Bed Bugs – Back With a Bite

Natasha Gordon PhD outlines the re-emergence of these nocturnal pests

engorged adult bed bug“Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite!” Growing up, many of us would have heard this saying, yet most children were probably unaware of what a bed bug was. Although bed bugs have developed a special relationship with humans throughout history and been documented as far back as ancient Greece and Rome, after World War II these pests had all but been eradicated by the use of DDT. This may be changing, however. As pesticide legislation tightened, bed bug sightings increased [1] and since the early 2000’s there has been a massive increase in bed bug infestations. The childhood saying has become a reality again.

You may have been lucky enough to avoid bed bugs, but it’s best to know your enemy. This article is an introduction to the re-emerging pest.

Bed bugs are reddish-brown flat and elongated insects, oval in shape and approximately 5 – 6 mm long [1]. Bed bugs have three phases to their lifecycle; the first is as an egg. Females can lay between 1-7 eggs per day for 10 days and up to 300 eggs in their lifetime. After hatching of the egg, the bed bugs enter phase two of their life cycle during which they progress through five nymphal stages before reaching phase three: adulthood – at which point they can reproduce. At each of the different stages bed bugs require a blood meal to moult and progress through to the next growth stage [1, 2].

 Bed Bug Life Cycle

Bed bugs infestations occur through two major forms of dispersal:

  1. Active dispersal which requires the bed bugs to migrate by their own means, such as walking from room to room through ventilation ducts, holes in walls and pipes. Active dispersal can also be a result of pesticide dispersal, intersexual conflict or attraction to host stimuli [3].
  2. Passive dispersal or human transportation is the carriage of bed bugs on clothing or within luggage and furniture to a new location. Birds and bats can also accommodate passive dispersal of bed bugs [1].

The health and economic consequences of bed bug infestations are only just starting to be realized. The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) surveys conducted in 2010 and then in 2015 shows the dramatic increase in the number of bed bug infestations over that 5-year period. In 2015 10% or US$750 million per annum of the total revenue from pest management companies was from the treatment of bed bug infested properties. The variety of properties experiencing infestations is also increasing. Libraries, retail outlets and doctors’ facilities were affected more since the 2010 NPMA survey.

revenue graph market


All graphs modified from the NPMA surveys from 2010 and 2015. Click to expand.

The methods for detecting bed bugs have not changed between 2010 and 2015. Visual inspection is still the most used technique, followed by passive traps. Unfortunately, these methods rely on the need to see the bugs, which is a problem if you have a small bed bug population that is intent on hiding deep in the cracks and crevices of your furniture.
Not only are bed bug infestations expensive (treatment can start at US$1000-2000 depending on the size of your home and you may need more than one treatment) but there are many other negative effects. Reports of infestations are bad publicity for organisations and can potentially lead to lawsuits and have health implications.
Bed bug bites are similar to other insect bites but they often occur in a linear pattern in areas of the body that are exposed during sleep. This pattern is often referred to as “breakfast, lunch and dinner” and is due to the bed bugs being disturbed while feeding [1, 4]. Although bed bugs have not been shown to spread disease, their bites can have moderate to serious consequences depending on the person bitten. These consequences include secondary bacterial infections, or some people can experience various forms of allergic reactions including anaphylaxis. In some cases if an infestation is not dealt with, some conditions can become severe enough to result in anemia  [1, 2, 5]. Bed bug infestations often have a toll on the mental health of many people, commonly resulting in anxiety and insomnia and on rare occasions post-traumatic stress disorder [6, 7]. In any event, the presence of bed bugs in one’s home leads to social isolation and embarrassment.

What can be done to combat these pests? There is a growing market for products that claim to offer protective mechanisms against bed bugs. At airmid healthgroup we offer a wide array of bed bug testing options to investigate such products. Our experienced staff have developed assays using artifical bed bug feeders to investigate whether materials are bite proof to all developmental stages of the bed bug life cycle. Our team also use both small and large scale barrier assays to ensure products prevent the escape of bed bugs once entrapped in a protective barrier case. More bespoke bed bug testing options include viability and repellency assasys. These assays have a standard procedure that can be adapted based on the type of product tested such as a liquid vs embedded in the material.

As the rate of bed bug infestations continues to increase, at airmid healthgroup we are happy to provide scientific support to any tool verified to contribute to the control of bed bugs and return these pests to an unseen childhood cautionary tale.


  1. Criado, P.R., et al., Bedbugs (Cimicidae infestation): the worldwide renaissance of an old partner of human kind. The Brazilian Journal of Infectious Diseases, 2011. 15 (1): p. 74-80.
  2. Delaunay, P., et al., Bedbugs and infectious diseases. Clin Infect Dis, 2011. 52 (2): p. 200-10.
  3. Suchy, J.T. and V.R. Lewis, Host-Seeking Behavior in the Bed Bug, Cimex lectularius. Insects, 2011. (4): p. 22-35.
  4. Thomas, I., G.G. Kihiczak, and R.A. Schwartz, Bedbug bites: a review. Int J Dermatol, 2004. 43 (6): p. 430-3.
  5. Goddard, J. and R. deShazo, Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) and clinical consequences of their bites. JAMA, 2009. 301 (13): p. 1358-66.
  6. Goddard, J. and R. de Shazo, Psychological effects of bed bug attacks (Cimex lectularius L.). Am J Med, 2012. 125 (1): p. 101-3.
  7. Susser, S.R., et al., Mental health effects from urban bed bug infestation (Cimex lectularius L.): a cross-sectional study. BMJ Open, 2012. (5).

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