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Do a Few Bed Bugs Mean You Have an Infestation?

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Author Image Written by Brenda Woods Updated 05/24/2024

When you spot even a few bed bugs in your home, it’s normal to worry about a full-blown infestation. Bed bugs can be notoriously difficult to get rid of, and where there is one, there are almost certainly many more.

In this article, we’ll explore what “a few bed bugs” really means and how to tell if you have a full-blown infestation. Our guide also covers DIY prevention measures and when to call in a professional pest control pest control.

Learn how to get rid of bed bugs before they become a serious problem in your home in this video:

Are a Few Bed Bugs a Big Deal?

Finding a few bed bugs doesn’t necessarily mean you have a full-blown infestation. However, bed bugs are not solitary insects. If you find one bed bug, there are probably more hiding nearby. Here’s how to tell the difference between a bed bug introduction and a bed bug infestation.

  • Introduction: A bed bug introduction occurs when a few bed bugs are accidentally brought into your home on your luggage, clothes, or secondhand furniture. For instance, you might pick up a few hitchhikers from an infested hotel room. You can’t entirely prevent bed bug introductions, but if you catch them before they have a chance to establish a breeding population, you can prevent an infestation.
  • Infestation: Bed bugs live in colonies—and it only takes one pregnant female to start a colony. After her first batch of eggs, she will continue to reproduce with her offspring, laying one to three eggs per day and 200–500 eggs in her lifetime. Once bed bugs have settled in and reproduced in your home, you officially have an infestation. Look for evidence of multiple life stages, such as eggs, shed skins, and live bugs.
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.

Remember that “a few” is a relative term. The presence of multiple adult bed bugs is a strong indicator of an established population. A single bed bug could have traveled on your clothing, but it could also indicate an undetected infestation. 

If you find just one or two bed bugs, you should inspect your home thoroughly for other signs of an infestation. 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.

People often mistake cockroach nymphs, carpet beetles, and fleas for bed bugs. Look for the following signs to confirm that you’re dealing with bed bugs. In fact, you may see these early signs of bed bugs 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 eggs and egg casings 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—Not everyone has a reaction to bed bug bites, but you may find marks on your face, neck, arms, and hands.
Musty, sweet odor—This unpleasant, moldy smell comes from bed bugs’ scent glands.

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

Why It’s Hard to Spot Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are very stealthy pests. They are as thin as a credit card with a reddish-brown color that easily blends into many bed frames—so it’s unlikely you’ll spot them from across the room. They don’t jump or fly, which makes them even harder to notice.

Like many pests, bed bugs are nocturnal. They feed at night, while you’re too busy sleeping to be on the lookout. During the day, they crawl into cracks, crevices, and other hard-to-reach hiding places. For instance, they might hide along the seams of your mattress or behind wallpaper.

Even if bed bugs bite you, you might remain unaware of their presence. Bed bug bites sometimes occur in straight lines across the skin, as the bugs often bite along the folds of a sheet or blanket—but you may have no reaction at all. 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.

How To Search for Bed Bugs

To determine whether it’s just a few bed bugs versus an infestation, you need to conduct a thorough search.

Step 1: Start With Your Bed

Move your bed away from the walls, strip the bedding, and turn all pillowcases and duvet covers inside out. These 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.

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.

Step 2: Check the Surroundings

After examining your bed, carefully inspect the surrounding area for additional signs of bed bugs. Look at the joints in your bed frame and headboard. If you have upholstered furniture nearby, check under cushions and in seams. Check along the edges of the carpet where it meets the wall, as well as along baseboards, behind furniture, and inside nightstands.

Use a flashlight to help you find bed bugs, exoskeletons, or eggs in dark crevices. You might even want to use an old credit card to dislodge bed bugs and their eggs from tight spaces.

