Early Warning Signs of a Bed Bug Infestation

As cliché as it sounds, prevention really is the best medicine — especially when it comes to dealing with bed bugs.  Between short breeding cycles and massive litters, bed bug populations can skyrocket from just a few individuals to a full-blown infestation in a matter of weeks or even less.  The earlier you’re able to detect the warning signs of a growing infestation, the easier eradication will be.  Our Maryland apartment bed bug attorneys explain the red flags to watch out for, and how to prevent future breakouts from occurring.

Physical Evidence: Blood, Feces, and Exoskeletons

Bed bugs may be reclusive and sneaky, but they leave three telltale pieces of evidence behind: blood stains, fecal matter, and discarded exoskeletons.  Let’s examine what to look for in greater detail.

If you’re waking up to blood stains on your mattress, bed bugs are the likely culprit.  While numerous bugs, insects, and spiders feed on sleeping human victims, the vast majority tend not to leave bloody spatters behind. Larger and brighter blood stains may indicate that a bed bug was crushed while digesting a meal, while darker spots tend to indicate excreted blood meals.  If you have an infested mattress, you should either replace it or seal it very tightly with a plastic liner.

This leads to another type of evidence: bed bug feces.  Many people describe their appearance as being similar to small specks of grime.  If you’re familiar with the effects of a flea infestation, bed bug feces appear highly similar to “flea dirt.”  If you observe large concentrations of feces, a congregation of bed bugs is likely to be hiding nearby.

Exoskeletons are the third major piece of physical evidence to watch out for.  Bed bugs shed their skin, or “molt,” five times before reaching maturity.  The husks that remain after a molt tend to be light brown or reddish brown in color.

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What’s That Smell?

Strange smells are often part and parcel of apartment living, and most people never think to connect unfamiliar odors with the presence of bed bugs.  Unfortunately, that peculiar aroma you’ve been noticing lately may not be coming from your neighbor’s cooking after all.

Bed bugs possess a special scent gland which secretes aromatic chemicals, at least two of which have been identified by the USDA as “alarm pheromones” meant to warn other bed bugs away from danger.  However, humans are able to pick up on the strong scent as well.

Different sources describe different types of odors, though many people mention a flavor of sweetness.  The CDC, for example, describes the smell as being “sweet” and “musty.”  Pest control company Orkin describes the scent as “distinctively sweet, yet unpleasant,” while Scientific American cites a “pleasant smell — like coriander.”

If you have coriander in your kitchen herb cabinet, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the smell.  Do you recognize the scent?  If so, bed bugs may be an issue in your apartment.

Correctly Identifying Insect Bites

Before we begin discussing how to identify your bites, you should always consult with a licensed physician if you have any concerns about your health.  Incomplete or incorrect self-diagnosis can make the problem worse by delaying treatment and allowing symptoms to worsen.  Bug bites share a similar appearance with mosquito, flea, and spider bites, so it is always prudent to have a medical professional rule out other possibilities.

With that in mind, let’s explore the key identifying features of bed bug bites that distinguish them from other types of bites.  Bed bug bites tend to:

  • Present in rows or clusters, rather than being scattered far away from each other.
  • Be light pink in color with a darker, reddish center.
  • Be slightly raised and swollen, similar to a mosquito bite.
  • Cause severe, irritating itching, similar to flea bites.
  • Be located on exposed areas of skin, such as the face, the back of the neck, the hands, or any other areas of the body not covered during sleep.

Keep in mind that bites can present differently depending on the individual.  Some people experience severe, rash-like reactions, while others hardly notice any symptoms at all.

Bed bugs are also known to feed on cats and dogs as well as humans.  If you have a pet, be sure to examine them closely with a fine-toothed comb.  If your pet has dark fur, you may want to use a flashlight and/or magnifying lens to help you get a better view.

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How to Prevent Bed Bug Infestations in the Future

Bed bug infestations are costly, disruptive, stressful, and unsanitary.  Not only do you want to stamp out the current population — you also want to take every possible step to ensure that you’ll never have to go through this cycle again.  But in order to prevent future breakouts, you need to know what causes them.

Your living conditions play a major role.  Bed bugs like to make their homes in clutter and debris, so the cleaner you keep your apartment, the fewer hiding places the bugs will have. Cluttered apartments are also more difficult to treat for current bugs, because each and every infested item must be either disposed of, quarantined, enclosed, or otherwise sanitized.

After an infestation, frequent washing and vacuuming is key to long-term success.  Even if you’re confident you’ve eradicated all of the adults, you need to make sure you have also destroyed and removed any eggs they may have left behind.  Be sure to vacuum all of the corners and spots normally concealed beneath furniture, and to dispose of the vacuum bag or empty its chamber when you’ve finished.  The EPA recommends sealing the used vacuum bag (or chamber contents) in a plastic bag for extra protection against the possibility of escape.

If you’re worried your apartment building has a bed bug infestation, or your landlord has refused to look into the matter, the experienced legal team at Whitney, LLP can help defend your rights as a tenant.  To schedule a free and confidential case evaluation with our Maryland bed bug infestation lawyers, call our law offices at (410) 583-8000 today.