Some grow up hearing the saying, "don't let the bed bugs bite," but what are these bed bugs?

The bed bug is a common pest that is small, flat and reddish-brown. This wingless parasitic insect feeds solely on the blood of people while they sleep, causing itchy bites and irritation to their human hosts. They are also known to feed on animals.

The most common side effect of a bite is itching that often leads to excessive scratching, increasing the chance of a secondary skin infection. Bed bugs are not considered to be dangerous, but allergic reactions to several bites are possible and could require medical attention.
Bed bugs are not known to transmit or spread disease.

But they can cause anxiety and business disruptions, so it's important to pay close attention to preventing and controlling bed bugs.

These insects aren't unique to the U.S., and experts think the recent increase in bed bugs in the U.S. may be due to more people travelling, lack of knowledge about preventing infestations, increased resistance to pesticides and ineffective pest control practices.

In fact, bed bugs have been found in five-star hotels and resorts.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they are found in clean and dirty conditions alike.

Bed bug infestations usually occur around or near areas where people sleep. For example, bed bugs are normally in apartments; shelters; rooming houses; hotels; cruise ships and dorm rooms. They hide during the day in areas close to or on the bed, like the seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, dresser tables, behind wallpaper or any other clutter or objects around a bed.

However, the CDC said they have been known to travel more than 100 feet in a night and will migrate in search of a host. That includes travelling to nontraditional areas such as offices, theaters and clothing stores.

One of the easiest ways to identify an infestation is from the tell-tale bite marks the bed bug makes on an individual while they sleep. These bite marks may take as long as 14 days to develop, so be aware for other signs if an individual thinks they may have a bed bugs problem.

These signs include:
-Live bed bugs
-Dark spots on bedding or clothing which are bed bug excrement and may run on the fabric like a marker would
-Bed bugs in the fold of mattresses and sheets
-Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed

Most people do not realize they have been bitten until bite marks appear so it's hard to determine if they have been bitten by a bed bug because the bite is similar to a mosquito or a flea, usually a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating.

Bed bugs are experts at hiding because they can fit into the smallest of spaces and stay there for a long time. But they are usually transported from place to place when people travel and slip into any tight, small area where they can hide. Sometimes individuals don't realize they are transporting a stow-away from place to place, infecting areas as they travel.

Individuals can protect themselves by:
-Inspecting luggage and living accommodations while traveling; Keep belongings stowed separately from those of other people.
-Reduce clutter because it serves as an ideal habitat for bed bugs whether at home, school or office.
-Be vigilant in areas where bed bugs are most likely to be found, which includes break rooms,
storage areas, coat closets or cubbies, offices or lounges with upholstered furniture or areas where people may rest.
-Vacuum daily to pick up any stray bugs before they settle in.
-Check secondhand furniture, beds and couches for any signs of bed bug infestation before bringing them Caution-home.
-Be vigilant when using shared laundry facilities. Transport items to be washed in plastic bags. Remove from dryer directly into bag and fold at home--a dryer on high heat can kill bed bugs.

The best way to treat a bite is to avoid scratching the area, apply antiseptic creams or lotions and take an antihistamine. Bed bug infestations are commonly treated by insecticide spraying.

If an individual suspects that he or she has an infestation, contact the landlord or a professional pest control company that is experienced with treating bed bugs.

Maj. Mayamona Diakabana, the Ireland Army Health Clinic chief of public health nursing, said the best way to prevent bed bugs is regular inspection for the signs of an infestation.

"Please treat for bed bugs at earliest sign, because it can be very difficult to treat once they have spread," she explained. "Remember, bed bugs can survive several months to a year without a meal."

For any questions, contact Ireland Army Health Clinic Public Health Nursing at (502) 624-9355/9103. Or visit Caution-www.cdc.gov and search for "bed bugs."