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How to Prevent Bed Bugs

By Chris Williams on September 22, 2010.

Bedbugs are mentioned in ancient Greek literature as early as 400 BC, and for the last two and a half millennia, humankind has done their best to avoid, repel and destroy these creatures, often with little success.

For many of us, there is nothing worse than the thought that one’s bed or couch might be infected with bedbugs; that small skittering forms will come out at night and draw blood while we sleep. The fact of the matter is that bedbugs, known taxonomically as “cimex lectularius,” and more commonly as wall louses, mahogany flats and redcoats, require the blood of mammals to survive. Ideally, they prefer to feed on animals other than humans and in tropical regions; many species of poultry and bats are infested by bedbugs, who often find them an easier source of food.

bed-bugThe name “bedbug” was given to these creatures because their preferred hiding spots are in warm, secluded places that are close to the hosts they are drawing blood from. Beds allow them to remain unnoticed during the day, hiding in mattresses or sheets, and then come out at night to feed. Bedbugs can also live in luggage, couches, in upholstered seats on public transit buses, and are commonly found in nursing homes and jails. Anywhere where a large proportion of the population is sedentary and there is a possible lack of cleanliness is a desirable home.

In urban centers of the United States, bedbugs reached their height in the 1930s and early 1940s, but once DDT was developed and liberally applied, their populations quickly shrank. However, over the last 15 years, cases of bedbug infestation have been sharply on the rise, with New York City reporting 500 cases of bedbugs in 2004 and 10,000 in 2009. There are a number of possible explanations for this, from the drop-off in DDT use to poison-resistant versions of the bugs. No matter what the source of bedbugs is in the Unites States, it is clear that the number of bug sightings is increasing.

Altogether, bedbugs sound not only unappealing but hard to spot – and the truth is that they are. Not only are they small, but the simple fact is that the common chemicals used to kill them – pyrethroids – have become less effective in recent years. Lab tests have shown new-generation bedbugs to be thousands of times more resistant to these chemicals than their predecessors.

While all of this may sound disheartening, there are a number of steps that can be taken to prevent bedbugs from making your home theirs.

First and foremost, keep your sheets and bedding clean. This means washing them well and often, and in water that is over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Bedbugs can survive extreme temperatures for up to seven minutes, and are able to survive even in an oxygen-deprived state. In addition, a plastic mattress cover can be used – this minimizes the amount of crevasses and craters on a bed, giving bedbugs far fewer places to hide.

Bedbug prevention can also take place in other parts of the home, most notably through vacuuming. It is possible to head off a serious bedbug infestation by making sure to thoroughly vacuum all sofas, chairs, carpet and beds. Be sure to pay special attention to cracks and crevasses.

While bedbugs can appear individually or in small groups – for example by hopping on your luggage and heading home with you – they will congregate once they have found a home, sending out signals that other bedbugs are able to pick up. The quicker problem areas can be identified, the easier it will be to prevent possible infestations.

It is also important to periodically inspect beds, couches and anywhere else bedbugs might choose to make a nest. They can hide in old screw holes, under box spring linings, or in between couch cushions – the darker and warmer a place is, the more attractive it will be to a bedbug.

By taking the time to clean and care for furniture and bedding, as well as inspecting luggage and other materials when they come into a house from the outside or overseas, it is possible to stem the tide of a bedbug infestation.

Signs that bedbug prevention may be ineffective are the presence of small, itchy red patches on skin. There may also be small blood drops or fecal dots on the skin, but these signs are not consistent in every case. Fifty percent of those bitten by bedbugs show no effects, making them difficult to track. The bedbug itself pierces the skin with a tube that dispenses an anesthetic and anticoagulant, making feeling the bite itself nearly impossible. It also draws only a small amount of blood from the body at a time. Bedbugs are able to survive up to two months without feeding.

If it becomes apparent that a bedbug infestation has occurred or is beginning, the best option is to contact a licensed exterminator or pest control specialist.

There are a number of methods currently used to control and destroy bedbugs. The first is the “residual barrier” method – which involves laying down a chemical barrier for bugs to cross. When they do, they die, but there is the possibility that some bugs will be missed, or will not come out as they do not need to feed.

The second method is the targeted, non-chemical approach. This involves finding and chemically treating bedbug nesting sites as well as affected furniture and beds.

While the bedbug population is on the rise, there are things that can be done to control their impact. When it comes to these pests, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure. The sooner that the bugs can be identified and the smaller the colony that is present, the more effective and efficient the results of a pest control solution will be.

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