All About Bedbugs

March 21, 2018

Bedbugs. Even hearing the name can make you itch.

Bedbugs are making a comeback around the world – including in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  And they are even making a comeback locally, according to Keith Hamilton and Denny Johnson, both of Ehrlich who recently presented information to staff at Penn Highlands Clearfield.

The hospital hosted the program as a precaution. “A patient may arrive with a bedbug on him or her,” Jennifer Sunseri, BSN, RN, director of Infection Prevention, Employee Health and Wound Clinic at Penn Highlands Clearfield, said. “This program was used as a refresher and a reminder for our staff.”  All Penn Highlands Healthcare hospitals, offices and services have policies to guide them on what to do – there is a thorough cleaning process, but knowing what to look for is important, too.

Bedbugs are small. Their eggs are clear and as small as one number in the date on a penny, and they grow to an adult about the size of an apple seed.  They can be clear, red, mahogany or brown in color. They do not fly nor jump; they scurry. They can run four feet in 60 seconds, according to Johnson.

Bedbugs live near their food source – people’s blood. They prefer it to animal blood and usually leave pets alone. They feast while people sleep and hide near or in beds. They pierce the skin and feed for 3-10 minutes.  “The bite marks are similar to that of a mosquito or a flea with a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating,” Rhonda Chilson, RN, director of Quality and Infection Control at Penn Highlands Elk said. “The bite marks may be random or appear in a straight line.”

When they are not feasting, they are hiding in cracks on warm surfaces. They can hide in piping on the mattress and look like mildew. They can hide in anything made of wood, bed corners of a metal frame and in the creases of fabric. They will hide in holes in mattresses and in box springs.  They seem to congregate near the mattress tag or in the gaps on the felt on a box spring.

They don’t stay on mattresses only. Look behind picture frames, especially above the headboard. Look around the baseboards, wood panel seams, in electrical outlets and in the carpet.

Most do no live on people, but if there is a serious infestation, they do. They can live months without feeding.

You may not see the bed bugs, but you may see evidence of them. Bed bugs do shed. The skins they cast look like popcorn husks. If you see rusty spots on your sheets, it could be your blood or it is the blood in their excrement that you are seeing.  

They have a 6-9 month life span, but they have lots of offspring. Bedbugs can lay 500 eggs in a lifetime. If you start with two bugs, there will be 302 bugs and 1,000 eggs laid by day 45.

“Bedbugs are not a sign of a dirty person or home,” Sue Stiner, MSN, RN, director of Infection Prevention & Control at Penn Highlands DuBois and Penn Highlands Brookville, said. They are opportunists and spread by attaching to items, such as:

  • Luggage, bags and clothing in other’s homes or hotel rooms;
  • Used furniture or clothing;
  • People who may come to work in your home, especially with bags that travel with them from home to home.

In a business, bedbugs may come in with laundry services or on staff. 

“Nothing is off limits to a bed bug,” Hamilton said. “Hotels, dorms, rentals, yard sales, tour buses, cabins, tractor trailer cabs, moving vans, community centers…the list goes on.”
For a business, bed bugs also damage reputations, create complaints and lead to profit loss. 

For people, there is the emotional stress of dealing with the bugs. There is usually a loss of sleep which adds to the stress, possible infection at bite sites and possible allergies to the bites. Chilson noted that “Most bed bug bites need minimal care. Treatments are usually just over-the-counter medications, such as antibiotic or steroid creams.”

Another stressor is the cost of treating the house, lost property when items are thrown out, inconvenience and a social stigma.  “Having bed bugs doesn’t mean you are dirty. It’s bad luck,” Stiner said.

What can you do? “Don’t panic,” Hamilton said. “Collect a specimen and quarantine the area.” Heat of 122 degree for 6-8 hours will kill them. Exterminators can treat the home. Items that cannot be treated or cleaned should be discarded. 
What does Penn Highlands Healthcare do? “If a patient arrives with bed bugs, we double bag their belongings to stop any further contamination.” Stiner said. We have the patient shower with soap – or he or she is helped to shower with soap. Then, the person can wear a hospital gown and be put in a clean room for care. There is no need to isolate a person after a shower. “We also advise patients or family members to take the items home to wash with very hot, soapy water and dry the clothing thoroughly in the dryer on high heat,” Sunseri said. 

“Our beds are not made of cloth,” Stiner said. “This helps eliminate places for the bugs to hide here.”  The room is treated by professional pest control as well as Housekeeping staff.

“We take all precautions for any type of pests seriously at Penn Highlands,” Sunseri said. “Our patients’ health and safety is always first priority in all we do.”