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Do a Few Bed Bugs Mean You Have an Infestation?

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Author Icon By Brenda Woods Updated 02/08/2024

There are no two ways about it—spotting even a single bed bug in your home is cause for concern. While you may think that just one tiny pest isn’t a big deal, it can signal you have a full-on infestation: where there is one bed bug, there are almost certainly many more.

If you find even just a few bed bugs, you need to call in the professionals. Bed bug infestations are notoriously difficult to eradicate, but reputable pest control companies have decades of experience battling bed bugs and can perform thorough inspections and devise treatment plans. We’ll identify the signs of a bed bug infestation and make some recommendations for the best pest control providers to treat it.

Why a Few Bed Bugs Are a Risk

While it’s possible just a few hitchhikers found their way into your home after scuttling onto a piece of luggage after a hotel stay or clinging to an overnight guest’s clothing, if you find any, there are probably more. Bed bugs are not solitary creatures, and they live in large groups.

There’s especially cause for concern if there are any female bed bugs—if one is pregnant, it will start laying eggs rapidly and then reproduce with its offspring. A single female can lay one to three eggs per day and 200–500 eggs in her lifetime. Additionally, as the Environmental Protection Agency points out, treating a bed bug problem when it’s still small is much cheaper and easier than eradicating a full-blown infestation.

If you spot even a couple bed bugs, it’s best to call a professional pest control company. But if you’re curious, you can try to see if the tiny pest you’ve cornered is female. While male bed bugs have pointed abdomens, the females’ abdomens are round. Bed bugs are just 7 millimeters at the longest, so this may be a hard distinction to see.

Why It’s Hard to Spot Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are very stealthy pests. They are as thin as a credit card, have a reddish-brown color that easily blends into bed frames and other furniture, and don’t fly—so it’s unlikely you’ll catch them crawling around from across the room. During the day, they tend to hide out within cracks and crevices in mattresses, box springs, furniture, wallpaper, and other hard-to-reach places. This makes most DIY insecticide treatments ineffective.

They feed at night, while you’re too busy sleeping to be on the lookout. Even if they bite you, you might remain unaware of their presence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people experience a wide variety of responses to bed bug bites. You may have no mark, a small mark, or even an allergic reaction. Bed bug bites sometimes occur in straight lines across the skin, as the bugs often bite along the folds of a sheet or blanket.

How To Make Sure It’s a Bed Bug

A line of bites on your arm isn’t enough to assume a bed bug infestation. Before you jump to conclusions, it’s a good idea to confirm that what you’ve found really is a bed bug. Adult bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed. Their bodies are oval-shaped, reddish-brown, less than 10 millimeters (1/5 inch) long, and have six legs and small, segmented antennae.

overhead view of a bed bug

People often mistake cockroach nymphs, carpet beetles, and fleas for live bed bugs. Look for the following signs to confirm that you’re dealing with bed bugs. In fact, you may see these signs long before you see an actual bug.
Blood stains—A rusty red stain on your bedding means you may have squashed a bed bug before it digested its meal.
Exoskeletons—Delicate, molted, near-translucent skins are evidence of bed bugs. They look just like the adult bugs except for the color.
Eggs/egg casings—They may only be the size of a pinpoint, but they’re a surefire sign that bed bugs have hatched in your living space—or were about to.
Fecal matter—Bed bug excrement consists of dark, blackish spots about the size of a bullet point (•). They can bleed into paper and fabric and look a lot like ink spots.
Bite marks—If you’re part of the population that has a reaction to bed bugs, you’re likely to find the marks on your face, neck, arms, and hands.
Musty, sweet odor—This unpleasant, moldy smell comes from bed bugs’ scent glands.

How To Search for Bed Bugs

If you want to search for any other signs of bed bug activity before you call in the professionals, start by moving your bed away from the walls. The pests are called bed bugs for a reason. They love to live close to their food and tend to cluster in your bed frame, mattress, box spring, and bedding.

Strip the bedding and turn all pillowcases and comforters inside out. Comb through every crease and fold. Your mattress and box spring are popular bed bug homes, especially the piping around the edges of your mattress. Flip your mattress over and thoroughly check both sides. Look at the joints in your bed frame and headboard.

If the infestation is severe, bed bugs can live in walls, baseboards, carpets, rugs, furniture, clothing, and even electrical outlets and electronics. You can examine these areas using a credit card to scrape and a flashlight to help you find signs of exoskeletons, eggs, and egg casings. However, at this point, you’re probably better off calling pest control professionals to help.

Calling the Professionals

If you confirm the presence of bed bugs, there are a few measures you can take, like thoroughly washing your linens and drying them on the hottest heat setting possible, and purchasing encasements for your mattress and box spring. But exterminating bed bugs is a complex and lengthy process, so your next step should be calling a professional pest control company.

Our top-rated nationwide providers, Terminix and Orkin, both diagnose and treat bed bug infestations. After performing an extensive inspection, each company will develop a targeted, tailored plan to eliminate all bed bugs—the eggs as well as the juvenile and adult bugs. We recommend reaching out to each one to get a free quote and find your best fit.

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FAQs About Bed Bug Infestations

Can there be just one bed bug?

It’s possible that there’s only one bed bug in your home, but it’s unlikely. Even if there is just one, a single pregnant female can spawn many, many more.

What do you do if you see one bed bug?

The best thing to do if you see one bed bug is to call a professional pest control company. They can assess the extent of your issue and help you develop a treatment plan. Even if there is no infestation, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing you did your due diligence.

How many bed bugs is considered an infestation?

There is no exact number that determines whether you have an infestation. However, if you have even one pregnant female, it can produce 500 eggs, leading to an infestation.

Our Rating Methodology

The This Old House Reviews Team backs up our pest control recommendations with a detailed rating methodology that we use to objectively score each provider. We review pest control plans, navigate the provider website, speak with customer service representatives by phone and online chat (if available), request quotes, and analyze customer reviews for each provider. We then score the provider against our review standards for plans and services, reputation and customer responses, customer service offerings, workmanship guarantees, financing, and availability to arrive at a final score on a 5-point rating scale.

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