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Bedbugs are biting again


Curt Wohleber
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-5409

Photos available for this release:

An adult and several nymph bedbugs hiding under the foot of a recliner. Also visible are tiny, dark spots of blood.

Credit: Gary Alpert, Harvard University,

Crevices in mattresses and box springs are common hiding places for bedbugs.

Credit: University of Missouri Cooperative Media Group

Published: Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Story source:

Richard M. Houseman, 573-882-7181

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Bedbugs are back and good-night wishes won’t keep them away.

“Bedbugs are on the rise again here in the United States. Populations are growing,” said Richard Houseman, University of Missouri Extension entomologist and associate professor in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

The National Pest Management Association reported a 71 percent increase in bedbug infestations between 2001 and 2009. The upscale clothing retailer Abercrombie and Fitch recently closed two infested stores in New York City, where a municipal hotline received more than 9,000 bedbug-related complaints from apartment dwellers in 2008—up from just a few hundred in 2004.

Outbreaks aren’t confined to big cities. Communities across the U.S. are coping with an explosion in bedbug populations. That’s why Houseman is currently developing an instructional video for homeowners and pest-control professionals to demonstrate how to prevent or control bedbug infestations.

This once-common scourge of slumber had all but vanished in the 1950s and ’60s, when owners of homes and lodgings made a regular practice of treating baseboards and crevices with insecticide sprays, Houseman said.

Changes in pest-control practices have mostly put an end to monthly visits from the exterminator. Baits and traps were cheaper, safer and highly effective against cockroaches and other common household pests.

But not bedbugs. “If bedbugs are introduced to a home now, there aren’t any residual insecticides to knock out those early arrivers,” Houseman said.

Our increasingly mobile and urban population gives bedbugs more opportunity to migrate. Shared-lodging facilities such as hotels, apartment buildings, dorms and campgrounds are especially vulnerable, but any building can harbor bedbugs. And not just messy places. Bedbugs aren’t interested in the crumbs on the floor. It’s your blood they want. Body heat and carbon dioxide from our breath attract bedbugs searching for warm-blooded animals to feed on.

Bedbugs typically come out at night. “They like to live in cracks and crevices. When the host is sleeping, they come out, feed on the host and go back to the cracks and crevices,” he said.

That can make it hard to identify a bedbug problem early on. People may think they’re getting bit by mosquitoes, which produce similar symptoms.

“It often takes around 90 days before people realize they have bedbugs,” he said. During that time, what started as a few bedbugs hiding in luggage or clothing can become an infestation of hundreds of bugs.

The good news is that bedbugs don’t seem to transmit diseases to people, though in rare cases proteins in bedbug saliva might trigger a severe allergic reaction.

If you have a bedbug problem, Houseman recommends hiring pest-control professionals. Bedbugs are resistant to many over-the-counter insecticides. Foggers may not thoroughly penetrate bedbug hiding places.

Preventing bedbugs

Getting rid of bedbugs may cost $500 or more. That makes it well worth it to take some basic precautions to keep bedbugs from entering your home:

When staying at a hotel or other lodging, Houseman advises travelers to examine their room as soon as they arrive. Leave your luggage by the door and inspect your room for bedbugs and the small dark stains they leave behind. Adult bedbugs have a flat, reddish-brown body and are about the size of a tick. Bedbugs might be anywhere, but they typically hide out at or near the bed. Houseman suggests using a penlight to inspect likely hiding places:

-On and behind the headboard.

-In drawers and nightstands.

-Around the mattress and box spring.

-Along carpeting where it meets the wall.

Other places bedbugs might be lurking include the luggage rack, behind picture frames, behind curtains and in seams and folds in upholstered furniture. Houseman advises against using the room’s luggage rack and recommends keeping suitcases and bags near the door.

If you do find bedbugs, pick up your luggage and return at once to the front desk. “Politely tell them about the problem and request another room in a different part of the hotel,” he said.

When you return home, place your luggage on a sheet or similar light-colored fabric. Put your clothes in a plastic bag, tie it closed and run it in a dryer set on high for about 45 minutes. “That will take care of any live bedbugs right away,” he said.

Meanwhile, carefully examine your luggage, using a penlight to peer into corners, folds, small compartments and other possible hiding places. If you find bugs, take the luggage outside at once. If it’s a collapsible item like a backpack or duffel , place it in a plastic bag and, like your clothing, put it in a hot dryer for 45 minutes. If it’s not collapsible, treat the corners, seams, zippers and other crevices with an insecticide spray or dust, or with diatomaceous earth.

“Getting the material into the cracks and crevices makes it most effective—not just sprinkling around or spraying the inside surface,” he said. Put treated luggage in a sealed bag and examine it again after about 10-14 days. If you still find live bedbugs, repeat the treatment and check again in another 10-14 days.

Another precaution is to inspect furniture or other large items that arrive by truck or van, particularly rental vehicles. Even brand-new furniture might pick up bedbugs en route if it arrives in a vehicle that has previously hauled used items.

“It only takes about five or 10 minutes and can save you a lot of time, money and discomfort later on,” Houseman said.