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bedbugs, get rid of bedbugsAn immature bedbug (left) and an adult bedbug. Photo: Tim McCoy, AP

Just the thought of it makes you cringe. Like it or not, bedbugs are making a comeback, and they don't discriminate. Here's what you need to know about avoiding a bedbug infestation -- and how to recognize and treat the problem if it happens to you.

Chances are, you've been hearing a lot about bedbugs lately, and with good reason. In August 2010, reports of bedbug infestation climbed drastically, signaling an epidemic that, according to CBS News, is the worst our country has seen in decades.

(SEE: The 15 most most bedbug-infested cities in the U.S.)

Sure we all know the old saying, "don't let the bedbugs bite," but what are bedbugs anyway? In short, they're bloodsucking parasites that feed primarily on humans (but may also bite pets).

In their quest for food, bedbugs may find their way into homes, where they commonly infest sleeping areas (hence their name), but also lurk inside other furniture and even in walls. They feed at night, and often go unnoticed by the host (that's you). Bedbugs can live six to eight months without a meal -- and the suckers can be nearly impossible to kill.

(SEE: A bedbug survivor's horrifying real-life experience.)

Understanding Bedbugs
A bedbug problem can be difficult to identify. And once you have discovered an infestation, it can be even more difficult to navigate the next steps. We turned to Ron Harrison, Ph.D., Orkin Director of Technical Services, and Jeffery White, Research Entomologist with Bed Bug Central, for their expert advice on avoiding, identifying, and dealing with a bedbug infestation.

bedbug bitesBedbugs become engorged and dark in color after they bite. Photo: AP

The first step, says Harrison, is understanding where bedbugs come from, and why they seem to be everywhere right now. "The resurgence in bedbug activity is likely linked to increased travel, both internationally and domestically," says Harrison. Of course, widespread information about the elusive bedbug in recent years may also play a part. "People's awareness of bedbugs has increased, leading to more reported cases as people now know what they're dealing with."

"Bed bugs were virtually eradicated from the U.S. shortly after the end of World War II due to the commercial use of DDT," adds White. He explains that about ten years ago bedbugs began appearing again, and since 2005 their numbers have been increasing exponentially.

Avoiding Bedbugs
Harrison calls bedbugs "expert hitchhikers" that will cling to clothing and other personal belongings and usually go unnoticed. You can come in contact with them just about anywhere, indoors or outdoors.

It's also been widely reported that secondhand furniture can introduce bedbugs into your home -- bedbugs especially like to live inside of wood furniture, upholstery and, of course, mattresses.

(SEE: Use a Mattress Encasement for Bedbug Prevention)

So what about the thrift store and flea market junkies among us? Harrison recommends treating secondhand items with extreme heat before bringing them into your home. "Clothing [should be washed and dried] in a hot cycle prior to being brought into the house. This will kill all stages of the insect."

used furniture, bedbugsYou can unknowingly carry bedbugs into the home via infested secondhand furniture. Photo: Mustafa Ozer, AFP/Getty Images

You can also consider purchasing the Packtite portable heating unit for items, like household furnishings, that cannot go in a dryer. Check out this video about treating personal belongings before they come into the house, and this video about using the heat of the sun for items that cannot be laundered.

Do Dirty Conditions Breed Bedbugs?
It's a common misconception that bedbugs plague only dirty places, as evidenced by recent infestations in some high-end locations, like The Hamptons in New York. As blood-feeders, bedbugs are primarily interested in people -- regardless of their surroundings. So where does the myth come from? "Bedbugs tend to infest cluttered areas where they can hide, feed and reproduce," says Harrison. "But these places are not necessarily the dirtiest. The clutter simply provides more hiding spaces and makes detection even more difficult."

Recognizing Bedbugs
Unless you're looking, you'll likely miss the chance for early detection.

-- Bedbug bites: For most people, the earliest (and sometimes only) signs of bedbugs are their bites. Bedbug bites often appear clustered together in a horizontal line. They generally manifest as small, red, itchy bites. But people react differently to bedbug bites and it can be difficult to confirm an infestation by the bites alone. While bedbugs do carry diseases, they do not transmit them.

