How do you get bedbugs?

These pests are attracted to people, not messy homes

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brown bedbugs hiding in the crease of the mattress

Recent news coverage of bedbug infestations in Paris and Las Vegas hotels have caught many people's attentions and raised concerns about these small, elusive pests. Bedbugs can create major headaches and are difficult to get rid of without hiring a professional pest control company. Understanding how these pests find their way into our homes is the first step in preventing an infestation.

Key insights

  • Bedbugs can enter your home in multiple ways, including after you stay in an infested hotel or bring infested items into your home, or when you live in a building with an infestation.
  • Bedbugs are not a sign of poor hygiene or dirtiness — they can infest even the cleanest homes.
  • Preventing bedbug infestations involves careful inspection of your surroundings, especially when traveling or bringing new items into your home.
  • Bedbugs can spread quickly in multiunit buildings, making it important to take preventive measures if you live in such a setting.

Four common ways to get bedbugs

Protecting your home from bedbugs requires taking many different precautions because of the multiple ways the pests can enter your home.

“Bedbugs can spread in so many ways,” said Megan Wede of Done Right Pest Solutions in Minnesota. “They can travel through luggage and travel. They can travel through secondhand items, shipped items in the mail or delivery. They can spread through walls in apartments and townhomes/condos, etc. They can spread if you have visited a friend or relative or if a friend or relative visits you.”

Here are some of the most common ways bedbugs can infest your home.

1. Staying in a place with bedbugs

One of the most common ways to get bedbugs is by spending time in an infested location. This could be a hotel, a friend's house or a hospital.

“It’s important to note that some level of risk exists whenever one travels, regardless of the location,” said Jim Fredericks, board-certified entomologist and senior vice president of public affairs at the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). “This doesn’t mean one should cancel travel plans, but it does require travelers to take extra precautions to reduce the likelihood of bringing bed bugs home from a trip.”

» BE SURE: What does a bedbug look like?

2. Bringing items with bedbugs into your home

Secondhand furniture, especially beds and couches, can be a source of bedbugs. The pests can survive for months without feeding, letting them hide in furniture until they find a new host. Always inspect used furniture carefully before bringing it into your home — including nightstands, tables and other furniture not always associated with bedbugs.

Bringing infested items into your home isn’t the only way you might end up with bedbugs, though — visitors can also be a source for the pests.

“Guests or visitors can bring bedbugs into your property if they have them in their homes,” said Jordan Foster of Fantastic Pest Control in London. “Often, bedbugs crawl onto clothing or belongings before transferring to furniture or bedding.”

» LEARN MORE: How to check for bedbugs

3. From neighboring residences

If you live in an apartment building, condo, dormitory or similar shared living space and one of your neighbors has an infestation, there's a high chance you could get them too. Bedbugs can crawl through cracks in the walls and floors or use pipe and wiring conduits to move between apartments.

“A bedbug infestation in one unit can quickly spread to other units through walls, ceilings or shared spaces,” Foster said.

4. Public buildings and transportation

Bedbugs can cling to clothing and accessories, so visiting any public location could introduce bedbugs to your home if a person with an infestation is present or has previously visited the location. Be especially careful in laundromats, as bedbugs may have been transported there on dirty laundry or sheets.

Bedbugs can also find their way into your home through public transportation. They can hide in the seats of buses, trains and taxis, waiting for an unsuspecting host. If you use public transportation frequently, it's important to be aware of this risk.

How can you prevent bedbugs?

Preventing bedbugs from entering your home involves being vigilant and taking proactive measures.

Inspect your accommodation

Inspect the room for signs of bedbugs before settling in at a hotel or guesthouse. Look for small, dark spots on the mattress, bed frame and nearby furniture. These spots could be bedbug excrement, eggs or shed skins. If you find any signs of bedbugs, request a different room or consider finding another place to stay.

“Inspecting bedrooms upon arrival and belongings upon departure can reduce the chances of carrying hitchhiking bedbugs,” Fredericks of the NPMA said.

A thorough inspection includes looking for live or dead bedbugs through the entire space, including inspecting the mattress seams and box springs. Fredericks recommends carrying a small flashlight with you to assist with visual inspections and avoiding placing luggage on furniture or luggage racks where bedbugs can hide.

Be careful with secondhand items

If you're buying used furniture, inspect it carefully for signs of bedbugs. Pay special attention to seams, cracks and hidden areas. If possible, consider treating the item with a bedbug pesticide or heat treatment before bringing it into your home.

Seal cracks and crevices

Seal any cracks and crevices in your walls, at the baseboards and around pipes to prevent bedbugs from moving into your apartment from neighboring units. You can use caulk or expanding foam to fill these gaps.

Be vigilant in public areas

Your hotel room isn't the only place you're at risk of picking up bedbugs. Fredericks said the pests can be found nearly anywhere humans are.

"This includes airplains, trains, movie theaters and school buses," he said. "They've even been found in couches, stuffed animals and purses."

When using public transportation or in a public area, keep your belongings on your lap or on the floor between your feet rather than on the seats. This can reduce the chances of bedbugs crawling into your items. When you get home, consider changing your clothes and inspecting your items, especially if you've been on a long journey.

» DO IT RIGHT: How to get rid of bedbugs

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    Can pets bring bedbugs into your home?

    While bedbugs are known to hitch a ride on clothing and luggage, it's less common for them to attach themselves to pets. Bedbugs prefer to feed on humans rather than pets. However, if your pet's bed or carrier has been in an infested area, it's possible for bedbugs to hide there and be brought into your home that way.

    Will keeping my home clean prevent bedbugs?

    Cleanliness is not a surefire prevention method for bedbugs.

    “Bedbugs are not respecters of persons,” said Wede of Done Right Pest Solutions. “They don't care one way or the other about a clean home or a messy home.”

    These pests are attracted to the warmth and carbon dioxide humans produce, not dirt or grime. However, maintaining a clean home can make it easier to spot signs of an infestation early. Regular cleaning, including vacuuming and decluttering, can also help to eliminate hiding places for bedbugs.

    Bedbugs may be attracted to dirty laundry, however, because they associate the scent with humans, their preferred hosts.

    Can bedbugs spread disease?

    Bedbugs are not known to transmit any diseases to humans. However, bedbug bites can cause itching and discomfort. In some cases, people may have an allergic reaction to the bites, leading to more severe symptoms, like blistering or difficulty breathing.

    Can bedbugs survive outside?

    Bedbugs are indoor pests that are not adapted to outdoor conditions. They prefer to live in close proximity to their primary food source: humans. They can survive for a few months without feeding, but extreme temperatures, low humidity and lack of food make it unlikely for bedbugs to survive outdoors for long.

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