First, here’s the good news: bedbugs do not cause or spread disease. The bad news? They’re no fun, and they are returning to the USA with a vengeance.
These little guys were actually pretty common in America until the middle of the 20th Century. That’s when the infamous pesticide, DDT, came into widespread use throughout the country for killing mosquitoes and other pests, among them, only incidentally, bedbugs.
The bed site biters virtually disappeared. And so did DDT, banned because it killed off more critters – such as fish and song birds – than the kind of insects we wished would become extinct. One of those was the bedbug. And we thought it had become extinct, at least where our fair shores were concerned. Worldwide, its numbers are doubling each year, and now it’s returning to the US, probably in the clothing and possessions of immigrants and travelers returning from countries where the bugs were not eradicated.
The largest recent infestation has been in New York City, a major port of entry (and where apartments, the very best places for bedbugs to proliferate, dominate the housing scene). But they are slowly on the move throughout the land.
Some theorize that the bugs are thriving because they tend to avoid the gel-type insecticide dispensers that are replacing the liquid insecticides that had been more effective in their control but are now, like DDT, outlawed.
Here’s what they look like: They’re little brown bugs, 4 mm. long, with black stripes, shaped like an oval, and flatter than your average beetle. That’s what enables them to so easily evade detection by hiding in cracks like those in floorboards.
Here’s what they do: They feed on the blood of animals and humans. Their prime feeding times coincide with human bedtimes, thus they normally attack when you’re asleep in your bed. A bug sticks one little tube into your skin and pumps in saliva that thins your blood and anesthetizes you so as not to disturb your sleep as it sticks another tube into you to suck out the thinned blood. It can gorge itself in the space of 15 minutes such that it may swell to three times its size. And it will return again and again, even though the greedy little fiend can live for a year without eating.
Here’s why they’re nasty: By the time enough of those fellows have bitten you over a long enough period, you could well develop an allergy to them. Unless your doctor gives you an antihistamine, corticosteroid, or oral antibiotic, the itching can be a real irritant, and the red welts unsightly. Particularly in children, secondary impetigo may develop, and suffering enough bedbug bites an infant can be rendered anemic.
Getting Rid of Bedbugs
What you need to do to rid yourself of them, according to the Harvard School of Public Health and other sources:
If you are finding mysterious bites, particularly around your waist, search your house. Find live bedbugs, trap them as specimens, and have them examined by an entomologist. He or she will confirm whether your problem is a bedbug infestation (and is not, for example, fleas). You will have best luck at night finding the little creepy crawlies by using a flashlight.
If you have confirmed that bedbugs are your problem:
- Reduce clutter to eliminate hiding places for the bugs.
- Thoroughly clean house using a high-powered vacuum cleaner and a stiff brush to remove bugs from cracks in the floor.
- Dismantle beds to find hiding places.
- You don’t have to dispose of your bed or bedding. Wash the bedding. Seal up mattresses and box springs by taping any holes or other places where bugs could exit a hiding place. Wrap the mattresses and box springs in heavy plastic covers and seal them. Dumping mattresses on the street could result in making the problem worse by spreading it to others.
- To keep bugs from traveling from the floor, up your bed, and to your sleeping corpus, set the bed frame legs in containers of mineral oil and do not let covers touch the floor.
- Caulk and seal all holes and cracks around pipes, electrical outlets, and around baseboards and cove moldings.
- If you are a tenant, work with your landlord to solve the problem. If you are a homeowner, you might consider calling a licensed pest control operator.
- There are a number of products and kits you can purchase to treat the problem. Some involve chemical pesticides, others depend upon organic means of control, such as insecticidal dusts that tear away the bug’s protective coating, causing it to die. These products can be found on the Web.
- If you suspect you have had a bedbug encounter during a trip out of the country, it’s possible you have transported the little fellows or their eggs in your luggage. Leaving your luggage in a closed car for several hours in a hot summer sun should kill the pests off. Meanwhile, it’s a good idea to have clothing professionally laundered in a commercial bug-killing solution immediately upon your return, preferably before you bring the clothing home. Inspect, vacuum, and scrub your empty suitcase with a stiff brush to remove any eggs.
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