Find out how to prevent, spot and get rid of bed bugs, those pesky bloodsuckers.
Unless you’ve been asleep for the past year or two, you have probably heard that bedbugs have made an impressive comeback.
The tiny, wingless bloodsuckers—only about 4 to 5 millimeters wide—have found their way into hotels, houses, movie theaters and government buildings. (Bedbugregistry.com is an online bedbug registry where people can alert others to the presence of bugs at hotels and apartments.)
The Illinois Bed Bug Task Force was created this year “to study the increase in bedbug infestations and make specific recommendations for public policy measures to combat this growing public nuisance,” according to the text of the House bill. The tiny creatures have been used as a plot element in the television comedy “30 Rock,” and they even have been represented on the cover of that cultural arbiter, The New Yorker.
Why are they back?
Finding bedbugs in the home isn’t necessarily a sign that your home isn’t clean. Bedbugs are hitchhikers and can be picked up from anywhere. If you visit an office, hotel or store that has bedbugs, you may unknowingly give them a ride home.
Once they arrive, bedbugs live on human blood, not crumbs of food that might be on the floor.
Their resurgence can be attributed to several factors, but most experts seem to agree that the increase in international travel and the bugs’ acquired immunity to available insecticides are the most likely causes.
Chris Dietrich, entomologist with the Natural History Survey in Champaign, Ill., says the bugs were common in this country in the 1800s and early 1900s.
“When modern insecticides were developed, they got rid of them,” Dietrich said. “They’ve built up a resistance to insecticides.”
Cheryl Adams, office manager for Adams Insect Control in Springfield, Ill., said the company has seen an upswing in calls regarding bedbugs. She said that last year the company would get a call about bedbugs once a week or so.
“Now it’s up to three, four, five calls a week,” Adams said.
Hard to kill
Bedbugs, which bite people to get blood, can be a nuisance for hotels, where guests provide the bugs an excellent opportunity to hitch a ride on suitcases (Dietrich suggests putting your suitcase on luggage racks rather than the floor). Bedbugs are nocturnal, coming out from their hiding places to feed close to where you sleep.
Adams said if you wake to find a cluster of bites on your body, this might be a sign that bedbugs are paying nightly visits while you slumber. Another clue is finding blood spots on the sheets.
Once the bedbugs take up residence in a home or hotel, it can be very difficult to get rid of them. According to a survey conducted by the National Pest Management Association and the University of Kentucky, pest control professionals found bedbugs harder to control than cockroaches, ants and termites.
“They’re pretty hardy little beasts and usually people don’t realize they are there until they’ve built up a pretty good population,” Dietrich said.
One visit usually doesn’t take care of the bugs. “It depends on how infested (the home) is,” Adams said.
After the exterminators from Adams Insect Control have applied chemicals to kill the bugs, they return every seven to 10 days until the pests are gone.
If you suspect bedbugs are in your home, you can take several steps to remove them including vacuuming, heating, freezing and pesticides.
Missy Henricksen, vice president of public affairs for NPMA, said exterminators often use a combination of methods to get rid of the bugs.
Stephen Howell, the supervisor for American Pest Control Inc. Eastern Division in Bloomington, Ill., says methods that exterminators with his company take include pinpoint heating and insecticides. That’s because while heating might kill bugs currently in the home, but it won’t kill additional bugs carried into the house.
Howell said that when his workers enter a residence that has bedbugs, their first request is that the resident remove any clutter in the sleeping area.
“No matter what treatment method you use, it’s not going to be effective until you get that clutter out of there,” Howell said.
The resident should wash clothes from the area and then bag them to keep them isolated from bedbugs. Howell said the company requires the resident to either bag the mattress and box spring or get rid of them.
From there, exterminators will use a high-heat steamer with low water volume to treat areas of the room, including the headboard and the bed frames.
“It’s not what you can see; it’s what you can’t see. The things you can’t see will be the tiny bedbug eggs. The steam is going after the eggs. That steamer instantly kills those eggs,” Howell said.
Exterminators will combine this with a liquid insecticide that is used sparingly. But home or property owners need to be prepared to make more than one appointment for treatment.
“Any company that says they can treat your unit one time and they’ll get rid of your bedbugs is not a company you’ll want to have do your treatment,” Howell said.
Besides high heat, American Pest Control Inc. also uses freezing to deal with bedbugs, but Howell says it’s not quite as effective as heat because of the insects’ ability to temporarily survive in cold temperatures.
However, the company uses the freezing method most often on university campuses, where students have many books and small electronics that can be frozen for 72 hours to kill the bugs.
Early detection is key in getting rid of bedbugs.
“Trying to keep bed bugs a secret exacerbates the problem,” Howell said.
If you find bedbugs, Howell recommends contacting a professional exterminator. Once a homeowner starts disturbing the bugs’ environment, the bugs will seek out other places to live. By leaving them alone, homeowners are giving the exterminators the best start at dealing with the population.
Ounce of prevention
To prevent bedbug infestations, the NPMA recommends: