All Things Considered,April 14, 2009 · They may be tiny, but their numbers are growing. Bedbugs have made a tremendous resurgence across the United States, and reports of bedbugs have increased 71 percent in the past five years, according to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA).
When they bite, Cimex lectularius — a.k.a. bedbugs — pierce the skin and inject anticoagulants, to keep the blood flowing freely, and anesthetics, so the warm body won't know it's being bitten. CDC
In fact, the problem has taken on such urgency that the Environmental Protection Agency is hosting a National Bed Bug Summit this week to share strategies for bedbug prevention, control and management.
Bedbugs are elusive; they lay low during the day, then emerge at night to feed on the blood of warm bodies. Once they move in — often by hitching a ride on a suitcase or used furniture — they are incredibly tough to get rid of. A single female bug produces up to 500 offspring in her lifetime, and not only are those sticky eggs easily transported, but a bedbug can live for up to a year without a blood meal.
Bedbugs aren't known to transmit diseases, but they are a miserable nuisance. Here, a few tips to stay bedbug free:
Prevention Is The Best Cure
— When sleeping in a bed that is not your own, check for signs of bedbug feces, which will look like a cluster of pen-point-sized black dots on the sheets or mattress. Sometimes you might even find their shed skins — reddish-brown discs up to a quarter-inch long. Bedbugs hide during the day, sometimes you can see them at night. But young bedbugs are nearly invisible.
— Bedbugs don't live on the human body, so sleeping with bedbugs for one night does not mean they'll come home with you. But if they get into your suitcase or clothes, they will most likely settle into your home.
— If you suspect you've been exposed to bedbugs while traveling, the NPMA recommends you clean everything before you enter your home. Vacuum out your suitcase and wash all your clothes — whether you wore them or not — to prevent any infestations.
— Bedbugs cannot fly, but they can hide everywhere, including behind baseboards, wallpaper and electrical switch plates or in upholstery, curtains and books.
Handling An Infestation
— If you see signs of bedbugs, act early, says Greg Baumann, a senior scientist at the NPMA. You or your landlord should call a licensed pest control operator who has had significant experience with bedbugs. If a professional determines that you have a bedbug infestation, an exterminator may use a range of treatments including sealing cracks and crevices, steaming the mattress and other items in the room, vacuuming all surfaces, and treating the infested room and mattress with pesticides.
— Sometimes repeat treatment is needed because bedbugs are resistant to some pesticides, and eggs can survive chemical treatment and hatch a few weeks later, says Tim McCoy, a laboratory research specialist at the Dodson Urban Pest Management Laboratory. Most over-the-counter bedbug pesticides contain some kind of pyrethroid, a class of chemicals that some bedbugs are resistant to. If you want to avoid chemicals, professional steam and heat treatments kill all phases of bedbugs from eggs to adults.
— Extermination costs can run from a few hundred dollars to more than a thousand dollars. McCoy warns that you should be prepared to spend a decent amount of money to properly handle an infestation.
To see if there are bedbugs living near you or to report a bedbug infestation, visit the bedbug registry.