Bedbugs are no longer just the topic of nursery rhyme verse. These tiny, brown creatures that hadn’t given Americans much cause for concern in almost fifty years are suddenly appearing in historic numbers across the country. According to experts, increased international travel is to blame. Travelers visiting Europe, Asia, and the Middle East unknowingly bring the blood-sucking creatures home — to houses, hotels, and offices throughout the United States. And while the insects can remain undetected during the day, hidden in luggage, mattress seams, and peeling wallpaper, their victims are very aware of their existence during the night. Many people awaken covered with hundreds of itchy, red welts. Because bedbugs travel along the blood vessels of their prey, the annoying bumps generally form in straight lines across the skin. Although some people have severe allergic reactions to the creatures’ bites, the bugs aren’t considered a health concern because they don’t spread blood-related diseases like HIV or hepatitis.
Although many people consider bedbug infestation a cause for embarrassment or a sign of being unclean, bedbugs will inhabit any space, regardless of condition. When they first cropped up in the United States, the insects seemed contained to major cities, but recently the bugs have made their way to cities, countries, and the suburbs – coast to coast – with Ohio cited as the most infected state. The problem has gotten so bad that New York Governor, David Paterson signed the Bedbug Disclosure Act into law in late August. The new law forces landlords to give possible tenants a one-year bedbug history of their buildings. And with bedbug complaints shooting from 537 in 2004 to 11,000 last year, it’s easy to understand the governor’s cause for concern.
Housewives of the 1950’s were able to eradicate bedbugs using DDT, a synthetic pesticide that the EPA banned in 1972. Today, the critters are harder to extinguish. Bedbugs that are susceptible to current pesticides are killed off, but the more resilient ones remain and mate with other resilient bedbugs, creating a new hard-to-extinguish line of the insect. Many affected homes opt to use insecticides to treat the problem. Up to three treatments are needed to be effective. A newer solution, thermo-remediation is a chemical-free technique that is growing more popular to exterminate the pests. Thermal heaters are brought in to blast the entire affected area with heat that exceeds 120 degrees for several hours.
Scientists are working on a new pesticide that will eliminate bed bugs that could be ten years away from production. In the meantime, experts from the National Pest Management Association recommend traveling with washable bags and also, washing and machine-drying all of your items using high heat upon your return home. You could also consider storing luggage in places that are hard for bedbugs to access, like hotel bathtubs when you’re on the road. Thoroughly inspect your hotel rooms for the insects before settling in. But, there is not only cause for concern while traveling. It’s important to inspect your home carefully as well. “About 30 percent of the population doesn’t react at all to bedbugs,” explains Jeffrey White, a research entomologist for Bed Bug Central. While many people will have no bodily sign of bedbug infestation, it’s very important to inspect your home very carefully. “Most bedbugs hide under box springs or on the back of the headboards. So, look for the bugs themselves or their fecal matter. They leave small black specs behind,” advises White. It’s also a good idea to keep long bedding and bed skirts well above the ground. Make your home impenetrable by repairing exterior cracks and torn screens. Don’t store items under you bed, and wrap bed legs with tape, sticky-side up. And most importantly, if you think your home may be under attack, White urges you to call a professional. “You can actually make the problem worse by treating it yourself.”
The bedbug epidemic may not have a foreseeable end in sight, but learning about the creatures’ habits as well as precautions that can be taken against them are the first steps in protecting your home against these blood-sucking bugs.