Bedbugs are a very old problem. It was first mentioned in Medieval European texts dating back to the time of Aristotle. Subsequent the improvement in hygiene and use of DDT, it was essentially eliminated in the US after WWII. However, it persisted in many other regions of the world and over the last couple years, it is making a strong comeback. It has been found all over the US and recently in areas of New Jersey and New York. Proposed reasons for the resurgence is increased international travel, immigration, use of used furniture and changes in pest control measures. In most cases, bed bugs are transported from infested areas to non-infested areas. They can cling onto someone’s clothing, or crawl into luggage, furniture or bedding that is then brought into homes.
What are they? Bedbugs are red-brown wingless insects that can grow to 1/4 inch long. They are visible to the naked eye and can be size of a small lentil or apple seed. Bedbugs are parasites which feed on the blood of humans or animals. They are nocturnal and are most active 1 hour prior to dawn. They are attracted by warmth and carbon dioxide, but not to dirt. Usually they seek food every 5-10 days, but can live up to 18 months without feeding. Bites are usually on any exposed area of skin and usually are multiple in a certain area. As a result, the bites are usually in clusters.
In general, bedbug bites do not transmit blood borne disease, and don’t carry any diseases. As a result of the allergic reaction to the bedbugs’ saliva, people bitten by bedbugs will have redness, swelling and itching. The swelling and redness usually lasts 4 days. Not all people are allergic. Sometimes, the bites may lead to secondary skin infections, most often from scratching. Usually topical ointments such as calamine, aloe, benadryl creams or hydrocortisone (only if bite not infected) will relieve the itching and help with the swelling. If the possibility of infection is present, please consult your doctor.
Like mentioned previously, bedbugs are not attracted to dirt. However, any cluttered and dirty areas allow bedbugs to hide. If one suspects a bedbug infestation, it is best to check in every nook and cranny. They tend to hide in dark places such as any tiny crevice, mattress seams/interiors, bed frame, box spring, carpeting, baseboards and any nearby furniture. They care travel up to 100 feet to feed. So, make sure you check every room aside from the bedroom. A clue to where they may reside is finding black or reddish stains from the bedbugs’ fecal matter on a surface.
Getting rid of bedbugs is an enormous undertaking. It is essential to first find out where they hide. It is important to remove all clutter. All surfaces should be scrubbed to remove eggs and a powerful vacuum should be used to remove bugs from cracks and crevices. Bed frames should be dismantled and drawers removed and cleaned. All holes around wires and pipes should be caulked and sealed. Anything that can’t be cleansed such as box spring, mattress, etc should be sealed in a vacuum bag. Remember, these insects can survive up to 18 months without feeding, so these insects have to be sealed for a long time. Furniture that is to be thrown out (because it cannot be cleaned or not wanted) should be sealed it in a plastic bag, so any possible bedbugs residing there won’t find their way to someone else’s home. All clothes and bed sheets should be laundered in hot water. After all is said and done, as a precaution, be very careful inspecting any old items you are bringing to your house. Bedbugs are not a neighbor anyone would like to have.
The following are suggestions from the New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services regarding insecticides:
“The NJDHSS recommends that homeowners hire a pest control professional licensed by the NJDEP to evaluate what type of pest is present, and to exterminate them. Pesticide products labeled for bed bugs may be available at drug, hardware or home improvement stores that adults can apply themselves. If you choose to use a pesticide, or if a licensed exterminator suggests you use one, follow these precautions:
• Only use pesticides clearly labeled as intended for bed bug extermination. Never use a cockroach spray, ant spray, or any other pesticide that does not list bed bugs on the label for bed bug extermination.
• Make sure you read, understand and follow the instructions on the pesticide’s label.
• Never spray pesticides on mattresses or sofas, or in areas where children are present.
• Never purchase or use a product without a manufacturer’s label and never buy pesticides from street vendors. Use insecticides to get rid of bed bugs that are hiding in walls and other large objects. (Choose insecticides with “pyrethrins” as an active ingredient on the label. Only use insecticides labeled for household use because some insecticides can damage or stain your furniture, wallpaper, etc. Use care when applying insecticides, especially around children, the elderly, immuno-compromised people, and anyone else who may be sensitive to insecticides. Always follow label directions carefully.)”