Bedbugs - a health problem returns to the United States
This is an ancient insect whose roots are thought to go back to the times of cave dwellers. For many years, bedbugs were found in numerous communities around the US. As late as the 1950's, bedbugs were a considerable problem. After the discovery of DDT and its application here, the incidence of bedbug infestations declined. (Pictured: bedbug shown on human skin, actual size approx. 1/8"-1/4"; photo courtesy of Univar USA)
Why has this pest surfaced once again? There are a number of theories. First, there is much more world travel. Also, more people visit from other countries that have bedbug problems. This pest is carried from one place to another in luggage and on clothing. With more bedbug problems, hotel and motel travelers run a greater risk of contact with bedbugs and may eventually bring bedbugs home with them.
Another suggested reason for the resurgence of the bedbug is a shift to the use of bait gels, a common food based replacement for the liquid insecticides previously used inside homes. Although sprays may have helped to suppress bedbug populations, bait gels do not attract bedbugs, which seek blood from a live host.
Whatever the reasons, the bedbug is a formidable pest problem. Its affect on people is substantial and debilitating. Bedbugs bite the host most commonly around the waist while in bed, sleeping. However, bites may occur on exposed skin such as arms and legs.
After biting, they scurry into mattress tufts, bed frames, moldings, floor joints, picture frames and in any other crack or crevice they may find. The sole source of food is the blood meal that they take at night while the victim sleeps. When the victim awakes, the only sign of bedbugs is the telltale bite and/or blood on the sheets.
Identifying The Problem
The bedbug bite leaves a nasty, red welt that is not easily dismissed and can cause more severe problems for hypersensitive individuals. However, we at Del's highly recommend that if insects cannot be found to make the connection to such bites, that the diagnosis of such bites be done by a qualified physician or dermatologist.
A helpful tool in identifying biting insects is to place insect or mouse glue traps or double sided adhesive tape in a number of areas to try around the mattress in an attempt to capture insects. Try wrapping the tape around the mattress just below the top and try to keep the blanket above it to prevent it from sticking to the tape.
The bedbug is secretive in its behavior and is similar to a flea in that its body, too, appears to be flat. However, while the flea appears squashed together, the bedbug appears squashed down. As a result, these insects can squeeze into very small cracks or crevices. As mentioned above, the areas to look for bedbugs include mattresses (especially mattress tufts, buttons, under handles and above and below the or under the piping along the upper and lower edges), box springs (above and below the piping at the upper and lower edges and within the enclosure underneath if torn), bed frames and hollow areas where frame components connect, floor and wall moldings, picture frames and in any other objects adjacent to the victim's sleeping area.
Bedbugs are able to survive for a long time without a blood meal. Thus a mattress that is infested with bedbugs may still be a problem, even when the bed is unused for some period of time.
Note: Batbugs Are Out There Too...
There exists a batbug (a bat bedbug) as well that looks very similar to a bedbug but has distinctly longer hairs around the head and body. Batbugs prefer bats, but if the host animals are removed and the batbugs are left behind, they will seek out a human host. If you live in or visit a building with a bat infestation or recently corrected bat problem, this could be a possible source of bites.
Dealing With Bedbug Infestations
Bedbug problems should not be taken lightly. Immediate action should be taken to treat the affected individuals and to remove them from the infested environment.
First, you will need a good, bright flashlight in order to check and inspect areas where bedbugs are likely to hide.
If you suspect that you've brought bedbugs home in your luggage from a recent trip, you may want to inspect and treat the luggage.
Although one's first reaction is to disposed of the offending mattress or bedding, this is not necessary and may not eliminate the problem. Bedding is in essence a staging area from which the bedbugs leave to bite at night. Treatment of the immediate area should include spraying or dusting of the mattress and box spring. (It may be necessary to cut open the mesh enclosure on the bottom of the box spring in order to properly inspect and treat this area.) Most attention should be given to the area along the edges above and below the piping or seams or under mattress tufts, buttons or handles.
