Tips For Better Sleep

Under The Microscope: Australia’s Bed Bugs

May 13, 2022   By Jennifer Cook

Australia’s Bed Bug Problem Explained

Australia’s Bed Bug Problem Explained

In the 1950s, insecticides eradicated the vast majority of bedbugs and they all but disappeared. Unfortunately, they came back and unlike Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, these critters seem indestructible.

A comprehensive survey of Australian pest managers was undertaken in 2006 to determine the extent of the resurgence of bedbugs. They found that infestations of various cimex or bed bugs to us lay folks had risen across all states and overall for the nation by 4,500% for the period of 1999 to June 2006, compared with pre-1999 levels.

If you think an old-timey study from 2006 shouldn’t concern you, here’s a 2022 report that might. Seems like bedbugs infestation is one problem we can’t afford to sleep on.

According to behavioural ecologist, Dr William Hentley, whose research paper on bedbugs was published in Scientific Reports, two significant changes appear to have led to the current problem. “The increase in bed bug numbers around the world seems to have correlated with the reduction in really harmful pesticides, and also the increase in cheap global travel,” he said.

This coincides with the survey findings which saw that most infestations (∼46%) occurred in either 1– 3-star motels or backpacker lodges. Recent data sourced from bed bug pest controllers listed on hipages found Redfern to be the No. 1 spot for bedbugs in Sydney, followed by Pyrmont, Darlinghurst, Coogee, Bondi, and Surry Hills. Melbourne CBD and high-density suburbs like East Melbourne, Docklands, St Kilda and Northcote all have high rates of bed bug infestations, a statistic that is likely to be true for most large cities with a highly mobile population.

To combat the rising problem, a multi-disciplinary bedbug treatment approach was implemented. The plan included the introduction of a pest management standard called, “A Code of Practice for the Control of Bed Bug Infestations in Australia.” It outlines the best practices in bed bug eradication, the development of a policy and procedural guide for accommodation providers, education of stakeholders in best management practices, and research.

Now, this is all good and well for organizations and institutions. But what can the average Australian do in their own home?

What Are Bedbugs and Why Are They So Hard to Kill?

Bed bug bites on the back

Bed bug bites on the back

Bed bugs are small parasites that feed on the blood of sleeping people (or animals). Adult bed bugs have a flat oval body when unfed and swollen, and elongated after a blood meal. They are reddish-brown and about 4-7 mm long. Although bed bug bites are painless, the bite mark is very itchy and will look red and swollen.

Bed bugs aren’t just dangerous because of their bites. The presence of these little critters on your bed sheets can cause allergic reactions that can wreak havoc on your sleep. While leading health information suggests that they can’t transfer infectious diseases, that’s still no reason to let bed bugs live where you sleep.

Dealing with the cimex lectularius or the common bed bug can be challenging. According to this fact sheet, the typical life cycle of these buggers spans from the nymph stage to adulthood, somewhere from 6 to 7 months. That’s your chance to look for signs of bed bugs all over the house.

If you want to check your bed for them, you’ll find them in the crevices of mattresses along the stitched edges, on bed frames, and any other cracks or holes around your bed, including walls and furniture. They usually leave a trail of cast-off skins, eggs or fecal stains (small dark brown or black marks) in their wake.

Australian entomologists found the bed bugs that are harder to kill are those that have developed a thicker outer surface, called the “cuticle.” Specifically, treatment-resistant bed bugs had cuticles that were up to 15% thicker than other bed bugs. This is why pest controllers now need to use a variety of chemicals at much higher doses to effectively eradicate an infestation.

How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs?

If you suspect that you have a bed bug infestation on your hands, you can try washing and drying your bedding and clothing at high temperatures. Try steam ironing your mattress too. These wingless insects die in hot environments, at 45°C or above. (Tropical bed bugs can survive in much higher thermal conditions).

You can also throw away your mattress. But if you do this, make sure you transport it in a plastic bag to prevent the insects from spreading elsewhere and becoming a public health problem.

Now, most people think that that would end the problem. But you still need to ensure that the surrounding areas – furniture, drapes, etc. – are free of bed bugs. Otherwise, the problem persists.

In this case, it’s best to seek pest control services. They can accurately identify where the infestation is hiding and use the appropriate insecticide to get rid of them once and for all. Keep in mind that this may not be a one-time session.

Quick Bed Bug FAQs

1. Can They Transfer Diseases?

Unlike mosquitoes, bed bugs cannot cause cross-species infection nor carry infectious diseases, but they definitely cause unwanted complications like allergic reactions and bites.

2. What Attracts Bed Bugs?

Contrary to common belief, it’s not filth and dirt that attracts bed bugs. Instead, warmth, carbon dioxide and human blood make your bed a bug magnet. Think of these critters as the insect versions of Twilight’s Edward Cullen minus the angsts.

3. Are Bed Bugs confined Only to Beds?

Although named as such, bed bugs aren’t content living on your bed or sheets alone. These nasties are known to make their beds on small crevices like the space behind electrical outlets, other pieces of furniture, or even in pipings. Not cool at all.

4. How Do Bed Bugs Move?

Bed bugs don’t have wings, and for that, we’re all thankful. However, they can crawl 30 to 40 feet from their hiding spots to get to their hosts. If nothing else, these bugs are determined.

Tips to Prevent Bed Bug Infestation

As with many things, prevention is better than cure. The explosion of bed bugs is happening around the world, not just in Australia. It’s important to keep these tips in mind:

  1. When travelling – either within Australia or overseas – make sure you check your hotel room for bed bugs. They can hitch a ride home on your clothes, shoes, or in your luggage. So make sure you check your bags before settling in and checking out. When you get home, make it a habit to wash your clothes in the hottest water the fabric can tolerate. As for your bags, go ahead and vacuum the inside and out. Then, empty the vacuum cleaner into a plastic bag and seal it.
  2. Speaking of vacuuming, make it a regular staple in your cleaning routine. Vacuum your carpets, drapes, mats, skirting boards, and any crevices in your room.
  3. Avoid buying second-hand furniture, mattresses, bedding, and clothing. If you must purchase second-hand, check them carefully before buying and wash them in hot water immediately when you get home (provided the fabric can tolerate it).
  4. Wash your bed linen, blankets, and pillow covers regularly. We suggest once a week or every two weeks.
  5. Invest in anti-bed bug items like mattresses, mattress cover/protector/encasements. The Ecosa foam mattresses, for instance, have a waterproof inner cover that protects them from bacteria, dust mites, bed bugs, etc.

Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite!

Australia was the first country to take on the bed bug problem seriously. The policies implemented in accordance with “A Code of Practice for the Control of Bed Bug Infestations in Australia” have only recently been imitated by many other countries facing worsening conditions.

According to Stephen Doggett, Director of the Department of Medical Entomology at Westmead Hospital in Sydney, Australia and foremost expert in the rise and impact of bed bugs within the country, “Infestations are worsening in many countries, except in Australia. Numbers seem to be decreasing, but we are the only continent in the world where bed bugs seem to be going backwards,” he said.

If we continue taking steps to prevent the bed bugs from taking over our homes, we may yet win the war against these blood-thirsty critters.

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