Bed Bugs at College: Questions and Answers

Health Writer

College classes have been going on for a few months now and much to the dismay of both students and their parents, some have come across, or may be living with, the dreaded bed bug. Because college students, especially girls, are known for sharing clothes and belongings, bed bugs can quickly spread from dorm room to dorm room. Then, when bags of laundry come home on the weekend, the bed bugs come too.

The first step to controlling bed bugs is to be knowledgeable; to know the signs and to continually watch for any evidence that they may be present. Being diligent pays off because you can address the problem early, before spreading the bugs to a number of locations.

What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?

Bed bugs are small - as adults, they are a little less than ¼ inch long.  Bed bugs are oval shaped and are normally about a ¼ wide as well. As adults, they are brown; immature bed bugs are lighter in color and will be much smaller than the adults, about 1mm. or the size of a pinhead. Eggs are also about 1mm. in size. Because they are a very light color, they are very difficult to spot. Often, bedbugs aren't seen until they reach adulthood, when they have already laid eggs. Google images provide numerous pictures to help you become familiar with what bed bugs look like.

Where Do You Find Bed Bugs?

The most obvious answer is in beds, but bed bugs also can be found in couches and other upholstered furniture, piles of clothes, clutter in your closet , suitcases. Bed bugs can attach themselves to your clothing and be transported anywhere you go. They have been found not only private homes but in hotels, dorms and even movie theatres.

Bed bugs can occasionally be found on pets, such as dogs and cats. Bed bugs cannot jump or fly, they crawl and therefore they would need to crawl from their original location to the animal so it may happen if your pet sleeps on a bed or couch infested with bed bugs. Their feeding habits, however, are similar to mosquitos - they will bite and leave. They are not parasites that live on an animal.

What Are the Bites Like?

Bed bug bites cause itchy, red welts on your body, similar to a mosquito bite. Just as with mosquito or other bug bites, some people have more of a reaction than others. Some people have large red welts and others may have no reaction at all. Topical, anti-itch lotions, such as those used for any bug bites usually help. You can also visit the health center at your college for help with the itching. Bed bugs do not usually spread disease so there is not a concern about additional illnesses if you have been bitten.

What to Do if You Have Bed Bugs in Your Dorm

If you, or your child, suspects that there are bed bugs in their dorm room, the first step is to contact the college. Most colleges are already prepared and have plans in place to help control the bed bug population. Your dormitory should have an office you can report this to, if not, contact the Student Housing Office.

Y__ou can't control bed bugs yourself and it is likely that what you do will help spread the bugs rather than get rid of them. You should, however, clean up any piles of clutter or clothes in your room so any measures taken by the college are more effective. All clothes, towels and sheets should be washed in hot water and placed in a hot dryer. Place them into a plastic bag and close the bag tightly until you get to the laundry room or facility. Do not use the same plastic bag after the clothes or sheets are washed. Throw it away in an outdoor dumpster to avoid the bedbugs remaining in your dormitory. Use a clean plastic bag to transport them back to your dorm. They should not be put back onto the bed or in your drawers until the college tells you it is okay.

It is also important to not remove any clothing or items for your room. Students often panic and begin throwing items out they think are infested, but this can actually spread the infestation rather than controlling it. Make sure to follow any instructions given to you by the housing office.

How Can You Avoid Getting Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are transported, they do not come in from outside or move from location to location by themselves. This means that if you have not come in contact with any place that has bed bugs, or had anyone visit you with bed bugs, you won't have them. The following are suggestions to lessen your chances of getting bed bugs:

  • Do not bring in used or discarded items into your room.
  • Inspect luggage and backpacks before bringing into your room, especially if you have been somewhere you believe may have had bed bugs. Keep in mind bed bugs hide in seams, folds and zippers. Vacuum your luggage and back packs if you suspect bed bugs - make sure to throw away vacuum cleaner bags in an outdoor dumpster.
  • When sleeping somewhere you think may have bedbugs, use a flashlight at night and look around the seams. Bed bugs are nocturnal and hide during the day, coming out at night. While you probably won't be able to see the young bed bugs, you may be able to see the adults.
  • Avoid having piles of clutter or clothes in your room. Although these don't attract bed bugs from outside, they can be great hiding and breeding places for bed bugs if you have brought them into your room and make it more difficult to treat your room if bed bugs are found.


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"Bed Bugs - Prevention is (Definitely) Better Than Cure," 2010, may 27, Brigitta, deBugged: Pest Control Blog

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"Signs of Bed Bugs," 2011, Staff Writer, J.C. Ehrlich Co.