Bed bugs seem to have come out of nowhere in the last twenty years. They faded from modern American and Canadian life from the 1940s to about 2000. Almost a whole generation is baffled as to how to combat bed bugs. The first step in getting rid of bed bugs is to know your enemy.
Read on to find out where bed bugs come from and what causes them to come into your home in the first place.
It is a common misconception that dirt is what causes bed bugs to infest a home. Bed bugs come into a home from already infested places. They hitch a ride with anything left resting in an infested place and then picked up and carried away such as luggage, coats, purses, and cell phones.
Where Do Bed Bugs Come From?
Bed bugs come from any place already infested with them. For most of human history, bed bugs have been our constant squatters. Most places in the world still support thriving populations, such as in developing countries. With the rise of international travel, bed bugs found tourists to be excellent taxis to your neighborhood.
Back in the 1960s, any bed bug hitchhiker arriving in the US or Canada was in for a nasty surprise – killed by the widely used insecticide popularly known as DDT. However, after DDT was banned in the United States and Canada in 1972, and in most European countries by 2001, any bed bugs arriving from overseas were able to survive, breed and spread. The combination of more air travel and the DDT ban is what causes bed bugs.
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Why was DDT banned?
DDT is short for (brace yourself) dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane. It was made to kill a wide variety of bugs, but mainly those that ate food crops and disease-carrying mosquitoes. DDT just happened to also be effective against bed bugs. If this was such effective stuff, why was it banned?
DDT did not just kill bugs. It also wound up killing or severely harming anything that ate the bugs and then anything that ate the things that ate the DDT-infected bugs. The most dramatic impact was on birds. If the DDT did not kill the birds outright, it made them unable to lay eggshells. Their bodies were still able to produce everything in the shell but without a shell to protect it, the chicks had no chance of survival.
DDT did not respect any species. People were finding DDT in their bloodstreams from eating foods treated with the pesticide decades ago. DDT now is thought to contribute to:
- the rise in late-onset Alzheimer's disease according to a 2014 study
- the rise in autism, according to a 2018 Finnish study of one million pregnant women
Although banned in 1972, it still can be found in soil and still kills birds every year, especially in Michigan where DDT was made, notes Smithsonian Magazine.
Suddenly, the second coming of bed bugs doesn't look so bad, does it?
What Causes Bed Bugs to Be Attracted to Your Body?
Bed bugs are blind. So, how do these tiny critters know how to find you? They zero in on carbon dioxide – that's the stuff you breathe out. Bed bugs instinctively know that where there is carbon dioxide, there is food. They zero in on the source of the carbon dioxide they are smelling, which most likely is your sleeping body.
Bed bugs cannot fly and cannot hop great distances in a single bound like fleas. They crawl. They crawl at a respectable speed – about 20 feet in a mere five minutes. They need their targets to stay still long enough for them to find you, which is why they usually only feed on you when you are sleeping or sitting still for hours at a time.
What Causes Bed Bugs to Come Into Your Home?
You get bed bugs because you brought something into your home that contains bed bugs. These critters are practically flat and can fit into tiny cracks, seams, and crevices. If you can fit the edge of a playing card into a spot, then bed bugs can hide there. The bad news is that you cannot completely protect your home from bed bugs. The good news is that there are many things you can do to reduce the possibility of a bed bug invasion.
The most common ways bed bugs get into your home are:
- When you travel
- When you bring a piece of furniture or a used mattress into your home that is infested with bed bugs
- When you buy new clothes from stores infested with bed bugs
- When you visit offices, schools, or movie theatres infested with bed bugs
- If you live in an apartment or townhouse, then bed bugs from the neighbors can find their way to your home. When bed bugs get into a building, they eventually take over all the rooms in the building.
Preventing Bed Bugs While Traveling
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to prevent bed bugs from getting into your things while you travel, from when you pack your bags at a hotel to when you get home.
- Pack only clothes that can be machine-washable. This way you can dump all your used clothes into the washer as soon as you get home.
- Pack several black trash bags large enough to store your suitcase in. Place your luggage in the bags when you get to the hotel.
- Check the hotel mattress and couch (if it has one) for bed bugs before you rest a coat, purse, or luggage on the bed, chairs, or anything with upholstery. You can put them in the bathroom since bed bugs are least likely to hide there.
- Check out the mattress in your hotel. It should not have a musty odor. Look for small black or rust-brown spots on the bedding, along the creases, and on the mattress. If you see these spots, you know there are bed bugs. Get another hotel or at least another room.
- Vacuum your suitcase when you get home. Steamers and vacuums are effective at not only removing but killing bed bugs. Empty the vacuum bag or canister immediately into the outside trash. Although the heat from the vacuum kills adults and larvae, eggs have been known to survive, hatch inside of a vacuum cleaner and crawl out.
How to Prevent Bed Bugs When Shopping
Check all items thoroughly for bed bugs before buying. With clothes, linens, or bedding, chuck them in the laundry as soon as you get home. That will kill any bed bugs that may have been hidden from your inspection.
Although used furniture and mattresses are more likely to contain bed bugs, they can infest new items, too. Give the item a thorough check. Bring a magnifying glass to help you check cracks, seams, and even grooves in screws.
NEVER bring home any item left out on the curb or next to a dumpster, even if it looks brand new. The chances it houses hiding bed bugs are very high. A free mattress may wind up costing you thousands in exterminator bills. Free mattresses are usually what causes bed bugs.
Where do bed bugs come from? They come from just about anywhere, except Antarctica! What causes bed bugs to come into your home? All it takes is an item containing bed bugs to go from a place where bed bugs are to your home.
Bed bugs are not attracted to dirt or messy homes. If you do get bed bugs, it's not because you are a bad housekeeper or a very dirty person. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to prevent bed bugs from getting inside your home and by following our bed bug tips.