Got Fleas or Bedbugs? How to Kill Both

How to Kill Both

Bedbugs and fleas are similar in size and behavior, so it can be difficult to tell them apart. Ridding a home of either requires early detection and swift, sure action.

Bedbugs and fleas were common in highly populated areas of the U.S. throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Suddenly, in the 1950s, bedbugs disappeared, probably due to heavy spraying of DDT.

Bedbug Resurgence

For the last ten years, bedbugs have been making a fierce comeback into the apartments and hotels of American cities. Late twentieth-century environmental regulations on pesticides, combined with an increase in air travel, has led to a steady rise in cases—according to one study, incidents of bedbugs have multiplied by 500 percent in the last three years in New York City.

Bedbugs vs. Fleas

Human fleas and bedbugs are very similar. Both are tiny, brown crawling insects that live on blood and reproduce in dozens. Both species feed mostly at night and can go months, in some cases over a year, without food. Both leave bites that look and feel like mosquito bites, and can, therefore, be hard to identify.

Identifying Bedbugs and Fleas

  • Notice clusters and rows of two to four bites around the ankles or hips, just beyond the clothing line.
  • Repeated bites, even when the windows have been closed all night.
  • A general feeling of itchy discomfort throughout the day.

What To Do

The first step is identifying which insect you are dealing with. Flea bites have a needle-sized puncture point at the center; bedbug bites do not. Fleas are more likely to crop up in homes with pets, while bedbugs are more likely to appear in the temporary living spaces of young people, or in hotels. Once a reasonable guess has been made about which critter it is, immediate action is required.

Combating Bedbugs

Many typical insect repellents will not kill bedbugs—nerve mutations have strengthened bedbug immunity over the years, so the best method of attack is quarantining and suffocating. Here are the steps:

  1. Vacuum the entire living space.
  2. Buy a large bag of diatomaceous earth, a white powder mineral compound made from the sediment of skeletal remains of plants. This stuff is all natural, but it is harmful to humans when inhaled; use a mask or cloth to protect the nostrils before beginning.
  3. Spread diatomaceous earth on bare mattresses, and then cover the mattresses in an insect-resistant zipped cover.
  4. Spread diatomaceous earth along doorways and on carpets.
  5. Dry all clothes, pillows, and linens in a high heat dryer for one hour to suffocate any hiding bugs.
  6. Line household mirrors with tape, and place all books in clear plastic bags sprinkled with diatomaceous earth. Leave for three weeks.

Combating Fleas

  1. Vacuum the entire living space.
  2. By an insect fogger at a drug store, and fog the bedroom and main living room (without inhaling fumes).
  3. Cover mattresses with insect-resistant zipped covers.
  4. Keep clothes and papers off the floor.

Bedbugs and fleas are nasty and sometimes persistent household companions. If everyone handles infestations quickly and thoroughly, perhaps by the mid-21st century they will once again be a thing of the past.

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