Bed bugs: Expert reveals tell-tale sign to know if you’ve been bitten

How to tell whether you've been bitten by bed bugs, amid concerns that an infestation in Paris could be spreading to the UK.

Illustration of a bedbug on human skin.
Could the Paris bed bug infestation spread to the UK - or has it already? (Stock image: Getty)

A library in west London has closed temporarily following the discovery of bedbugs amid wider concerns about the spread of bedbugs in the UK following reports of an outbreak in France.

Ealing Central Library was shut on Monday after the insects were found in furnishings inside the building.

Although the library is safe for the public, concerns from staff and library users have prompted authorities to take swift action.

They have announced that the library will remain closed until Thursday after the insects have been eliminated.

It comes amid concern in London over bedbug infestations following a recent outbreak in Paris.

Rentokil Pest Control said it saw a 32% jump in enquiries about bedbugs in the UK from January to September this year compared with a year earlier,

The firm also tracked a 65% increase year-on-year in recorded bedbug activity in the second quarter of 2023, versus last year.

An activity is when a technician has been on a customer site and confirmed the presence of bedbugs.

Everything you need to know about bed bugs: Read more

'How to spot if you've been bitten'

While the thought of bed bugs makes most people's skin crawl, as far as scientists know, they do not carry any human disease and their bite is painless but can leave an itchy red mark, said Prof Robert Smith, professor emeritus at the University of Huddersfield.

He said: "Bites often show up as a straight row of three or four – I once woke up with a line of raised bites across my chest in a hotel in Ethiopia, with no ill effects. (I found this experience quite interesting although I can see that others might not.)"

Prof Smith reports of bedbugs have been increasing for many years, both in the UK and many other countries, probably mainly due to their developing resistance to insecticides.

"The five immature stages (nymphs) need a blood meal in order to develop to the next stage and adult bedbugs can live up to a year," added Prof Smith.

Two-day old lines of bedbug bites on a woman's back
Bites often show up as straight rows, say experts. (Stock image: Getty)

How to avoid bed bugs when travelling

Bedbugs mostly feed at night and "hang out in cracks and crevices" during the day, said Prof Smith.

"I no longer use drawers in hotels to avoid picking up bedbugs as they can quite easily hitch a ride in luggage," he added.

"Hence, they can travel between countries in luggage and are widespread. So, I wouldn’t worry about them, but would advise avoiding unpacking clothes as far as possible in hotels.

"Some people even advise storing your suitcase in the bathtub, though I don’t go that far."

'Good hitchhikers'

The spotlight may be on Paris, but bed bugs are found globally so are already in the UK, said Prof James Logan, professor of medical entomology and director of Arctech Innovation, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

"Bed bugs are good hitchhikers and could easily be brought from Paris to the UK, but could just as easily go from the UK to Paris," he said.

"It is unlikely that Paris is significantly worse than other places, although they may be unlucky right now with a bit of a bed bug boom."

Prof Logan said experts need to be able to monitor for bed bugs quicker so they can be dealt with quickly before infestations get out of control, adding: "There are traps that lure bed bugs effectively that can do this job – e.g. (developed by scientists at LSHTM)".

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 19:  Ben Hottel, a technical services manager with Orkin, talks through how he would inspect a hotel room for bed bugs at a mock hotel room at the Orkin Training Center in Atlanta on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (Photo by Kevin D. Liles for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Bed bugs often hide in crevices and cracks during the day. (Stock image: Getty)

How to prevent bed bugs at home

According to pest company Rentokil, there are a number of simple steps you can take to reduce your chances of an outbreak of bed bugs at home.

They include:-

  • Washing and drying clothes at the highest possible temperatures

  • Eliminating clutter in your house to give bed bugs fewer places to hide

  • Avoid spreading bed bugs to your friends and family by not taking any clothes, suitcases or furniture to their homes

  • Tidying all areas of your bedroom, especially the floor around/underneath your bed and bed-side cabinets.

  • Vacuuming can greatly reduce the size of the bed bug population, but only when they’re clearly visible. It cannot guarantee total elimination. (Empty and clean the vacuum to avoid transferring eggs to other rooms.)

  • DIY products can help eliminate some bed bugs but shouldn’t be relied on to get rid of the problem completely

What else do you need to know?

According to Rentokil, bed bugs can easily move from house to house through wall or floor cavities and can spread quickly - which means infestations need to be treated sooner rather than later.

Some people think sunlight can kill bed bugs, the company added.

But it said: "Heat does kill them but it needs to be quite high (around 50 degrees) and over a sustained period – so it’s very unlikely with UK weather!"