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Bed Bugs in NC

Last Thursday, Jung Wook Kim, PhD, bed bug specialist with the Division of Environment and Natural Resources presented to hospital staff about the reemerging problem of bed bugs.  Chemicals like DDT virtually eradicated bed beds in the United States but since DDT’s banning in 1972 bed bugs are slowly but surely making a comeback across North America.

While bed bugs are not as prevalent here in North Carolina as they are in New York or other large cities where there are many multi-dwelling apartment complexes, it is important to be aware of this emerging issue.  Bed bugs have been found in our area, and once you have them in your home, they are very difficult to eliminate especially if the infestation become severe.

Bed bugs are aptly named.  They generally live in or around bedding because they are nocturnal and feed on blood.  These traits make the bed the most likely place to find this bug.  A few more fun facts included in Dr. Kim’s presentation about bed bugs include:

  • Bed bugs are initially tiny, but can still be seen with the naked eye.
  • Fed bed bugs are reddish brown and unfed bed bugs are yellow
  • Bed bugs can sometimes travel more than 10 feet to feed
  • Feeding only takes place every three days and lasts for about 10 minutes
  • Female bed bugs lay approximately 500 eggs in their lifetime. Eggs hatch every 7 – 12 days
  • If you have 1 bed bug, you will be bitten 90 times per year
  • Bed bugs have been known to survive 6 to 12 months without feeding

Unlike other insects, both male and female bed bugs bite. Bites are painless because the bed bug administers an anesthetic to its victim. On most people, the bite causes a red bump and can itch.  In severe infestations, anemia can occur as a result of multiple bites. However, people react differently to bed bugs; 54 percent people will have no red, itchy bumps after being bitten, and many bites will not emerge for 7-11 days.  Bites also tend to be in linear groups of three or four.

Although bed bugs are commonly associated with unsanitary conditions, the fact is that despite the best preventive efforts, almost any property can become home to these hitch-hiking pests.  Additionally, contrary to popular belief, bed bugs do NOT carry disease. Check out North Carolina State University’s Department of Entomology web site for more information about bed bug identification and prevention. 

 Also, it might be useful to search the Bed Bug Registry, a free, public database of user-submitted bed bug reports from across the United States and Canada before you travel. This site has collected about 20,000 reports covering 12,000 locations.

Dominique Godfrey-Johnson is a WakeMed Public Health Epidemiologist.