What To Do if You’re Exposed to Bed Bugs

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Updated on March 25, 2022

Bed bugs are perhaps the most notorious household pests out there outside of rats, roaches, and relatives.  These tiny critters are well known for their bites as well as how difficult it can be to get rid of them.

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But it may not always be easy to avoid an infestation if you’ve been exposed to bed bugs.

Bed Bug Exposure

bed bugs motel

Let’s face it, you’re going to be exposed to bed bugs at some point in your life. They’re notorious hitchhikers and not just because they would rather steal your towel than bring their own.

You can encounter bed bugs in public transportation (including planes, trains and automobiles), schools, offices, hotels and motels. Basically, if there are frequently people around, there are probably bed bugs.

So just how much of a risk is being exposed to one?

Can You Have Just One Bed Bug?

Just like Pringles, it’s impossible to have just one. A single female lays 5 to 7 eggs per day and can do this for several weeks after a single insemination.

On top of that, she can hold the sperm for a long period of time in the course of her 4 to 6 month lifetime, which only takes seven weeks to reach maturity. This means the rest of that time is spent laying 200 to 300 eggs.

Now, it IS possible to pick up a single male bed bug and take it home, but the chances are pretty rare. In other words, if you have one, be ready to have a full-blown infestation in a few months after bringing it home.

How Fast Do Bed Bugs Spread?

bed bugs in mattress

Let’s do a little math here. Say you brought home a single fertile female. She gets her blood meal and lays an average of five eggs (remember, it can be 5 to 7) per day for three weeks.

It takes 10 days for the eggs to hatch and seven weeks total to reach adulthood. Thus, the first batch of eggs will be ready to reproduce in just under two months. As there’s no male present, that means four weeks with no new eggs.

Now let’s say there’s only one female in each batch (highly unlikely, but we’re looking at the absolute best case scenario here). This means in ten weeks (approximately 2.5 months for those counting), the original female will have mated with one of the males and all 21 new females will be laying.

So now we have 110 eggs being laid per day and the presence of males means there won’t be a four-week break in egg laying.

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Now it suddenly gets complicated, because by the time we hit five months, the original bed bug will have died but we have 21 x 21 (or 441 females) each laying 5 eggs per day (which means 2,205 eggs in a single day!). And this is the absolute minimum you could expect as there could be up to seven eggs/day and most or all of the eggs may hatch into females.

Preventing a Bed Bug Infestation

bed bug bites on neck

The only way to prevent this terrifying invasion is to stop it before one gets in your door. While not necessarily avoidable, there are some ways you can minimize this risk.

Of course, you could pretend it’s the Plague and use the entryway to your home as a decontamination chamber, but it’s usually easier to use some simple precautions.

Do Your Homework

It can be difficult to get a hotel to admit there was a recent bed bug incident, so always treat a stay in a hotel or motel as a possible exposure risk. Meanwhile, you can at least check with neighbors or local social groups to get news of bed bug sightings or breakouts.

Author's Note:
Where we live, local groups on social media report whenever there’s a sighting on public transit or breakout, so the entire neighborhood knows to avoid that spot until the fumigators can get there, making home infestations pretty rare.

Looking at reviews of a layover spot can also often tell you if there’s a history of bed bugs. Many independently-owned motels have a reputation for roaches or bed bugs, but even a Motel 6 can end up with these unwanted guests. You’d be surprised how many travelers have left negative reviews on TripAdvisor including pictures of bed bug poop on their mattress.

What to Do if You Slept in a Bed With Bed Bugs

So let’s say you were at a hotel and woke up with mysterious bites or spotted a critter that may or may not be a bed bug. You may even have been at a friend or relative’s home only to find out later there was an infestation.

Well you can’t just call an exterminator for them, and it might not be necessary to get one for yourself. Much like getting sick, the sooner you know (or suspect), the smaller the risk.

When travelling, you may also wish to consider taking along some things bed bugs hate, such as a bottle of rubbing alcohol or stocking up on garlic or essential oils. Just be warned that these don’t always work. 

How to Avoid Hitchhikers

laundry washing machine

When coming home, it’s a good practice to immediately throw all laundry (dirty or not) into the washer. Be sure to use high heat when drying. Not only will this take care of any bed bugs, but it can also kill any germs or other contaminants.

There are a lot of myths about what will repel or kill bed bugs, and what works in one instance may not work in another. However, that’s not to say you can’t treat your clothing or skin when out and about with one or more of these possible repellants to keep the risk of a hitchhiker minimal.

One thing is pretty certain, though: bed bugs prefer dirty laundry over freshly cleaned for the same reason you’d rather walk into a restaurant or bakery when it’s been open a while over going in before they start cooking.

Sweat and other smells let them know there’s food nearby, whereas they’re less inclined to go after the smell of laundry detergent and dryer sheets.

The Last Resort

Let’s say you didn’t find out you were exposed until you were already home. You washed all your laundry, but one may have been in the clothes you were wearing. There are a few options, and it’s most likely the bed bug will take up residence in (you guessed it!) the bedroom.

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It’s probably not necessary just yet to call a pro or use a bomb, but you’ll still want to do a home inspection to be safe. While this can be time consuming, it’s a good excuse to get that cleaning done you’ve been putting off. And it might just be enough to stop an infestation before it can start.

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