal cracks in the wall, seal outlets, wash clothing and bedding at high temperatures, vacuum, seal your mattress in a plastic mattress bag and ultimately clean everything in your home. Bedbugs can live in your walls for months, even up to a year, so you will need to be very serious about keeping everything clean and taking the time to search out and kill the bugs with a flashlight on a routine basis.
Pesticides are another option to help eradicate bedbugs, but these techniques are not always available and often have many downsides as well. If you choose to use pesticides visit the EPA website at www.epa.gov/bedbugs for more information and always read all labels and adhere to any guidance for that product.
For more information about bed bugs, visit the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Environmental Health Pesticide Control Program website at https://dec.alaska.gov/eh/pest/bedbugs.html. For further questions, please contact your local health center.