What You Should Know About Bed Bugs

Read the information below so that you can better understand this nation-wide problem.


Overview: At one time bed bugs were almost eliminated from the United States. However, currently they are found in all 50 states including Iowa. Bed bugs are not known to spread disease. Bed bug bites usually will cause large itchy welts on the skin. These welts may not appear for 24 to 48 hours after the bite. Bed bugs are travelers. They often spread by hitchhiking on luggage, furniture, and possessions. They are not typically spread from direct person-to-person contact.

What is a bed bug?

Bed bugs are oval-shaped and wingless insects. They do not jump, but crawl. Like mosquitoes they bite humans to feed on blood but unlike mosquitoes they do not transmit diseases. The adults are about the size of a lentil (slightly larger than 1/8 of an inch). Immature bed bugs (nymphs) start out about the size of a poppy seed and grow gradually through several stages until they reach adult size. Both nymphs and adults expand slightly and become a deep red color after feeding. It has been shown that a bed bug can survive as long as eighteen months without feeding. If temperature changes occur slowly over a period of days and weeks, they can adapt and withstand both hot and cold environments.

Bed bug pictures (larger than actual size):

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Where do bed bugs live?

Bed bugs live primarily on, and close to, the area where a person sleeps. Most bed bugs live within 8 feet of where people sleep. Although their name suggests beds, bed bugs can live in very small spaces and crevices on or within baseboards, behind headboards, on bed frames, in wall and ceiling cracks, in furniture and drawers, in curtains and drapes, on mattress seams, on pillows, on clothes piled on the floor, at the junction of carpet and the adjoining wall, on boxes, luggage, or backpacks, and even in electrical outlets, clock radios, fans, and other electronic/computer equipment. They are most active at night, especially in the pre-dawn hours.

How are bed bugs transmitted?

Bed bug infestations occur when bed bugs are picked up in infested rooms (like motel rooms) and carried back to residences (like your residence hall room) in the luggage and clothing of travelers. In an extremely advanced infestation they will travel within buildings through wall, floor, and ceiling openings, on pipes, and on cables. Bringing second-hand furniture into your residence hall room can also be a method of transmission.
How do I know if I have bed bugs?
  • bug bites, welts, itching
  • small blood spots found on bedding

Are bed bugs a health issue?

Since bed bugs feed on blood, many people have a concern about the spread of disease. There is no evidence that they transmit diseases to humans. The insect is a public health pest, but NOT a threat to public health.

What can I do?

  • Learn to identify bed bugs and know how to examine your bed, linens, and possessions.
  • If you suspect you have bed bug bites, schedule an appointment with the Health Center. If your suspicion is confirmed, the nurse will notify residence life staff immediately so they can start inspection and treatment right away.  Click here to see how residence life will handle it.
  • Inspect your bed and bedding periodically. It is possible to have bed bugs and not have an allergic reaction such as a bite or welt.
  • Inspect your backpack and laptop bag regularly. Check seams and pouches. Don’t put your backpack under your bed.
  • Clean and reduce clutter in your room, particularly clothing on the floor. This will reduce the number of places bed bugs might hide.
  • Don’t bring second-hand or found furniture into your room or apartment.
  • When traveling, inspect your sleeping area and keep your luggage on a valet rack, not on the bed or floor.
  • Before returning to campus, inspect your clothes and other items before packing them. Check crevices, zippers, and pouches in your luggage and backpack.
  • Upon your return to campus, recheck all your travel items. Don’t put your suitcase or backpack under your bed.
Myth: Bed bugs spread disease among people.
Fact: Bed bugs do not spread any diseases but they are a public health nuisance.
Myth: Someone on campus has bed bug bites--they must have gotten them in their residence hall room.
Fact: Bed bugs are primarily a problem for hotels, motels, and resorts that have a transient population.
Myth: It would only take a week for bed bugs to spread to an entire residence hall.
Fact: It normally takes months for a severe infestation to spread to other rooms within the same general area.
Myth: Cornell has cloth mattresses which facilitate spread of bed bugs since they can get inside the mattress.
Fact: Cornell has special thick bug resistant covers on all mattresses, making it impossible for bed bugs to go below the surface of the mattress cover.