Reader Question: is it a bed bug? If so, what to do?

by nobugsonme on June 25, 2007

in bed bug treatment, bed bugs, information and help, photos, photos of bed bugs, reader questions, signs and symptoms of bed bugs

A reader, “Waiting in Manhattan,” got in touch with me via email today. She found the insect below wandering around the living room in broad daylight, and she’s waiting to have it inspected by a pest control company tomorrow.

bed bug sample

This is pretty clearly a photo of a bed bug.

My question is: is there anything I can do in the meantime to help
protect myself in case this guy is a portent of things to come?

I should mention that I read the “bedbug dos-and-don’ts” and am clear
about not moving sleeping locations, etc. I also already have plastic
and allergenic covers on my mattress, bed frame and pillows, due to dust
allergies. I haven’t seen any bites, or evidence that bedbugs have been
anywhere near my bed–no blood trails, no black dots on the sheets,

I don’t want to freak out unnecessarily if this is a false alarm–but
I’d also hate to worsen the situation while I wait for a diagnosis.

First, Waiting, we’re sorry you are the latest person to read our “Do’s and Don’ts.” I mean, you definitely came to the right place, but I do wish the website could be closed down due to lack of relevance. (Or perhaps retained as a historical artefact of the internet?) Someday soon, I hope.

Anyway, you mention (in a part of your email not quoted) that your building is massive, and that the management reports bed bug complaints to be extremely rare. It sounds like your building management, like others all over the place, is going to find they become more and more frequent. A very large building such as yours will require education of the residents about spotting bed bugs and their signs (for example, many people do not react to bites, and will have to be on the lookout for other signals), and constant vigilance from everyone living there.

The bad news is, bed bugs walking around in daylight is a bad sign. Seeing even one bug is a bad sign.

The good news is that if you have inspected carefully and found no black fecal spots or specks (which can resemble magic marker on the bed, but can also resemble little black flecks of pepper), no blood spots (which can be bedbug-sized, or very small red or rust-colored pinpricks on the sheets), and no other bed bugs, eggs, or cast skins of any size (remember the nymphs can be 1/32 inch large and white, tan, red, or brown, the adults 1/6 inch), then perhaps the one you saw was a new arrival.

However, to be safe, you should assume that you have them somewhere, and have a Pest Control Operator (PCO) inspect carefully, and have the PCO treat your home.

Have the PCO inspect the apartment and furniture, including your mattress and pillow encasings, your bed frame, and other furniture in the room. If the bed/pillow encasings do not cover the entire mattress or pillow, or there are even small tears or holes, bed bugs could be living inside and going in and out. You say you have a covered frame, though any exposed parts of the frame may be harboring bed bugs. They like to hide in the tiniest spaces and they are very stealthy. One Bedbugger was told by her PCO that they could even hide in the veneer on the surface of the wood furniture. Hiding in the joints of table legs or within bed frames is entirely possible.

They can live in the floorboards, light fixtures, behind electrical plates, and in sofas, chairs, computer chairs, and other soft furniture. None of this is reason to panic! I am only going through all this because it really is essential that the space is checked carefully. You may not see any more bed bugs and may still have them–lots of us never find one–some are bitten badly for six months and do not find an actual bug, egg, or cast skin. (On that count, you’re lucky–because now you can take action!)

Do take it seriously, and have the PCO come and treat the whole apartment. It should not be the person who does preventative roach spraying for the building, but someone who really knows how to get rid of bed bugs. The PCO will give you extensive instructions for preparing for treatment (moving the furniture, washing and drying all clothes on hot and bagging in sealed plastic bags (e.g. XL Ziplocs). It may take you some time to do all that, but it is necessary. It also may seem like a lot in case you do just have “one bug” but the odds are you have more than one, or your neighbor(s) are sending more.

S/he will also treat your bed (encasements removed). After treatment, just to be safe, you may want to re-encase the mattress, pillow and box springs with fresh encasements designed to stop bed bugs, and you may want to “isolate your bed” as per our FAQs on protecting the bed. There are encasements that are vinyl on the inside and cloth outside, and others which are just vinyl, but it’s essential there are no small gaps, since the 1 mm first instar nymphs can go through the tiniest cracks.

If this one bug just wandered in from a neighbor on any side, as is likely, then they will keep coming. So your building should have the PCO inspect, and treat if necessary, every adjacent unit in a clover pattern (top, bottom, and on every side).

If you do have more than one bug living there, then the PCO will likely have to come back 2 or three times at two week-intervals (because the eggs do not get killed, and hatch in 10-14 days.

Other FAQs should be useful as you ensure your home is made bed bug free. The best thing I can say is if you can get your building to take this seriously, with as many units as it has, they would be wise to be aggressive in trying to locate and treat all infestations.

Hope that helps, but feel free to get in touch via the comments below (or the forums) if you have more questions.


Previous post:

Next post: