Don’t let ‘em bite: Bedbugs a creepy-crawly problem

Danny Henley

They are the souvenir that nobody wants to bring home. Bedbugs are blood-sucking pests that are a growing problem.

“It’s enough of a problem across the country that people are becoming aware of it,” said Dr. Gerald Burkett, a biology professor at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Hannibal, Mo., who holds a doctorate in entomology.

But the bugs are not a new problem.

“They came over with the settlers. The Indians didn’t have bedbugs. They were easily transported in their bedding and clothing,” Burkett said.

Just as they were carried to the “new world” by settlers, bedbugs are still relying on humans for transportation.

“It’s definitely possible they are spreading because of how we move around,” Burkett said. “People who aren’t aware they have them could be carrying them anywhere they go.”

Although once associated with “seedy” hotels, bedbugs can not only be found in upscale lodging facilities, but college dormitories, hospitals, cruise ships, nursing homes and multi-family dwellings.

Tough to spot

Because of their size (4 to 5 millimeters long), bedbugs are be easy to overlook.

“Because they are not big works to their advantage in being able to hide,” Burkett said. “They like to hide in cracks, crevices and wallpaper. They will get into furniture and even the seams of a mattress.”

The insects also are nocturnal, which gives them an advantage when it comes time to feed.

“They stay in their hiding places during the day. When a person lays down to go to sleep, that’s when they will come out. Sometimes they will crawl a good distance to be able to find you,” Burkett said, adding it’s still a point of debate as to whether its a person’s body heat or the carbon dioxide they emit that attracts the bugs.

How long the bug feeds is determined by its age. Young bedbugs need only three minutes to get their fill. Hungry females, which lay eggs in batches of 10 to 50, may feast for up to 15 minutes.

The saliva the bug injects when it bites keeps the host’s body from clotting. It’s also what causes the bites to itch. However, some people never know they’ve been the guest of honor at a bug buffet.

“Some people never have any itching or marks,” Burkett said. “Those are the people who are more likely to carry them around because they are not aware they’re there. When they put their suitcase down, that’s when the bed bugs come out and find new hiding places.”

Unwelcome guests

Once bedbugs arrive, they’re difficult to get rid of.

“They’re hard to control because they’re hard to get to,” Burkett said. “Bedbugs have grown resistant to a lot of pesticides. In the old days they were controlled using chemicals such as DDT, but those things are no longer available and legal to use.”

An effective weapon in the war against bedbugs is heat. Raising a room’s temperature to at least 95 degrees for a period of time will help eliminate the problem.

For those traveling, Burkett recommends asking before checking in if the facility has had a problem with bedbugs and then checking the room closely.

“That doesn’t mean it won’t have them,” he said. “There’s really no good way to know. All you can do is try to stay at nicer places where it’s good and clean, but most of us want to do that anyway. Hopefully, wherever you go they’ve got some kind of prevention program in place where they check the rooms and have an exterminator come in periodically.”

Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post