Bedbugs have been making a comeback in the U.S. and in the region in recent years. Jim Heckman, Director of Environmental Health at First District Health Unit, said his department has taken more calls on bedbug concerns in the past 4 years.
"Since we quit using the chemicals a few years back, they have made a comeback in the U.S., also since we are a global society and people are traveling so much. Bedbugs travel quite well," Heckman said.
"Places that didn't have bedbugs before are getting them because people bring them in. It could be something as simple as hanging your coat next to someone else's, and if there is a female bedbug on that coat that moves to yours, you could transport it and the female could come with you and lay her eggs," he added.
Jim Heckman, Director of Environmental Health at First District Health Unit, discusses bedbug infestation and solutions to the problem
This photo from the University of Kentucky shows a bedbug infestation on a sofa, with black spots of bedbug excrement seen.
Heckman explained that bedbugs can be more of a nuisance than a health concern, since bedbugs aren't known to transmit disease, though bedbug bites could become infected. People will react differently to bedbug bites as well, with some not noticing the bites at all and others having an itch. The look of the bites can change from person to person, too.
"People usually don't notice them until after they've been
bitten. You usually don't notice it because it happens when you are asleep, and the bite doesn't hurt," Heckman said.
First District Health Unit handles calls about private and public infestations of bedbugs, and inspects sites for the bugs. Health Unit staff inspects a room throughougly with a flashlight, looking through the bed, furniture and even behind electric fixtures.
"We will usually find the bugs in the cracks and crevices of beds, in the tufts or seams of the mattress, and in the box spring. They will also hide behind headboards, especially in motels," Heckman said.
"We might see bedbug excrement on a mattress, or we might notice dark spots or streaks on the sheets where the bugs have been squashed, though that's fairly rare," he added.
Adult bedbugs are generally hard to see. They are small reddish brown insects that are only about 3/16 of an inch long. The nymphs, or immature bedbugs, are smaller and lighter in color. The eggs are white and tiny, and hard to see on most surfaces without magnification.
"A female bug deposits one to two eggs per day, and they are sticky so they will latch on to a surface. Bedbugs do need a blood meal between each molt, and they molt five times before they mature. They can reach maturity in a month under optimum conditions, and adults can live for a year without feeding. They like to be active at night mostly," Heckman said.
Bedbugs can be anywhere they are transported, and getting them isn't an indicator of uncleanliness. Bedbugs can be located in clean environments, and they are comfortable in temperatures of 70 to 80 degrees. Once a location does acquire the bugs, it can be difficult to get rid of them completely.
"If you do suspect you've got bitten by them when you're traveling, put all your clothing in plastic bags. When you get home, run all the clothing through the washer and dryer. For dry clean only clothes, put them in the dryer. Sustained heat will kill the bugs," Heckman said.
For home infestations, people can obtain specific heaters from several companies that will raise the room temperature to 130 to 140 degrees, which will kill the bugs. Encapsulating the mattress and box spring of a bed can be a preventive measure so the bugs don't get into the mattress.
"If you've got them, wearing normal mosquito repellent to bed doesn't work. You are much better off, if you think you've got them, to vacuum, and sometimes professional steam cleaning will help. You can fumigate, but it has to be professionally done. If the infestation is bad enough, you should throw away the mattress and box spring, and do vacuuming and steam cleaning, though that isn't 100 percent effective," Heckman said.
Sustained cold temperatures can also kill the bugs, so leaving furniture in off site cold storage can sometimes be effective as well.