Bed Bugs - Frequently Asked Questions

What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs are small, flat parasitic insects called Cimex lectularius that live in cracks and crevices in and around beds. They crawl out at night and bite exposed skin to feed on blood. Adult bedbugs are oval-shaped, flat and up to 5mm long – similar to an apple seed.

Where are bed bugs found?
Bed bugs are found all over the world. While the problem of bed bugs has traditionally been seen as a problem in developing countries, it has recently been spreading rapidly in North America and Europe.

Bed bugs have been found in five-star hotels and resorts and their presence is not determined by the cleanliness of the living conditions where they are found.

Do bed bugs cause disease?
Bed bugs are not known to spread disease. They may however cause itching and loss of sleep. Excessive scratching can sometimes increase the chance of a secondary skin infection.

Bed bug bites generally clear up on their own within a week. You should make sure the affected skin is kept clean to prevent infection. If the bites are very itchy, you can get advice from your local pharmacist.

Bed bugs are not considered to be dangerous; however, an allergic reaction to several bites may need medical attention.

What are the signs and symptoms of a bed bug infestation?
Bed bug bites leave a tell-tale bite mark on the face, neck, arms, hands or any other part of the body. Other signs of a bed bug infestation are 1) bed bug exoskeletons (left after moulting) 2) bed bugs visible in the fold of mattresses and sheets, 3) a sweet musty odour.

How do I know if I’ve been bitten by bed bugs?
When bed bugs bite, they inject an anaesthetic and an anticoagulant that prevents a person from realizing they are being bitten. Most people do not realize they have been bitten until bite marks appear anywhere from one to several days after the initial bite. The bite marks are similar to that of a mosquito or a flea -- a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating.

How did I get bed bugs?
Bed bugs are usually transported from place to place as people travel. The bed bugs travel in the seams and folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding, furniture, and anywhere else where they can hide. Most people do not realize they are transporting stow-away bed bugs as they travel from location to location, infecting areas as they travel.

How are bed bugs treated and prevented?
Bed bug bites usually do not pose a serious medical threat. The best way to treat a bite is to avoid scratching the area and apply antiseptic creams or lotions and take an antihistamine. Bed bug infestations are commonly treated by insecticide spraying. If you suspect that you have an infestation, contact your landlord or professional pest control company that is experienced with treating bed bugs. The best way to prevent bed bugs is regular inspection for the signs of an infestation.

Other actions that might help in the event of an infestation include:

  • wash infested clothes or bed linen at 60C, or put them in a dryer on a hot setting for 30 minutes
  • use a vacuum cleaner with a hose to suck up any bugs you can see – dispose of the contents of the vacuum cleaner in a sealed bag
  • consider throwing away any mattress or furniture that's heavily infested
  • use plastic mattress covers that encase the entire mattress – this will stop any bedbugs getting in or out

It can be difficult to avoid bedbugs, as they can be transported easily in luggage, clothing and furniture. Once in your home, they can quickly spread from room to room. They don't jump or fly, but can crawl long distances.

It can help to:

  • inspect your mattress and bed regularly for signs of infestation and get professional advice if you think you have bedbugs, if required, consult a pest control service for assistance. 
  • avoid buying second-hand mattresses and carefully inspect second-hand furniture before bringing it into your home
  • keep your bedroom tidy and remove clutter

I've travelled to a location where bed bugs are present, what should I do when I return home?
If you are returning from locations where bedbugs are known to be present don't bring luggage or clothing into your house without checking it carefully for bedbugs. If further concerned, you can wash clothing on a hot wash (60C) and tumble dry on a hot setting for at least 30 minutes or alternatively put clothing in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer for 3 or 4 days.

Last reviewed: 16 November 2023