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Bed Bugs: Are College Dorms Susceptible?

When you decided to leave home and go off to college to live in a dorm, the last thing you probably thought you’d have to worry about was parasites. As if being in a strange place and doing mounds of homework wasn’t enough, now you have to worry about bed bugs in dorms.

The unfortunate truth is that dorms are ripe for a bed bug infestation. College students are constantly on the move, whether it’s going back home for the weekends or being exposed to other students. Additional exposure means that you could easily find yourself with an infestation without even knowing it.

Of course, the most obvious sign of bed bugs in dorms is seeing them.

What do bed bugs look like?

adult bed bug

Adult Bed Bug

  • Adult bed bugs are oval, flat, and brown, although after feeding they change to purplish-red and balloon up into a larger cigar shape
  • They are usually about ¼” long and they don’t have wings
  • They look a lot like a carpet beetle
  • Younger bed bugs are smaller and have little color, but their shape is the same as adults

Learn more about the bed bug life cycle

Why do I have bed bugs in my college dorm?

College dorms can easily become infested with bed bugs for several reasons:

  • The previous students in the room may have left bed bugs behind
  • Bed bugs can move between dorm rooms
  • In a typical student dorm, people are constantly in and out, possibly bringing bed bugs with them
  • Dorm furniture is often secondhand, and previously used furniture is a common source of bed bug infestations

Before moving into your college dorm, do a very thorough bed bug inspection. This means checking around the cracks and edges of your mattress. Bed bugs also like to hide around and behind the headboard so make sure you check there. If you have most of your belongings in bags and suitcases, keeping them in the bathroom/bathtub area while you check your room is a good idea. Bed bugs don’t usually congregate in that area. You may not see an actual bed bug since they are nocturnal, but they tend to leave behind fecal matter, eggs, cast skins and even blood spots where they have fed on a host. You can cover your mattress with an encasement that is bug bed proof as well. This can drastically help in containing and keeping them away.

However, it’s not unusual to have an infestation and never see—or be able to find—the actual bed bugs. They are remarkably adept at finding hard-to-detect hiding places, where they remain until night when you’re asleep and they come out to feed on you.

Therefore, you should be aware of other signs of bed bugs in dorms, such as:

  • Tiny dark red or brown spots or smears on your sheets, pillowcases, and mattress. Bed bugs excrete as they feed, leaving behind feces composed of digested blood.
  • Discarded skins. Bed bugs molt six times before becoming adults, and their shed skins retain the bed bug shape.
  • Their characteristic smell of rotten raspberries.
  • Bites on you. It can be difficult to determine if you’ve been bitten by bed bugs because the red welts look like other insect bites and because everyone reacts differently—from no itching at all to severe allergic reactions. However, one indication that your bites are from bed bugs is if the bites are in a line of three—what pest-control experts call bed bugs’ “breakfast, lunch, and dinner” feeding pattern.
Man with bed bug bites on his back

Man with bed bug bites on his back

What to do to avoid bringing in an infestation

Now if you declared your room free of bed bugs, your next trick is keeping them away. Bed bugs are hitchhikers that will ride in boxes or anything made of cloth like backpacks, purses and clothes. To avoid bringing in bed bugs, follow these simple rules.

  • Don’t pick up discarded furniture: It is not uncommon for college students to use secondhand furniture. If you do decide to buy any furniture secondhand, make sure you are giving it a good inspection before bringing it home. Especially if the furniture is upholstered.
  • Hang up your jackets, backpacks, and etc: Do not leave them on the ground, especially when visiting other student’s rooms. If you choose to study with a friend in another dorm room, check textbooks. Wave through the pages before leaving. Bed bugs have been known to hitch a ride in text books.
  • Avoid clutter: To prevent having a bed bug as an unknown roommate, avoid having too much clutter. This can be a challenge because you will need to have your roommates working with you. Sometimes telling an 18 year old to keep his or her room clean doesn’t always happen. However clutter breeds bed bugs.
  • Add a bed bug mattress protector: An idea is to add a bed-bug proof mattress, pillow, and box spring covers to your “bring” list when moving into your room.
  • Wash your bedding: Be sure to wash your bedding weekly. When washing, use hot water and set the dryer to high heat. This will kill all bed bugs and their eggs.
  • In a final effort, you can place glass bowls on your bed frame legs and make sure the bed doesn’t make contact with the walls. Bed Bugs can’t climb on smooth surfaces. This will keep them from climbing into your bed with you.
bed bug inspection climb ups

Bed frame leg protector

What NOT to do if Bed Bugs are Found in Your Room

  1. If you do find you have a bed bug problem, there are few things that you should NOT do. These include:
    Don’t try to manage the problem on your own. In most college dorm arrangements, the housing manager will take the appropriate steps in getting professional help to take care of the problem. Trying to fix it on your own will most likely complicate the situation.
  2. Do not change rooms. By trying to get moved to another room, you might be helping the problem spread to other areas.
  3. Don’t throw away your possessions. This will also spread the problem to areas that aren’t otherwise affected by the bed bugs. Even though your first reaction might be to just get rid of anything that might have a bed bug on it, that won’t fix the problem.

College dorm bed bug infestations in the news

Here are some news reports that illustrate that college dorms are just as susceptible as houses, hotels, and apartment buildings, especially because of the close proximity of residences and the lack of education and awareness among college students about what bed bugs look like and how to deal with such an infestation:

  • This Week News reported that “the National Pest Management Association Inc. reported in August that 54 percent of college dorm rooms had been the site of bed bugs, up from 35 percent the year before.”
  • The Kearney Hub in Nebraska reported that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has also had problems: “University officials said they’ve spent $20,000 since Jan. 9 on services and equipment to get rid of the reddish-brown, wingless pests, and could end up paying $100,000 for a bug-killing effort expected to last at least a month.”
  • The Stern Environmental Group reported that New York City dorms in 2010 were experiencing bed bug problems just as much as the rest of the country. Overall, there were 13,153 violations reported with 10% coming from college dorms in New York City.
  • As far back as 2008, the media began to cover the growing problem of bed bugs in college dorm rooms across the country, including a feature in USA Today that reported many universities were experiencing bed bug infestations, including bed bugs NYC college dorm residents. The article quoted Greg Baumann of the National Pest Management Association who said “he has heard from ‘quite a few’ members called to campuses. Like hotel rooms, dorms are the ideal bedbug habitat: small and crowded, with ‘quite a bit of humanity per square foot.’”

These reports and the throngs of others readily available for view online makes clear that college dorms an important place to focus on when it comes to education, awareness, inspection and treatment of bed bugs.

Bed bugs in dorms are a problem to be handled by dorm management

If you notice any of these signs, immediately contact the dorm manager, who should then call in professional pest-control specialists to inspect your dorm and remove any bed bugs that are found.


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