Bed bugs check in, but they don’t check out

Did you know that similar to yawning, itching is contagious? Even reading about yawning or itching can cause the reader to do the same. I have yawned twice and now have an itch on my shoulder just from writing this opening paragraph.

The reason I bring up itching is that this article may cause you to start itching. We are about to dive into some information about a little bug that has been part of civilization since humans dwelled in caves. The bed bug.

Bed bugs are parasitic insects that feed on humans. The insect’s nocturnal habit leads to bites occurring while we sleep. Not everyone reacts to bed bug bites, but those who do have a range of reactions that commonly include small itchy bumps and less commonly, large painful welts. When a bed bug feeds, there is no painful stab as it uses its straw-like proboscis to draw a few drops of blood out of us. Please note, bed bugs do not transmit any known diseases to humans.

Bed bugs even show up in ancient Egyptian texts. Humans have had to deal with these pesky little biters for all of history, except following World War II. With the invention of modern-day insecticides, we were able to reduce bed bug populations to near zero in most of the developed world in the 20th century.

So, why are bed bugs making a comeback? We never truly eliminated bed bugs, even in the U.S. “Bring back DDT,” you say? Sorry, bed bugs are already resistant to it and many other chemicals. Unfortunately, bed bugs are good at developing resistance to insecticides.

For centuries, before modern insecticides, humans adapted to living with and avoiding bed bugs. With cases increasing today, it may be time to re-adopt some old habits. Since travel has become much easier and more common, here are some tips for reducing the chance of introducing bed bugs to your home after returning from a trip.

  • Have a hard surface suitcase. This limits the hiding spots for bed bug hitchhikers.
  • When you return home, leave your suitcase outside or in the garage.
  • Take your clothing (dirty and clean) out of the suitcase and toss it in a clothes dryer. High heat (120 degrees Fahrenheit) for 20 minutes kills all life stages of bed bugs. After the dryer, toss the clothes into the washer for normal cleaning.
  • Store your suitcases in the garage, if you have one. Avoid storing your suitcase in your bedroom closet or under your bed.

Most younger Americans have not had to deal with bed bugs, so they have a lot to learn. An important lesson is that everyone can get bed bugs, but not everyone can afford to treat them. Managing bed bugs is not an issue of filth, it is an issue of money.

If you want to learn more about reducing the risk of introducing bed bugs to your home, how to inspect a hotel room, or what to do if you find a bed bug in your house, check out our Good Growing podcast at, where we chat with entomologist Kacie Athey about bed bugs. I promise, you won’t be too itchy by the end of the show, and you will learn a lot of ways to avoid bed bugs.

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