The only way to know for sure if you have bed bugs is to produce an actual sample of the bug itself (methods for doing this are discussed below). Do not automatically assume that any bite-like mark is a bed bug bite. Also it is important to realize that medical professionals cannot give a positive diagnosis simply by examining bite symptoms, they can only suggest some possible explanations for what may have caused the bites/symptoms to occur.
If you are experiencing bites but have not seen any bugs, you should consider the circumstances in which the bites are occurring. For example, there is a very good chance that you have bed bugs if you waking up each morning with bite symptoms on your body that were not present when you went to sleep. A situation like this would be a good reason to investigate the possibility that bed bugs are present. in the car, at work, etc. are much less likely to be caused by bed bugs. It is also important to realize that just because you have looked for bed bugs and could not find them, does not mean that they are not there. These insects lead a very cryptic and secretive lifestyle and will often go undetected. It is best to have a highly trained professional conduct the inspection for you.
Occasionally you may see evidence of a bed bug infestation without actually seeing any bed bugs. Bed bugs leave fecal stains in the areas they inhabit. These stains are actually partially digested blood but remember that it will not be red unless you crush a bed bug that has just recently fed. As the blood is digested it turns black and therefore the bed bug droppings usually consist of several black spots in one area. The fecal spots will not flake off if rubbed and will smear if wiped with a wet rag.
Remember the key to knowing if you have an active bed bug infestation is to produce a live sample of a bed bug and there are several ways that you can easily do this including:
- Visual inspection of sleeping and resting areas such as beds and upholstered furniture.
Carefully examine the areas beneath fitted sheets, along the edges of mattress piping, if no bugs or evidence of bugs are found, remove the mattress and continue with inspection of the box spring paying close attention to the four corners under the plastic corner guards and the on the underside of the box spring where the dust cover is stapled into the frame. Keep in mind that bed bugs can easily be missed during a visual inspection so using one or more of the other methods below is recommended if no bugs are found during a visual inspection.
- Installation of interception devices or active monitors.
Installing interception devices under the legs of beds and couches is one of the most effective and economical methods to detect low level bed bug infestations that are missed during a visual inspection. Interception devices can be placed directly under or immediately adjacent to the legs of sleeping and resting areas such as beds and sofas. Bed bugs will naturally move around in an infested environment and these devices will trap them as they travel to and from beds and furniture. It is best to leave interceptors in place for up to 2-4 weeks inspecting them once every few days to once per week for activity. University based research has demonstrated this method to be a highly effective method for the detection of bed bug activity.
Active monitors are traps that use attractants (usually CO2 and/or chemical lures) to detect the presence of bed bugs. These types of monitors can be effective but tend to be more costly than the interception devices. For more information on passive and active monitors see sections on Early Detection and/or Early Detection Tools and Methods
- Installation of mattress and box spring encasements
Mattress and box spring encasements are more expensive but are an invaluable tool for anyone who is concerned about bed bugs. Encasements not only aid in the early detection of bed bugs but they also protect the bed and are an important part of bed bug management. Encasements aid in early detection by restricting them to the exterior of the encasement where they are easily detected through visual inspection. Use of encasements coupled with the use of interception devices is a very effective combination. For more information on encasements see sections on Mattress and Box Spring Encasements, Early Detection and/or Early Detection Tools and Methods
- Contracting a pest management professional to conduct a thorough inspection.
While you can certainly conduct you own inspection, qualified pest management professional know exactly where to look and what to look for and thus are more likely to discover a low level infestation compared to an individual who lacks such training. Still, low level bed bug infestations can be difficult to detect and no matter how good the visual inspection performed is, bed bug infestations can remain undetected even though bugs may be present so it is wise to monitor for activity over a period of time to identify very low level infestations.
It is important to remember that no one detection tool or method is every 100% effective, so using a combination of methods is always recommended