Step 3: Expand the Search

Though you are most likely to find bedbugs in or around your bed, they can also live in walls, baseboards, carpets, rugs, furniture, clothing, and even electrical outlets and electronics. If you suspect a severe infestation, you may want to expand your search. Check in less obvious places like behind wall hangings, inside books on shelves, and underneath loose wallpaper or peeling paint.

A thorough search can be tedious. If you find a large number of bed bugs or any indication that the infestation has spread beyond your bed, you’re probably better off calling pest control professionals to help.

When To Call a Professional for Bed Bugs

If you confirm the presence of bed bugs, you should take action quickly. Start by thoroughly washing your linens in hot water and drying them on the hottest heat setting possible. Bed bugs will die when exposed to high temperatures. Purchase encasements for your mattress and box spring, and keep them in place for at least a year.

Battling bed bugs can be is a complex and lengthy process. Many bed bugs have developed resistance to the pesticides used in store-bought treatments. Diatomaceous earth can be effective at killing adults, but it won’t work on eggs and can be tricky to apply. Hiring a licensed exterminator is often the best course of action.

We recommend seeking professional help if you have a large or persistent infestation, especially if DIY treatments have been unsuccessful. A pest control company will have the best tools to treat your entire home quickly and effectively. You might also opt for professional treatment if you’re selling your home, landlord/tenant issues arise, or someone in the house is immunocompromised.

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.

How To Prevent a Bed Bug Infestation

While you can’t entirely eliminate the risk of bringing home bed bugs, there are several things you can do to significantly reduce your chances of an infestation:

  • Be vigilant after travel. Carefully inspect luggage and belongings before bringing them inside. If possible, unpack outside or in the garage. Immediately wash all clothing on a hot cycle and dry on high heat.
  • Store luggage wisely. When you stay in a hotel room, keep your luggage off the floor and store it away from the bed. Between trips, store suitcases away from your bedroom and living areas.
  • Inspect secondhand items. Thoroughly examine used furniture, mattresses, or clothing for signs of bed bugs before bringing them into your home.
  • Reduce clutter. Bed bugs love to hide, so minimizing clutter throughout your home provides them with fewer places to conceal themselves.
  • Seal entry points. Caulk or seal cracks and gaps around baseboards, windows, and electrical outlets. This helps prevent bed bugs from traveling between rooms or apartments.
  • Protect your mattress. Consider encasing your mattress and box spring in bed bug-proof covers. These covers won’t prevent an infestation, but they do make it easier to detect bed bugs.

How Can I Find a Bed Bug Exterminator in My Area?

Use the links below to find the best pest control companies in major U.S. metropolitan areas, including the top 10 cities affected by bed bugs.

Our Conclusion

Finding even a few bed bugs is cause for concern since bed bugs rarely live alone. To determine the extent of the problem, conduct a thorough inspection of your home. If you find signs of an established infestation, or if your DIY efforts aren’t effective, don’t hesitate to call in professional pest control experts. The sooner you act, the easier and less expensive it will be to get rid of your unwelcome guests.

FAQ About Bed Bug Infestations

Is it possible to have just a few bed bugs?

Yes, it is possible to have just a few bed bugs, especially after travel or bringing secondhand items into your home. However, bed bugs reproduce quickly and hide well, so seeing even a few could signal a larger problem.

What do you do if you see one bed bug?

If you see one bed bug, immediately start a thorough inspection of your bed and surrounding areas. Wash your bedding on the hottest settings, and contact a pest control professional if you see signs of a larger infestation.

How many bed bugs is considered an infestation?

There is no exact number that determines whether you have an infestation of bed bugs. Even one pregnant female bed bug could be considered an infestation since it has the potential to start a large population. However, finding multiple bed bugs in various life stages (adults, nymphs, eggs) makes it clear you have an active infestation that requires treatment.

What does a mild bed bug infestation look like?

In a mild bed bug infestation, you might find only a few live bed bugs. Other signs include small bloodstains on your sheets, dark fecal spotting, or shed skins. You might also start to experience bites, although not everyone reacts to bed bug bites.

Our Rating Methodology

We back 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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