There’s been a small uptick in bed bugs in Maine recently, but officials say it’s not nearly as bad as infestations were seven years ago. Still, residents are reminded to be on the lookout for the parasitic pest at home and away.
Earlier this month Hartford-Sumner Elementary School in Oxford County alerted parents that bed bugs were discovered in the school on two separate occasions. Since then, the school district has worked with a pest control company to eradicate the bugs in the building.
“We get one or two calls a year from schools where someone found [a bedbug] crawling some place or in a backpack,” said Jim Dill, pest management specialist with University of Maine Cooperative Extension. “It happens.”
Bed bugs are nothing new in Maine. There have been periods of infestations around the state including some of the worst in 2010 and in 2018.
“We are starting to see a little uptick in bed bugs now,” Dills said. “But it’s nothing like what it was six or seven years ago when it was really bad.”
Bed bugs are small, flat insects found all over the world. They feed exclusively on the blood of sleeping people and animals. They are less than one-quarter of an inch in size and are reddish brown in color.
“They have a piercing, sucking mouth part,” Dill said. “The adults feed once a week [and] once they have their blood meal, they are pretty happy for a while.”
After feeding, the bedbugs retreat into small hideouts — the seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, inside cracks or crevices, behind wallpaper or any other clutter or objects around a bed. They can also end up in clothing, suitcases, purses or other bags, which is how they can travel from place to place.
While sharing your sleeping space with a blood-sucking parasite bedmate is unsettling, Dill said it’s not a major health hazard.
“If there is anything good about them, it’s that they are not associated with any diseases,” he said.
That may be cold comfort to anyone who discovers one or more bed bug bites on their person.
A bed bug bite affects each person differently, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bite responses can range from an absence of any physical signs of the bite, to a small bite mark, to a serious allergic reaction that needs medical attention.
Because the adults feed so infrequently, Dill said anyone who wakes up with several or more bites probably has an infestation.
Those bite marks can take several days to show up and will look and feel like a mosquito bite.
Other indications you may have a bedbug infestation are the presence of the bugs in your mattresses or sheets, rusty-colored blood spots from bed bug excrement or a sweet-musty odor.
Nowhere is immune to infestation because bedbugs are found where there are people. Bed bug infestations can happen in apartments, shelters, rooming houses, hotels, cruise ships, buses, trains, and dorm rooms. They tend to live within eight feet of where people sleep.
That’s why it’s important to be especially vigilant when traveling, Dill said. With so many people hitting the road with travel that had been delayed due to the pandemic, he said it increases your odds of bringing home one or more bed bugs as an unwanted souvenir.
Anytime you check into a hotel room or cruise ship stateroom, Dill recommends first placing your bags on the suitcase rack or into the bathtub. Then fully inspect the bed and bedding for any of telltale signs of bedbugs.
“The kind of hotel does not matter,” Dill said. “It could be a five-star place and still have bed bugs.”
If you find them in your home, the only thing to do is to call in a professional pest control company that will use extreme heat to kill them.
“Most people here think of bed bugs as being dirty but other countries look at us like, ‘what’s your problem — they are just part of life,’” Dill said. “Yeah, so are mosquitos but I don’t like the idea of sitting there with 100 [mosquitos] feeding on me or the idea of this little blood sucker feeding on me while I sleep.”