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Bed Bug Bugaboo: An Old Problem Returns Via Modern Travel



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Bed Bug Bugaboo: An Old Problem Returns Via Modern Travel

By Nancy K. Crevier

The old adage, “Sleep tight, and don’t let the bed bugs bite,” harkens back to the 16th to 18th Centuries, when mattresses were laid upon a web of ropes that needed periodic tightening to prevent the bed from sagging, and a time when bug infestations were a way of life for most households. And while the days of winding up the box spring are long gone, bed bug infestations are springing up again.

According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), pest control companies nationwide are reporting a 71 percent increase in calls since 2001 to eradicate bed bugs. Increased domestic and international travel by an increasingly mobile society may be at the root of the reappearance of the blood-sucking pest. The transient bugs are easily carried from one location to another, and are very hardy. Bed bugs can survive for more than a year between feedings, and can withstand temperatures from nearly freezing to 100 degrees-plus Fahrenheit.

Nor are bed bugs exclusively a bedding problem. Chair and sofa cushions, electrical outlets, baseboards, floor boards, and even the space behind picture frames provide hideaways for the tiny pest..

There has definitely been an increase in the incidences of bed bug infestations in the past five years, said Richard Monastero, owner of Amtech Pest Control in Danbury. “Five years ago, I think we had our first bed bug call. This year, I wouldn’t be surprised if we did 800 calls for bed bugs,” he said.

Bed bug infestations are not so common in communities of single-family homes, said Mr Monastero, and he has not seen an upswing in calls to the Newtown/Sandy Hook area. Multiple-unit housing or hotels are more susceptible to bed bug problems, he said, which is why travelers may find they have brought home more than souvenirs from vacation.

The nocturnal bed bug, a tiny reddish brown insect about the size and shape of a sesame seed, is a “hitchhiker,” Mr Monastero, said, traveling into New England homes via plane or train, or returning in suitcases from warmer climates. The miniscule bug remains out of sight during daylight hours, preferring the tight quarters of the edging on mattresses and bed springs as a hideout, or cracks and crevices near the bed. After dark, the bed bug gets to work feasting on human hosts sleeping in the infested bed. Because the bed bugs inject an anesthetic into the victim before biting, most people are unaware they have been bitten until they arise the next morning with mysterious red, itchy welts.

 “Do a quick inspection when you check into your hotel room,” suggested Mr Monastero. “Look for the bugs, or tiny brown specks that indicate bed bugs. Check the seams of the mattress and box spring, and even wall pictures near the bed,” he said. Bed bugs also like to hide in screw heads or in cracks in the headboards of a bed.

Do not open the suitcase on or near the bed. Choose a spot at least a few feet from the bed. “Keep personal belongings away from the bed to avoid carrying home bed bugs,” said Mr Monastero.

The NPMA additionally advises that travelers pull back the sheets in a hotel, looking for tell-tale stains left behind by shed bug casings and dried blood. A small travel flashlight can assist in room inspection, and bring along a large plastic bag in which to store luggage during the stay.

Notify the establishment immediately if bed bug infestation is detected, and if you change rooms, be sure that it is not to an adjacent room.

Upon arrival home, inspect suitcases before bringing them into the house, and vacuum suitcases thoroughly outside of the home. All clothing, worn or not, should be washed in hot water upon return.

Preventing the spread of bed bugs is preferable, as the treatment is extended, inconvenient, and costly, Mr Monastero said. At least three treatments, 10 to 14 days apart, are needed in order to kill the whole cycle of bed bugs. “The worst thing a person can do when they find out they have bed bugs, is what they are most likely to do: move from the bed to the couch,” said Mr Monastero. “The bugs will find you, seeking out the carbon dioxide and heat we give off, and relocate,” he said.

Before treatments can begin, the homeowner must clear the bedroom of any clutter, and wash and dry all sheets, bedding, or anything within three to four feet of the bed. “It’s the only treatment where the homeowner has a big part to do,” said Mr Monastero.

When infestation is questionable, Amtech has a technician who can literally sniff out the problem. Squirt is a highly trained beagle that has been on Mr Monastero’s staff for the past year and a half. The spotted dog will methodically sniff mattresses and furniture, becoming very excited and pawing at an area when he detects bed bugs. “He’s pretty incredible,” said Mr Monastero, who works with Squirt every day to keep the dog sharp. To view Squirt, the bed bug sniffing dog in action, visit youtube.com, “The Bed Bug Detective.”

“I’ve heard bed bugs called ‘the new roach,’” said Tara Stachacz, acting district manager for J.C. Ehrlich Local Pest Control out of Fairfield. “There has been a significant increase in bed bug calls, although not in Newtown or Sandy Hook, specifically,” Ms Stachacz said. But bed bugs are as likely to be found in million-dollar homes as anywhere, she added. “It’s not a sanitation issue. Bed bugs are introduced frequently through travel. They are found in hotels, on cruise ships, or even brought home from dormitories at the end of the school year,” Ms Stachacz said.

The NPMA notes that college students who travel during the school year or over the summer should inspect suitcases and wash all clothing and bedding before moving between school and home. Secondhand furniture acquisitions by college students are another way that infestations spread.

Increased worldwide travel is truly a big reason for the increase of bed bug infestations, said J.C. Ehrlich technical trainer Doug Hayes. Another reason is the products used to combat the pesky insect.

“We lost tools to control the problems that are now popping up,” he said, referring to the ban of pesticides like DDT in the last 20 years. “In the 1940s and earlier, bed bugs were quite commonplace. After World War II, DDT and related compounds came out and at that time, it was a miracle cure,” explained Mr Hayes. The wonder pesticide eliminated bed bugs easily and they were a forgotten issue until the misuse and overuse of DDT-like products coupled with an increase in environmental concerns, caused the products to be banned. The products of the mid-1900s have been replaced by products requiring more effort on the part of the exterminator and customer, resulting in a resurgence of infestations.

“My prediction is that you will not see a decrease in the bed bug problem any time soon,” said Mr Hayes. Fortunately, more research is going into the issue now to find effective methods to combat bed bugs. The other good news, is that controlling a bed bug infestation in a single-family home is not that difficult, as it is a controlled environment. The key, however, said Mr Hayes, is cooperation.

Bed bugs can live for an extended period of time, so aggressive treatment is required if an insect infestation is detected. “The preparation for treatment is very important, and the customer and our company have to work together as partners to get rid of them,” said Ms Stachacz.

Emptying the room, including the closets, and bagging all items to prevent bugs dropping off into other parts of the house as they are moved is essential, she said. “Discard the mattress, if possible,” she suggested. Bed bugs, attracted by human pheromones, are usually centered on the bed where they can easily find a blood meal. Interestingly, the one time it may pay off to be a smoker is where bed bugs are concerned. “Nonsmokers seem to be more attractive to bed bugs,” said Ms Stachacz.

All clothing and bedding must be laundered in water as hot as possible, or dry-cleaned. This is followed by three crack and crevice treatments, and may include treating adjoining walls or rooms. “You have to treat aggressively,” Ms Stachacz emphasized.

Ridding a home of bed bugs is not a do it yourself proposition, warns the NPMA. Experienced exterminators must be hired, and recommendations followed faithfully if you want to sleep tight, and not have the bed bugs bite. Visit pestworld.org to find a local pest control professional.

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