Bedbugs and your health

Are Bedbugs a Health Threat?

The old adage “sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite” is taking on new meaning this summer as bedbug infestations are on the rise, from Iowa to Seattle, Minnesota to New York City, CBS Early Morning News reports.

In fact, infestations are becoming so common that exterminators can barely keep up: Calls about bedbugs are up 71 percent, from one or two calls a year to 10 to 50 per week since 2001, says Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association. Health officials in Manchester, N.H., even started a Bedbug Action Committee tasked with bringing the issue under control.

Infestations are on the rise, experts say, because bedbugs hitch a ride on our clothes and hang out in our beds. And they are not only found in homes; more and more bedbugs are showing up in hotels, dormitories and places where people frequently travel. Even retailers are not immune: Victoria’s Secret in New York City closed its doors for several hours to exterminate the nasty critters.

Bedbugs are many things, but one thing they are not, is a threat to your health. They are not disease vectors and are not considered a public health risk, according to entomologists at Purdue University’s Public Health and Medical Entomology department. But their bites do tend to leave itchy welts on human skin, and some people experience an allergic reaction. What’s more, bedbug sufferers say these persistent creatures wreak havoc on the psyche.

“Besides the ‘icky’ feeling of knowing bugs have crawled over you in your sleep, even after the infestation has been dealt with, people may still have a fear of falling asleep and feel anxiety about the whole experience,” says Henriksen. “In some cases, furniture [and] clothes have had to be thrown away, increasing the costly toll of the problem.”

Bedbugs are typically most active at night and tend to bite exposed skin while people are sleeping. The face, neck, hands and arms are the most common sites. Typically, the bites produce redness, swelling and itching, but if scratched, they can become infected, which is the most bodily damage they can cause. A particularity of bedbug bites is that they show up as multiples in a row.

Entomologists say the bugs’ presence has nothing to do with cleanliness, but the insects do produce small brown or red dots on sheets. And getting rid of them is not easy or cheap.

How do you spot a bedbug? Adult bedbugs are about 1/4-inch long, oval, reddish brown and wingless. Their bodies are very flat, and they possess long, slender legs and antennae, according to the Purdue scientists.

Bedbugs can travel easily — from beds to sofa cushions, from room to room and even home via suitcases from travel. Once an infestation develops, whether in a home, a hotel or even a movie theater, bedbugs are extremely difficult to remove and require the experience of a pest professional. Bedbugs can live for a year or more without eating and can withstand a wide range of temperatures, from nearly freezing to almost 113 degrees Fahrenheit, says Henriksen.

And since it is the height of travel season (the resurgence of bedbugs is tied largely to international travel), it is important for travelers to know what to look for in hotels. The NPMA offers these tips:

* Pull back the hotel bed sheets and inspect the mattress seams, particularly the corners, for telltale brownish or reddish spots.
* Thoroughly inspect the entire room before unpacking. Do not put your luggage on the bed.
* If you change rooms but choose to stay in the same establishment, be sure your new room is not adjacent to the potentially infested room.
* Use a large plastic bag to store your luggage.

Florida Bed Bug Control

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