You must separate the mattress and box spring and treat areas in between as necessary. Pillow-top mattresses require special attention. Be sure to treat the bunched, stapled areas on the bottom of the box spring where the mesh is stapled to the wood since there are gaps where the bedbugs may hide.
In dealing with an infested sofa, love seat or (upholstered) chair, disposal may be necessary since it is difficult to reach into the deepest crevices of the furniture where the wood frame may provide harborage for bedbugs. An assessment has to be made if the problem persists after careful treatment of such items.
Bed linens and pillows should be laundered in hot water and detergent and then placed in a dryer to kill and remove insects or their eggs. Also launder draperies or curtains hanging near the bed, if necessary. Check any hollow areas on any other window dressings such as window shades or blinds. Laundered items should be stored away from the bedbug infested area or sealed in securely tied heavy duty plastic bags to keeps insects out. If you are bringing items in a plastic bag to be laundered, don't reuse that bag. Be sure to bring a new, unused bag to bring them back. It is suggest that you keep the laundered items stored in another area for at least a few days.
A residual insecticide or a non-residual pyrethrins product should be applied to the bed frame connecting points at both the headboard and footboard and wall moldings as well as any other objects or hollow areas that offer "shelter" for bedbugs.
A proper spray treatment is done by simply wetting the surface so that the spray does not move from the intended area. We recommend that you use a pin stream or jet steam application rather than a wide spray for best results and apply with low pressure to minimize drift.
Furniture, Moldings & Other Objects
Treat night tables and dressers by emptying them and then removing the drawers. Treat in the corners of each drawer both inside and then on the bottom corners of each drawer. Then, tip furniture on its side to check along the bottom and around casters since bedbugs may hide here as well. Don't forget to spray the back of the furniture as well. Also check mirrors and attaching brackets since bedbugs may hide inside of metal rails that are present on some furniture.
All clothing stored in the drawers or closets in the room should be washed and dried or dry cleaned as needed. If you transport the items to be washed in plastic bags, don't reuse them; be sure to bring new, unused plastic bags with you to use for bringing the clothing back.
If there are closets or shelves in the bedroom, clothing should be remove and washed and dried as explained above.
Check behind any objects hanging on the wall such as behind picture frames or clocks. You may have to open up wall outlet covers and switch covers and inspect to be sure that bedbugs have not taken up residence in those areas.
All moldings in the room including those that are mounted high and low must be treated. Wall to wall carpeting should be pulled away to expose the wooden mounting strip. Spray on both sides of the mounting strips and check the carpet backing. Treat as needed. Don't overlook openings on the ceiling where lighting fixtures are attached since bedbugs may come down from other infested rooms in apartment buildings.
Open and inspect telephones and clock radios. You can set up a box with some double stick tape in the bottom, then tap the object over the box to capture any insects that may be hiding inside. The tape will hold the the bugs in place.
In severe cases where the population of bedbugs is high, treatment of adjacent rooms may be necessary. Closets in the bedroom may require treatment and the contents will need to be washed and dried as well.
In apartment buildings, it may be helpful to seal any cracks or crevices around floorboards and moldings to prevent insects from migrating to or coming in from other apartments.
In buildings with a batbug infestation, sealing cracks and crevices is very important. Insecticide treatment around access areas from the attic may be needed too.
If there is a wooden floor and there are gaps between the boards, be sure to treat there as well. Dust products will be best for treating in these areas. When treating, try to think three dimensionally, looking up and down and observing the treatment area from the floor and from above, looking down.
Sprays or dusts should be directed into cracks and crevices - surface spraying of carpets and upholstery or dusting of these areas is usually unnecessary.
One final point: though these treatments should be effective, it may take some time for them to work. Therefore, it may be prudent to arrange to sleep in another area for several days and perhaps as long as one to two weeks. Unfortunately, the only way to know if the problem has been resolved is to try sleeping in the treated area once again.
For more detailed information on bed bugs, please visit www.allthingsbedbugs.org.
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