Sleeping with the enemy: get ready for the bedbug invasion

Bedbugs are having a moment, so how can you spot the signs that you’re living with them?

Bedbugs are big news in France: they’re plaguing Paris, and now the UK is bracing itself for an invasion of the pesky critters.

Warmer months are peak time for feeding and mating – and with Paris Fashion Week, summer holidays and the build-up to the Olympics, bedbugs have been a real problem.

The tiny creatures love to travel and they’re a particular problem in densely packed cities. Bedbugs are very hard to get rid of and, as with any pests, prevention is better than cure, so what steps can you take to keep them at bay?

A bedbugCredit: Shutterstock / TinoFotografie

Bedbugs: nature’s own hitchhikers

Bedbugs are nothing to panic about, but it’s not a case of them hopping on the Eurostar to head to the UK from France – they’re already here.

Technical and compliance manager at the British Pest Control Association, Natalie Bungay, told Saga Exceptional: “Bedbugs have been around since the dinosaurs, and as long as they’ve got access to a food source and they feel safe – for example, in the crack of a skirting board – they’re happy to live with us.

“They’re more of a problem in larger cities, particularly where people live in flats, as they can move from room to room. We’ve seen a lot of headlines about bedbugs in Paris recently, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a problem already.”

So how worried should you be about bringing bedbugs back from holiday? “They can hitchhike on luggage or clothing, so if you stay in a hotel with bedbugs, they’ll latch on to what they can and you might find you’re bringing them home with you,” says Bungay.

“One person who lives in a flat could bring them home from holiday in France, for example, and they can spread to their neighbour, then to another and then they become very hard to eradicate.”


Do bedbugs prefer clean houses?

Bungay warns that bedbugs are difficult to prevent, so staying vigilant is key. “You might not know tons of people who’ve had them, but it’s always worth keeping an eye out for them and making sure they don’t spread.

“Bedbugs don’t really discriminate between clean and dirty houses, but they’re easier to spot if you clean more often. If you’re not changing your bed sheets for two months, you won’t spot the signs as quickly, so good housekeeping is our top tip.

“It’s down to luck whether you bring them home from holiday, it’s not whether you’re clean or dirty. The more often you clean, the more likely you are to spot them early.”

Bedbugs are oval, flat and brownish-red in colour. They’re only up to 6mm (0.2in) long and don’t have wings. As they’re so tiny, you might not see them, but signs of bedbugs include bites on exposed skin, spots of blood on your bedding and small brown spots of poo.

If you spot signs of bedbugs, they’re difficult to treat with DIY methods. “They’re the one pest we’d recommend you don’t try and treat yourself, because the chances are you’re going to fail,” says Bungay. “Find a professional pest controller. You can do a DIY treatment on some pests, but with bedbugs you’re likely to make it worse and, as the infestation spreads, you’ll end up throwing clothes and bedding away.”

Once you’ve got rid of the problem, you might still find yourself traumatised by the thought of the unwelcome visitors. “Bedbug bites can be very unpleasant and a lot of times the mental anguish is very difficult for people to deal with. Once you eradicate an infestation, we find that some people are affected so badly, they still feel uncomfortable,” says Bungay.

Can you prevent bedbugs?

The debate about how often you should change your bedsheets is a contentious one, but it’s a good idea to keep on top of it. Another bedbug aficionado, Nic Shacklock from Online Bedrooms, told Saga Exceptional:

“When it comes to keeping bedbugs at bay, a little vigilance goes a long way. Make it a habit to give your mattress and bed frame a quick once-over regularly; you’re looking for small, reddish-brown insects, as well as tiny dark spots, which could be their droppings.

“While you’re at it, we recommend that you add a bedbug-proof cover on your mattress and pillows. They zip up tight, and bedbugs can’t get through them. And don’t underestimate the power of a good clean. A quick vacuum around the bed and furniture can make all the difference. Bedbugs cannot withstand extreme temperatures. Wash your bed linens, curtains, and even your clothes in hot water, and dry them on a high heat setting if possible.”

How do I know I’ve been bitten by a bedbug?

Bedbug bites are often confused with flea bites, but the difference is that bedbugs won’t just go for your ankles, but any exposed skin such as the face, neck and arms. Bites can be raised and itchy. On white skin, they look red and they may be harder to see on black or brown skin, appearing purple. You might have a reaction, including pain or itching.

“If you have bites, your GP can help you diagnose where they’re coming from, but a pest controller can put monitors down to check if you have bedbugs or fleas. Some people have bites around their ankles and it turns out they’re from cable bugs,” says Bungay.

Find more information on bedbugs – and search for a reputable pest controller – on the BPCA website

Hannah Verdier

Written by Hannah Verdier


Hannah Verdier writes about fitness, health, relationships, podcasts, TV and the joy of reinventing yourself at 50 and beyond. She’s a graduate of teenage music bible Smash Hits and has a side hustle as a fitness trainer who shows people who hated PE at school how to love exercise.

  • twitter