Bedbug infestations have exploded in the past decade in the United States. New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Cincinnati, Chicago, Denver and Columbus and Dayton, Ohio, are topping the infestation list, according to an August report by the pest control company Terminex.
According to entomologist Richard Cooper, vice president of the website BedBug Central, bedbugs were commonplace in the United States up to World War II when they were nearly eradicated by pesticides. The reasons for the worldwide resurgence of bedbugs beginning in the late 1990s are hard to pinpoint, Cooper says, but it may include reduced awareness of the bugs, increased travel and changes in hotels’ pest-management practices.
While bedbugs may feel like a new problem to a generation previously unfamiliar with them, historical records referencing bedbugs date to 400 B.C., according to the Ohio Department of Health Zoonotic Disease Program.
What is a bedbug?
Bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) are flat and wingless reddish-brown insects from 1 to 7 mm (.04 to .28 inches) long. They feed on the blood of mammals and birds, but they can go months without eating while they hide in homes. Shortly after ingesting blood, bedbugs become swollen and change color to a brighter red.
Bedbugs invade homes by attaching themselves to clothing, luggage and furniture from infested areas. They are generally nocturnal and require about five to 10 minutes to feed, after which they retreat to secluded places to hide for five to 10 days. During seclusion they digest, mate and lay eggs.
Bedbugs are common across the globe and are prevalent in major U.S. cities.
What do bedbug bites look like?
Bedbugs inject both an anesthetic and anticoagulant when biting, so the victim doesn’t feel the bite; the telltale red bite marks may not appear for up to 14 days. Stealth bites combined with the delayed appearance of bite marks can make it difficult to determine the nature of the bite as well as the location of the bedbug infestation.
Bedbug bites look similar to flea or mosquito bites and can cause both localized and systemic allergic reactions. Secondary skin infections sometimes result from bedbug bites.
How did I get bedbugs?
It’s a myth that bedbug infestations result from filthy conditions or sanitation problems. What a bedbug seeks is a place to hide, and hiding places are abundant in clean lodgings. Eradicating bedbugs requires finding those hiding places and applying approved pesticides.
Can bedbugs spread disease?
Bedbugs are not known to transmit disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. However, the public health agency cautions that very little research has been done on the disease-causing potential of bedbugs.
While bedbugs feed on human blood, the nymphs are capable of living for several months without blood meals and the adults a full year, the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture reports.
Signs of a bedbug infestation may include the presence of exoskeletons, bugs in mattress folds and sheets, a sweet musty odor and rusty colored fecal excretions.
How do I get rid of bedbugs?
Eradicating bedbugs can be expensive, and housing codes don’t routinely specify who bears the responsibility for the cost in multi-family housing units. Some bedbugs have developed resistance to almost all pesticides approved for their eradication.
Once a bedbug infestation is identified, Michael F. Potter, extension entomologist at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, recommends laundering affected washable items at 120 degrees or greater or placing them in a clothes dryer at high heat for ten to twenty minutes. Infested items that cannot be washed or dried may be wrapped in plastic and set in the sun for at least a day, using a thermometer to insure that the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees.