Bedbugs are small, reddish-brown parasitic insects that bite the exposed skin of sleeping humans and animals to feed on their blood. Although bedbugs aren’t known to spread disease, they can cause other public health and economic issues.

About the size of an apple seed, bedbugs hide in the cracks and crevices of beds, box springs, headboards, bed frames and any other objects around a bed. The risk of encountering bedbugs increases if you spend time in places with high turnovers of nighttime guests ? such as hotels, hospitals or homeless shelters.

If you have bedbugs in your home, professional extermination is recommended.

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It can be difficult to distinguish bedbug bites from other insect bites or rashes. In general, the sites of bedbug bites usually are:

  • Red, often with a darker red spot in the middle
  • Itchy
  • Arranged in a rough line or in a cluster
  • Located on the face, neck, arms and hands

Some people have no reaction to bedbug bites, while others experience an allergic reaction that can include severe itching, blisters or hives.

When to see a doctor

If you experience allergic reactions or severe skin reactions to bedbug bites, see your doctor for professional treatment.

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Bedbug infestations may be linked to:

  • Increased international travel
  • Changes in pest control practices
  • Insecticide resistance

Where do they hide?

Bedbug infestations usually occur around or near where people sleep. They hide in the cracks and crevices of:

  • Mattresses
  • Box springs
  • Bed frame
  • Headboards
  • Objects or clutter near beds

They can also be found:

  • Under peeling paint and loose wallpaper
  • Under carpeting near baseboards
  • In upholstered furniture seams
  • Under light switch plates or electrical outlets

How do they spread?

Bedbugs can move from one site to another by traveling on items such as clothing, luggage, furniture, boxes and bedding.

Bedbugs can crawl about as fast as a ladybug, and can easily travel between floors and rooms in hotels or apartment complexes.

Sign of uncleanliness?

Bedbugs don’t care if their environment is clean or dirty. All they need is a warm host and plenty of hiding places.

Risk factors

Bedbugs are more common in crowded lodgings that experience high turnover in occupancy, such as:

  • Apartment complexes
  • Dorm rooms
  • Homeless shelters
  • Hotels
  • Cruise ships
  • Trains and buses
  • Refugee camps


Preventing bites

  • Cover up. Because bedbugs don’t tend to burrow under clothing, you may be able to avoid bites by wearing pajamas that cover as much skin as possible.
  • Bug spray. Insect repellents designed to protect against mosquitoes or ticks aren’t very effective against bedbugs.
  • Mosquito netting. Bed nets impregnated with the pesticide permethrin may help protect sleepers against bedbug bites. However, this practice may be helping bedbugs develop resistance to this pesticide.

Preventing infestations

  • Secondhand items. Inspect used bedding items and upholstered furniture carefully before bringing them into your home.
  • Hotel precautions. Check mattress seams for bedbug excrement and place your luggage on tables or dressers instead of on the floor.
  • Birds and bats. Eliminate any neighboring bird and bat habitats that may serve as a refuge for bedbugs.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

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Oct. 10, 2019


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