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Bed bug infestations have been on the rise in the United States for the last couple of decades. Once associated with poor hygiene and poverty, the bugs' resurgence is, according to research, caused by international travel, immigration, changes in pest control practices, and insecticide resistance. Bed bugs live in places where there are ample human and animal hosts such as homes, apartments, hotels, and dormitories. They're difficult to eradicate and exterminator fees often run into the thousands of dollars.
Identifying Bed Bugs
While they don't carry disease, bed bugs present an existential nightmare for most. The surest way to identify an infestation is to find a live bed bug. Adult bugs can be spotted with the unaided eye; they're oval, flat, rusty-colored, and about 5 mm long. After feeding they're slightly more elongated (see a pre and post-feeding bed bug picture here).
Short of finding a live bed bug (which is tough to do because they feed at around 4 a.m. and hide during the day), household members or visitors might notice small, pink, itchy skin welts that resemble mosquito bites. Many bite victims don't react at all, although extreme reactions can lead to asthma, hives, and in rare cases, anaphylaxis. Other ways to identify bed bugs are their excrement (tiny dark spots), shed beg bug skin, and blood smears from crushed bugs.
Exterminating Bed Bugs
If you're like most people, even the slightest evidence of bed bugs is cause to call an exterminator. Here's what to expect once the local bug guy or gal arrives:
- A visual inspection to determine that there is indeed an infestation. Special bug-sniffing dogs are sometimes used to find bed bug hideouts.
- A combination of treatments, including steam heat, freezing, pesticides, and high-power vacuuming may be used to eliminate bed bugs. Treatments must directly contact bed bugs in order to be effective; bombs and foggers don't work.
- As the homeowner or building owner, you will also have to do some work to control bed bugs. Encasing mattresses (to traps bugs), laundering fabrics (you don't have to throw items away; dryer heat is effective at killing bed bugs), professional fumigation of larger items (typically furniture), cleaning, and decluttering may all need to be done before and after extermination.
- Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a comprehensive, sensible approach to pest control. Bed bug IPM might involve sealing cracks, crevices, doors, windows, and other bug access points. Discarded furniture, which can harbor and spread bed bugs, should also be avoided, or at least thoroughly laundered. Leaving infested furniture outdoors in extreme cold or heat for a couple of weeks also kills bed bugs.
Bed Bug Extermination Costs
- A visual inspection for bed bugs can cost $50 to $500, although some companies waive this charge in hopes that you'll hire them for extermination. Use of a bug-sniffing dog costs $300 to $600.
- The cost per room for bed bug extermination is $250 to $1,000 depending on the size of the room, the severity of the infestation, and the extermination techniques used. Treating an entire house for bed bugs can cost $5,000 - $10,000 or more in some cases. Follow-up visits are often needed. Find out whether the extermination price quoted includes repeat treatments.
- Other costs include mattress covers ($75 to $150 apiece) and professional fumigation of larger items. Doing prep work yourself (cleaning, removing clutter, laundering, bug-proofing beds) can save you money.
- The difficulty of removing bed bugs makes professional extermination highly advisable. Still, you can try DIY tactics before consulting the pros. Bed Bug Bully is a popular, non-toxic remedy. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers other DIY bed bug control strategies. For less than $20 you can set up this bed bug trap.