-- Bedbug appearance: If you suspect a bedbug infestation, look for evidence of the bugs and their eggs. Bedbug eggs are a pearly white color and just 1mm long. Immature bugs are the same size as their eggs and somewhat translucent in color with a dark center. As the bugs advance through their developmental stages they become larger and darker. A fully grown bed bug is just under 3/16 of an inch long (roughly the size of an apple seed), flat and oval-shaped. They are a light tan or brown color until after they bite, when they will appear a brownish-red. Jeffrey White of Bed Bug Central shares this video about how to inspect for bed bugs.

bedbugsAn adult bedbug is about 3/16 of an inch long. Photo: Ken Lambert, MCT

-- Bedbug waste: Bedbugs leave brownish-red spots and shed skins in their wake. " You need to be familiar with...what the [bedbug's] spotting (fecal material and blood spots) looks like," says White. "It's important to inspect likely areas of first infestation, such as the bed and the headboard." White warns to pay close attention to the bottom of the box spring, where the insects like to congregate. Even with your best sleuthing efforts, though, bedbugs can outsmart you. They hide very well and move very fast as soon as they're exposed to light. White says that if you're not trained to perform inspections, you can easily overlook bedbugs. Contacting a knowledgeable professional may be your best bet.

How to Get Rid of Bedbugs
Even the keenest of DIYers may not be be able to take on the virtually indestructible bedbug. This is one of those jobs that, in most cases, is best left to professionals. A qualified pest management expert will recommend the best treatment approach depending on the severity of the infestation. Most solutions require chemicals, with structural fumigation being the most extreme (and costly) option. It will likely require at least two or three visits -- but usually more -- to ensure that the entire bedbug population has been eradicated. Sadly, you may also have to discard your mattress, bed, and some other belongings to make a fresh start.

"The biggest thing a homeowner or property manager can do to help slow the spread of bed bugs is to remove clutter and dispose of any infested items, like cardboard boxes, furniture, papers, and toys. These can provide hiding spots for bedbugs," says Harrison. The Orkin specialist also suggests aggressively vacuuming around the home, especially near baseboards and the bed.

Also, turn up the heat on those suckers. "Bedbugs cannot survive severely high temperatures for long durations of time, so regularly washing and drying clothes and linens in hot water can help remove them," says Harrison. Some pest management companies also also offer heat treatment (in some locations), which raises the room's temperature beyond that in which bedbugs can survive. While this may not be a suitable option for all infestations, it is certainly worth inquiring about.

Interested in learning more? Bed Bug TV is a great resource, where Jeffrey White educates viewers about bedbugs and bed bug solutions. He is the Bed Bug Guru, and somehow manages to make the topic approachable.

Tell us about your experiences with bedbugs, and how you banished those bloodsucking pests from your home for good!

SEE ALSO:
Are Bedbugs a Health Threat? (AOL Health)
A Very Personal Tale of a Truly Horrifying Bedbug Infestation (ShelterPop)
Bedbugs on Clothing -- How to Spot 'Em, How to Get Rid of 'Em (Stylelist)





  • Marshall

    Dont forget to keep a look out for ticks and dark colored spiders. If at all possible, find a method
    to collect and store some bed bugs during the night or during the day. Then submit the specimens
    for further identification and then take action soon after. Remember to keep in mind that ticks can
    bite and draw blood too. A tick bite can be painful.

    Reply
  • azaunt

    ***It's also been widely reported that secondhand furniture can introduce bedbugs into your home -- bedbugs especially like to live inside of wood furniture, upholstery and, of course, mattresses.***


    Also remember that when people buy a new mattress, their old mattress is carried away in the same delivery truck that the new mattress was delivered in. So bed bugs could easily be living in these delivery trucks and "hitchhike" onto a brand new mattress. BUYER BEWARE!

    Reply
  • criterion29

    back in the old days DDT worked well , but our glorious goverment baned it , becouse some idiot, also cyanide fumigation both can be deadly to humans as well . you have to tape up all windows and doors and a nice summer day 90 + temp set of the bomb and leave for few days when you come back air out the house for a day before you enter . my info is 50 years old, but it works well , at least it did back in the 40 s - 50 s

    Reply
  • joanne

    amen criterion29...... that was a good thing back then...we never had that much of bugs around us, thanks so much for saying that....


  • craig

    our government my have banned DDT , but they didn't stop making it ...it's sold to all country's ...sprayed on every thing that we eat and then returns for our consumption ...isn't that nice ...
    good old uncle sam , so looks out for us .....NOT


  • Childless by Choice

    How can you air out the house a day before you enter without entering the house?


  • judybrowni

    So which wingnut should we believe: that the government is BAD for having banned DDT, or Government is BAD for NOT having banned DDT?

    "Epidemiological evidence (i.e. studies in human populations) indicates that DDT causes cancers of the liver,[21][32] pancreas[21][32] and breast.[32] There is mixed evidence that it contributes to leukemia,[32] lymphoma[32][70] and testicular cancer.[21][32][71]"

    And that's just the beginning of the deletirious effects of DDT on human health.

