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What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are parasitic insects that feed on the blood of people and animals during sleep but are NOT considered to be medical or public health hazards. These insects have not been found to spread disease. An adult is typically 5-7mm long.

Traditionally bed bugs have been problematic in developing countries, but recently have been spreading rapidly throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe. They tend to be found near areas where people sleep, including hotels (even 5-star resorts!), cruise ships, apartments, dorms, buses, trains, and other areas where a large number of people may sleep. New infestations primarily occur through inadvertent transport of bed bugs on personal items, furniture, and luggage.

Signs of bed bugs

  • Bite marks on exposed areas of skin on the face, neck, arms, hands, or other body parts while sleeping. These marks tend to appear in a row or line, are very itchy, and typically develop 1-14 days after being bitten. Bite marks generally take 3-6 weeks to heal. The bite itself is generally painless.
  • Bed bug exoskeletons after molting.
  • Bed bugs found in mattress and sheet folds.
  • Rusty-colored blood spots due to blood-filled fecal material excreted by bed bugs on the mattress, headboard, bed frame, or nearby furniture.
  • Sweet musty odor.
  • Others in the house with the same symptoms.

Treatment Options

For the majority of people, bed bugs are not a serious medical threat. In the majority of cases, the following steps are all that are needed.

  • Do not scratch the bites. Scratching increases the risk of infection.
  • Apply an antiseptic cream or lotion to the bites.
  • Take an over-the-counter antihistamine such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin), or fexofenadine (Allegra) as needed to help with itching.
  • Use an Anti-itch lotion per package directions.
  • Use over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or ointment per package directions.

Seek medical care if you experience any of the following

  • Enlarging bite marks
  • Pain, redness, pus, and/or swelling at the site
  • Severe allergic reaction (trouble breathing or swallowing – anaphylaxis) This is a medical emergency—call for emergency help by dialing 911.


Pest Management

If you suspect you have bed bugs, notify your RA or area Housing Office, or your landlord immediately. Eradication of infestation requires experienced pest management professionals.


Certain actions may help to prevent bedbug infestation.

  • Examine hotel rooms or other new sleeping areas for any signs of bed bugs prior to use. Pay particular attention to sheets, headboards, mattress cords and crevices in box springs.
  • Unpack directly into your washing machine after a trip and check your luggage carefully. When staying in hotels, place your suitcases on luggage racks instead of the floor.
  • Avoid placing regularly carried personal items (backpacks or luggage) on or adjacent to sleeping surfaces.
  • Use a protective cover that encases your mattress and box springs. Check regularly for wear and tear of the cover.
  • Reduce clutter in your home so the bed bugs have fewer places to hide.
  • Carefully exam “used” items (especially bedding items) purchased from garage sales or resale shops for any signs of bed bugs prior to bringing them in the home.

Additional Information Can be Found at These Sites:


In an emergency go to Mount Nittany Medical Center or call 911 for an ambulance.

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. This information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

Approved by the UHS Patient Education Committee

Revised  11/2022

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