Merck Manual

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Quick Facts

Bedbugs

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision May 2020| Content last modified May 2020
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What are bedbugs?

Bedbugs are tiny, wingless insects that hide in the cracks of mattresses and in bed frames, cushions, and walls. They feed on the blood of people and certain animals.

  • Bedbugs hide during the day so you almost never see them

  • They come out at night and bite you while you sleep

  • Bedbugs bites don't wake you up, but you'll have a red, itchy bite in the morning

  • You may notice tiny spots of blood or dark spots on your sheets or mattress

  • It can be very stressful to have bedbugs, but they don't spread disease

  • Bedbugs are hard to get rid of, but an exterminator can help

If you stay overnight in a place that has bedbugs, the bugs may get in your suitcase or bag. Then the bedbugs can go with you to the next place you stay, including your home.

What do bedbug bites look like?

Bedbug bite marks usually appear on your skin in the morning, but they may not show up for several days. You may have several bite marks in a straight line or in groups.

Bites are usually:

  • Red, raised, itchy bumps

Bites also can look like:

  • Tiny holes

  • Purple flat spots

  • Blisters

The bite marks go away after about a week. If you scratch the bites, you may get an infection.

How can my doctor tell if I have bedbug bites?

Doctors suspect bedbug bites if you wake up with itchy bumps in areas that are covered by your sheets. A strong clue is finding spots of blood on your sheets. They may have you check your mattress and in the cracks of the wood molding where your walls meet the floor. You may see bug droppings or less often the bugs themselves. Bedbug bites can be hard to tell from other bug bites.

How do doctors treat bedbug bites?

Doctors treat itching from the bites with:

  • Corticosteroid creams

  • Antihistamine medicine

How do I get rid of bedbugs?

It's best to get the help of a professional exterminator. Professionals may recommend:

  • Vacuuming infested areas

  • Washing clothes and linens, then drying them on the dryer’s hottest setting

  • Heating the whole room to a temperature above 122° F (50° C)

  • Insecticides (chemicals to kill insects)

Bedbugs are often resistant to common pesticides (bug sprays).

How do I prevent bedbugs?

When you stay at a hotel or another person's house, keep your suitcase or bag closed and up off the floor. Bedbugs like to crawl into bags sitting on the floor.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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