    "DDT was subsequently banned for agricultural use worldwide under the Stockholm Convention, but limited, controversial use in disease vector control continues.[5]

    More reality intrudes:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ddt





  • Tony

    The reason bedbugs are a major problem now is cause by the EPA in Washington. Those functioning morons years ago band DDT. DDT was the best bedbug killer. There is nothing being made that will act as good as DDT.
    People are now making there own DDT and one can't blame them.
    Just a metter of time till the EPA wakes up and makes DDT legal. But as long as we can make it were all set.

    Reply
  • racings12a

    Years ago there was also a product called dursban that was excellant for fleas, ticks, etc that I used on my yard every few years. Well the wonderful EPA decided to ban that too back in the late 80's and when I ran out of it the fleas and ticks in my yard were back.


  • Ray

    One other place where bedbugs can hitch a ride: Hotel and motel guest rooms. Watch out when you check in. If bedbugs are present., or if there is evidence of bedbugs as per article, report immediately to the desk clerk. A reputable lodging establishement would assign you to another room that's free of the pests. If bitten while sleeping, report at check-out. Should there be a dispute with management, note all the facts and submit a report to the local health department, Better Business Bureau, and AAA auto club.

    Reply
  • azaunt

    Ray...You can also check this registry before making a reservation at a hotel to see if they have any complaints against them. http://bedbugregistry.com/


  • Megan

    People, I can't say this enough: DIATOMACEOUS EARTH!!! I went through the same hell, couldn't sleep, put on 10 pounds from the stress and sleep deprivation. It was horrible!!! I couldn't afford an exterminator, which is good because it would've been money thrown away. (They charge $600ish, and they know darn well they aren't getting rid of the bugs. They'll just come back later and the exterminators will make another $600.) I did some research, found out what the Army does: diatomaceous earth! Costs about $8 online, you won't use a full bag (not even close). Don't get the pool kind, it's toxic. Get the garden kind, safe for you, safe for your kids, safe for your pets. Research it and spread the word. For some reason, the media isn't telling anyone. Two or three days after putting a small amount by my bed, the bed bugs all disappeared. (Also, zip up your mattress in a mattress cover for dust mites.)

    Reply
  • Joy

    Megan ... The type of Diatonaceous Earth you are refering to is FOOD GRADE. Or in other words can be used for consumption. Wonderful to use on kittens who are too young for flea treatments and it will also deal with the worms that can come from the fleas. I sprinkled my MIL's back porch with it, (she fed feral cats there) and there were no ants, spiders or water bugs that would cross that stuff. It can be found online and yes, a little goes a long ways. It's a very fine poweder. I used a small sieve and tapped it with the handle of a wooden spoon to sprinkle it all over. I also used it in the grass area.

    In my opinion, if it worked for the fleas and kept the other bugs off Mom's porch, then it should work well for this problem too.


  • Joy


    Megan ... The type of Diatonaceous Earth you are refering to is FOOD
    GRADE. Or in other words can be used for consumption. Wonderful to use
    on kittens who are too young for flea treatments and it will also deal
    with the worms that can come from the fleas. I sprinkled my MIL's back
    porch with it, (she fed feral cats there) and there were no ants,
    spiders or water bugs that would cross that stuff. It can be found
    online and yes, a little goes a long ways. It's a very fine poweder. I
    used a small sieve and tapped it with the handle of a wooden spoon to
    sprinkle it all over. I also used it in the grass area.

    In my opinion, if it worked for the fleas and kept the other bugs off
    Mom's porch, then it should work well for this problem too.


  • Lucy

    I live in one of the top 10 states with the worst bed bug infestation. We have found that 90% alcohol will kill them on contact. Also any bug killer will do the job. The trick is you have to spray almost daily to make sure you get the newly hatched eggs. Hope this is helpful.

    Reply
  • EARL

    Get a couple of RID-EX , plug them & then it's good bye to all bugs , very simple & cheap ..

    Reply
  • Guillermina

    I remember buying a couple of riddex units. From the day I plugged it in, the dog and cat ran away and never came back. It does not work on bedbugs.


  • billsybone

    My best friend and I stayed at the Clarion Inn and Suites in Galloway, NJ on July 31st and she woke up with bed bug bites all over her body. It was so gross. This poor woman has suffered for weeks and the hotel manager actually laughed when we reported it to her.

    Reply
  • azaunt

    billybone...I noticed that you reported this incident to http://bedbugregistry.com/. Good for you! I will never make a reservation at a hotel until I check this site. I'm so sorry for the pain your friend is going through. I know how horrible this can be.


  • william leitold

    The Big Lie from the Government is travel is the cause of the infestation epidemic. You do not need DDT. The truth is that the Government banned all of the more modern and effective long duration pesticides and that's why we now have this epidemic of bed bugs. More problems generated by Government and not travel. Government is the root cause of the bed bug epidemic.

    Reply
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