A common question we receive through phone calls, emails, and blog discussion is “what causes bed bugs?” People that have infestations are usually experiencing bed bugs for the first time in their life, due to bed bugs experiencing a fairly recent resurgence in North America. It can be frustrating to have an infestation but not understand where it may have come from. There are also many myths and misconceptions about bed bugs that promote a stigma on people who are suffering from them.
Where are bed bugs found?
After their near eradication in the middle of the 20th century, bed bugs were reduced to mostly appearing in developing countries, like in Africa and the Middle East. However, a sharp rise in the popularity of transcontinental travel – coupled with resistance to most contemporary insecticides – allowed bed bugs to return in strength to developed countries around the world. They are now rapidly spreading across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, among other Western nations.
Contrary to popular belief, cleanliness of living conditions has nothing to do with the likelihood of a bed bug infestation. They are found daily anywhere from motels to mansions. Anywhere where people sleep and travel is fair game. Bed bugs are most often encountered for the first time in a place of public frequenting, like an airport, train, or hotel.
How do they spread?
Photo credit: Orkin LLC
Another misconception about bed bugs is how they spread from person to person. People like to compare bed bugs to fleas or ticks, picturing them as jumping bugs that crawl all over an infested person, looking for a passerby to hop onto. The fact is that bed bugs can’t jump or fly, and aren’t really that nimble. They spread through more subtle, but equally effective, means of travel.
Bed bugs are most commonly transported via luggage, after climbing into them in a hotel or airport. Once they’ve tucked into a dark hiding place, all they have to do is sit back and relax as their unsuspecting chauffeur sweeps them off to their new feeding ground, hundreds or even thousands of miles away.
Business-class travel isn’t a bed bug’s only method of house-swapping. It’s also very common for them to spread between units of an infested apartment complex, usually through the walls via peeling wallpaper, electrical outlets, and other wall voids. While moving from person to person through contact isn’t a bed bug’s specialty, it’s not unheard of.
What can I do to prevent bed bugs?
You’re probably a bit more scared of bed bugs now than before you started reading this article. That’s really a good thing: it means you have a desire and interest to take some simple preventative measures to hopefully avoid bringing a bed bug infestation (or reinfestation!) home.
Prevention starts as soon as you arrive to your hotel. Leave your luggage in the car, or keep them in the bathroom, to reduce the likelihood of bed bugs finding and hiding in them. Inspect all over your hotel room for signs of recent bed bug activity. When you arrive home, launder your clothes immediately on high heat settings, and treat the rest of your luggage with a portable bed bug heater. For more details on common prevention methods, check out our handy bed bug prevention guide.