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Bed bugs are back -- with a vengeance. Thought to have been eradicated shortly after World War II due to the widespread use of DDT, the tiny parasitic insects disappeared for decades before resurfacing in the 80s after DDT was banned. Today, bed bug outbreaks are cropping up at an alarming rate, with pests taking up residence in homes, apartments, hotels, offices, movie theaters, retail stores and hospitals throughout the country.
From Park Avenue to Portland, Ore., bed bug infestations aren’t limited to any particular geographic location, though they do prefer urban and suburban areas. Bed bugs make great stowaways, hiding in suitcases, furniture crevices, upholstery, carpeting and clothing, to name a few. So if you travel a lot or have a habit of picking up discarded furniture off the side of the road, you stand a greater chance of bringing some unwanted critters home with you,.
Bed bugs come out of hiding at night to feed on warm-blooded animals. Their meal of choice: People. Though experts tend to agree that they’re harmless, the insects may leave reddish, itchy welts where they’ve bitten you.
What to Look For
Adult bed bugs are about the size, color and shape of an apple seed or lentil. But before they’re full grown, bed bugs are clear and almost impossible to detect. A quick inspection of your bed sheets may be more revealing: Look for small flecks of blood or fecal matter, which resembles poppy seeds.
If you suspect a bed bug infestation, don’t ignore it or wait to see if the problem gets worse. According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), bed bugs are the hardest pest to eliminate. And the longer you wait, the bigger the infestation will become.
Call the Professionals
Don’t try to handle the situation on your own. “Bed bugs are not a do-it-yourself pest,” says Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs at the NPMA. Using insect repellents like DEET and picaridin will not deter bed bugs, and sleeping with the lights on will not keep the nocturnal bloodsuckers at bay, either.
Because they are so hardy, getting rid of them is a job that must be left to the professionals. If you bug bomb your place, the critters will simply relocate to your neighbors until the coast is clear. Don’t have any neighbors for them to feed off of? Doesn’t matter. Bed bugs can live for over a year without food. Another thing that makes them so hard to eliminate? Female bed bugs lay up to 400 eggs during a lifetime, and experts believe that current extermination treatments do not kill the eggs. This means that getting rid of bed bugs for good will require more than one visit from pest control.
Depending on the extent of the infestation, bringing in a professional may cost several hundred to several thousand dollars, says Henriksen. But don’t skimp, she warns. “You shouldn’t base your selection on price alone.” Go with a business that belongs to a national, state, or local pest management associations. This guarantees that they are up to date on the latest and best practices.
If you live in an apartment building or condo, let your immediate neighbors (those beside, above and below you) know about your bed bug situation immediately. If you’re worried about them being irate or, worse, lawsuit-happy, don’t fret. According to Henriksen, it’s nearly impossible to determine where the infestation started. You may very well have gotten them from someone else in your building, but might be the first person to step forward.
What to Do With Your Belongings
Once you call in a professional, they will be able to tell you just how bad the infestation is, and whether you’ll need to discard your belongings. Bed bugs cannot tolerate temperatures above 113 degrees, so washing fabric in hot water and running them through the clothes dryer on high heat should destroy them. But if your exterminator tells you to trash it, you’d better listen. Anything that you put curbside should be labeled as infested -- you just never know if your next-door neighbor is going to drag your old lampshade back into the building.
Have you had bed bugs? How did you get rid of them? Chime in below!