No one knows how or why bedbugs have exploded on the scene in the last few years. It's probably the result of a number of factors. People are traveling more, including significant foreign travel into areas where bedbugs are more common than they used to be here. We don't currently have good pesticide treatments to handle bedbugs, and people have been pretty oblivious to the warning signs, allowing colonies to become well established and widespread.
So, are the horror stories true? Are there bedbugs in department store dressing rooms, airports, movie theaters and even upscale hotels? Yes, in some geographical locations, bedbugs are a big problem. In places where lots of people come together indoors, like theaters and department stores, and in buildings where there are communal living arrangements, like hotels, apartments and dorms, there can be bedbugs. Bedbugs don't respect boundaries, like walls and doors. If you visit an infested area, a bug or two can crawl onto your clothing, hide in the seams of your luggage or handbag, and even hang out in your shoes. It isn't hard to bring a hitchhiking bedbug into your home and not know it -- until you have a problem.
Your first indication that you have bedbugs will probably be a few bites that show up as swollen, red, itchy bumps. When they begin multiplying instead of going away, it's time to start inspecting your surroundings. Bedbugs like to stay within 8 feet of their victims, so the areas where you sleep and spend lots of time relaxing are ground zero for an infestation. Look for reddish brown dots on bedding and check around your bed for exoskeletons. Bedbugs like to hide in mattress seams and behind headboards, but they're masters at concealment and can also hide in carpeting, behind wallpaper, on the undersides of furniture, and behind electrical switch plates and outlets.
You're much better off avoiding an infestation instead of having to deal with one, so use some precautions:
- Avoid buying used, upholstered furniture.
- If you think you may have visited an area infested with bedbugs, wash your clothes in very hot water as soon as you get home. Steam clean outerwear before bringing it indoors.
- Inspect your luggage carefully after a trip, and store it away from areas where you sleep.
- If you're staying in a hotel room you think may harbor bedbugs, consider changing hotels.
Professional pest control companies are working to come up with effective methods for detecting and eliminating bedbug infestations. If you think you may have uninvited houseguests, call a professional exterminator sooner rather than later. After bedbugs become well-established in your home, they're very hard to eradicate.
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- CDC. "Joint Statement on Bed Bug Control in the United States from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Undated. 9/27/10http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/publications/Bed_Bugs_CDC-EPA_Statement.htm
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- McNeil, Donald G. Jr. "They Crawl, They Bite, They Baffle Scientists." New York Times. 8/30/10. 9/28/10.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/31/science/31bedbug.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1&em&exprod=myyahoo
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