Bed Bug FAQ*

What are bed bugs?

  • Bed bugs are small nocturnal insects that live by feeding on the blood of humans and other warm-blooded hosts. After feeding for about five minutes, the bug returns to its hiding place.
  • Bites consist of a raised red bump or flat welt, with slight irritation.  The red bump or welts are the result of an allergic reaction to the anesthetic contained in the bed bug's saliva, which is inserted into the blood of the host. Bed bug bites may appear indistinguishable from mosquito bites, though they tend to last for longer periods. Bites may not become immediately visible, and can take up to 3-4 days to appear. Bed bug bites tend not to have a red dot in the center which is a characteristic of flea bites. A trait shared with flea bites, however, is the tendency towards arrangements of sequential bites. Bites are often aligned three in a row, giving rise to the colloquialism "breakfast, lunch and dinner."
  • There have been no known cases of bed bugs passing disease from host to host. Extensive testing has been done in laboratory settings that also conclude that bed bugs are unlikely to pass disease from one person to another. Therefore bedbugs are less dangerous than some more common insects such as the flea.

 How did I get bed bugs?

  • Bed bugs were originally brought to the United States by early colonists from Europe. Bed bugs thrive in places with high occupancy, such as hotels. Bed bugs were believed to be altogether eradicated 50 years ago in the United States and elsewhere with the widespread use of DDT.
  • One recent theory about bed bug reappearance involves potential geographic epicenters in some states. It was determined that workers in these facilities were the main spreaders of these bed bugs, unknowingly carrying them to their places of residence and elsewhere after leaving work.
  • Many years ago, bed bugs were eradicated by the use of a pesticide, DDT. This is no longer used and may account for the resurgence of these bugs in the U.S., as might the increase in international travel.
  • Anyone can pick bed bugs up from a location where they presently exist – someone’s apartment, other dorm rooms, movie theatres, etc. Bed bugs are equal opportunity pests – they will infest anyone, anywhere.

What happens when the exterminator comes to my room?

  • If your room is confirmed to have bed bugs, a professional exterminator will come to treat your residence. You will be required to clean and bag all clothing, bedding, books and personal items prior to the treatment.
  • The treatment will likely consist of a few different approaches:
    • A pesticide will be applied to locations within your room that may harbor the bugs.
    • The exterminator may place glue boards in your room. These boards can be good detectives and show the degree of success of the treatment. If the glue board collects bed bugs after its placement, then another treatment may be warranted. If this is the case, you should be back in touch with Physical Plant as soon as possible.

 If I plan to travel, what can I do to reduce my risk of bringing these bugs back with me?

  • First, look at the room to seek potential hiding places for bed bugs, such as carpet edges, mattress seams, pillow case linings, head boards, wall trim or other tiny crack-like places bed bugs might hide.
  • Next, look specifically at the mattress seams for signs of bed bug activity: droppings, eggs, bloodstains or even bed bugs themselves – hiding in tiny folds and seam lines.
  • Never leave your clothing laying on the bed, or any location of possible infestation. Instead, use hangers or hooks capable of keeping all cloth distant from the floor or bed. It’s also not a bad idea to elevate suitcases off the floor on a luggage stand, tabletop or other hard surface.
  • Close your suitcase or travel bag when you're not using it. This way, during the night, the bugs may move over top of your luggage and have greater difficulty getting inside.
  • Elevate your luggage off the floor to tables or chairs. These may also be hiding places, but are less likely.
  • Keep any bed bug you find (intact if possible) to show Physical Plant.
  • When you return from any travel (especially abroad) it is a good idea to take your suitcase to the laundromat so you can wash ALL items before taking the suitcase to your home, residence hall, etc. If you do your wash in hot water and dry it before entering your residence, you will stop the spread of these bugs.

What SHOULD I do if I believe I have bed bugs?

  • Notify Physical Plant ASAP.
  • Be prepared to follow the written instructions exactly.

 What SHOULDN’T I do if I believe I have bed bugs?

  • Don’t panic! Although bed bugs can be annoying, they can be battled safely and successfully if you follow all guidelines given to you by Residential Life and Physical Plant.
  • If you believe you have bed bugs, do NOT wait until after 5pm on Friday to notify someone. It is not possible to get service from the exterminator after hours.
  • Do not apply pesticides on your own. Physical Plant hires a licensed exterminator to confirm the infestation and to develop an integrated pest management plan.
  • Do not move your mattress or any furniture out into the hallway. Infested furniture can be cleaned and treated. Placing infested furniture (particularly mattresses) into common areas or on the street may simply spread bed bugs to the rooms of other students.
  • Do not go to sleep in a friend’s room or in places off-campus. If you actually have bed bugs, you will only spread them to others.

 *Adopted from Columbia University

For the Bed Bug Treatment Checklist, please click here.