First, a few things about your rights. Depending on the state, you may not have to pay for extermination if you rent (if you choose that route). Your landlord may be liable for that one. But you may have to prove that they were there when you moved in, which could be tough. It's worth checking into though. While your landlord might be required to get rid of the bugs, you're required to make the landlord aware of the situation to begin with. So be sure you tell them right away if you discover an infestation--the faster you take action, the less time they have to really take over your space.
Now, what if you aren't sure if your problem is bed bugs? Here is a great inspection check list I found here:
Inspection Check List:-Cracks and crevices in head and foot boards, attached side railings and supports
-Inspect mattresses top, sides and bottom. Check all buttons, seams and rips.
-Inspect electrical switch plates, pictures on walls, wall posters
-Inspect cracks in plaster or seams in wall paper.
-Inspect electrical appliances-radios, phones, televisions, ect., looking in hiding places.
-Inspect tack strips under wall-to-wall carpeting and behind baseboards
-Inspect secondhand beds, bedding, and furniture. The newer better-built mattresses do not offer as much shelter and protection for the bed bugs to hide.
Attacking from many sides:
-For killing bed bugs try contact killers such as Kleen Free; Steri-Fab; and mechanical killers like DE - these are not organic or natural, so I would be sure you feel comfortable with that and take precaution to keep any residue away from children and pets and your sleeping area.
-Be sure to wash all linens in HOT water and replace or clean and encase your mattress.
-Vacuums and steamers can help, as the bugs cannot take extreme heat or freezing temps (you can find PCO-recommended dry vapor steamers for around $50)
-Use storage for cloth and paper items and for disposal of exposed items (L, XL, XXL ziploc bags, contractor bags, mattress bags, cable ties, etc.)
-Isolate and protect the bed, using encasements may help
-Boric Acid powder is often spread around areas where bed bugs are suspected to find refuge. It should not be applied directly to the mattress, but in the immediate area to help control migrating bed bugs.
-Placing double-stick tape around the bed has been suggested on many sites, as the bugs can't crawl past it to get up the legs of the bed.
-Spraying diluted Tea Tree oil is an option, though some people believe it's too expensive and does not do enough good (I'd look into it further before using it)
And here's one more natural solution that I found on wikipedia:
"Another method that might be useful in controlling bedbugs is the use of neem oil. It can be sprayed on carpets, curtains and mattresses. Neem oil is made from the leaves and bark of the neem tree native to India. It has been used safely for thousands of years in India both as a natural, effective insect repellent and it is antibacterial. It has recently received US Food and Drug Administration approval for external use. It is also possible to incorporate neem oil into certain types of mattress. Such mattresses are currently being manufactured by a German company. Some may find the aroma of neem oil objectionable."
Now, what about your poor itching skin? For relief from bites, try the following:
-DON'T SCRATCH! That only exacerbates the problem, like a mosquito bite.
-Wash the area with warm, soapy water.
-Corticol lotion, Benadryl, Calomine, Hydrocortisone and other salves seem to help.
-Some people have recommended heating the affected area with hot water or a blow-dryer (at least 120 degrees), though there is debate as to why this helps.
The last thing I will say is: if they don't go away right away, don't be discouraged! Get your friends involved if you need reinforcement, and don't feel alone! Get out and eradicate those buggers.